The rains have come, and the gardener has not. Yesterday, strong winds coaxed piles of pine needles and dead leaves to venture from their dark corners and onto open paths and benches - lending an untidy beauty to familiar sights. Today, there is sun, but winter has finally arrived. The disheveled back yard is best enjoyed through the window from the cozy warmth of the house. And this got me to thinking of a picture I took last summer of a small serpentine line in my garden.
William Hogarth was an 18th century painter and printmaker, partial to landscapes and pictures chock-full of allegories. He also considered himself an arbiter of good taste. His 1753 treatise on aesthetics “The Analysis of Beauty” was his definitive contribution on finding beauty not only in classical art and English landscapes, but in everyday objects. Although he did not invent the English landscape garden style which incorporated the free-flowing “line of grace” also known as the serpentine line, he is generally credited with giving it a name. Here’s what he had to say about the curving lines reminiscent of a serpent:
“…The serpentine line, by its waving and winding at the same time different ways, leads the eye in a pleasing manner along the continuity of its variety, if I may be allowed the expression; and which by its twisting so many different ways, may be said to inclose (tho' but a single line) varied contents…”
My garden’s serpentine line is not a grand winding path, guiding visitors toward visionary realms of sublimely cultivated gardens. Instead, as shown in this picture, it is part of a small, heart-shaped stone with a shallow bowl for water in the center.
During wintertime, there is still much to enjoy in the serpentine lines of my garden. And although he was no fan of the “sneaking serpent” and all the symbolism serpents evoke, William Blake had some advice for gardeners to ponder during winter: “In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.”