I met Harland Hand in
early 1982, on my first Western Chapter field trip. We were having a
picnic at the Santa Cruz Arboretum when a tall, silver-haired man walked
up to me and asked, by way of introduction, "What kind of car do you
have?" Over the years, as a close friendship developed, I realized that
Harland would often start in the middle of something, knowing the
beginning in his own mind but not voicing the preliminary thoughts.
he learned that I had a hatchback car, Harland asked if I would take a
painting from Santa Cruz to El Cerrito for him. I had no idea who this man
was, as he had neglected to introduce himself, and I did not at the time
have any reason to want to go to El Cerrito. After a brief conversation, I
discovered I was in the presence of my horticultural hero, author of "The
Color Garden" (Pacific Horticulture, Spring 1978). I had read this article
many times, seeking guidance and inspiration as I struggled to develop a
garden on my steep hillside in San Francisco.
following day I made my first visit to Harland's garden. Full of rocks,
concrete, and thousands of plants, its design and emotional effect were
inspired by the landscape of the High Sierra, in particular around Silver
Lake (52 miles east of Jackson on Highway 88, on the Kit Carson Immigrant
Trail). This was Harland's favorite place, the "most thrilling, intimate,
and puzzling space" he had ever experienced. Harland described the lake as
"a deep blue arabesque sunk in swirling masses of pale gray granite." By the
lake were granite-floored "rooms" with shelves, benches, and boulders from
which sprung trees gnarled by the alpine winds. Shrubs and flowers crept
between the granite slabs, forming natural rock gardens.
his rockeries Harland grew temperate and sub-tropical plants. He had a huge
succulent collection, with many species and cultivars of echeverias and
sedums tucked in among the rocks and concrete, often next to little roses or
thymes. Harland did not like following rules, particularly in garden design.
He would often say, "It works!" And that was what mattered, not that in
nature one might never find such combinations of plants.
struck me about Harland's garden were the beautiful color combinations, his
rare plant collection, and the emotionally evocative sense of space. I was
overwhelmed at my first visit and went home feeling depressed, wondering how
I could ever approximate the beauty of color and space. Harland had a
special genius for space, which was particularly evident to me when he
remade my steep slope in 1988 and recycled the old brick and cobblestones
from the paths and terrace to suggest the remains of a village near an
ancient, unseen castle. In Pamela Harper's recent article in Pacific
Hand: the Artist as Gardener," Spring 1999), she described various Hand
gardens. Mine is the
"nearly vertical garden" in the small space behind an urban rowhouse,
the garden's upper level higher than the roof."
remember watching Harland from the upstairs window, as he worked directly on
the land rather than from detailed drawings. Early in the morning he would
walk around the mounds of dirt, absorbed in inner thought. When the workers
arrived, he knew exactly where he wanted to place the rocks or the wet
concrete. One time I arrived home after a long day in tedious depositions to
find a little wall of San Francisco cobblestone outside the back door, a
surprise wall not on the schematic drawing Harland had shown me before
beginning construction. I telephoned him and mentioned the wall. "Isn't it
wonderful!" he exclaimed, a statement more than a question.
Several years ago, as Harland was writing his book (which was bought by
Chronicle Books and has not yet been published), he told me that the chapter
he was having the hardest time with was the one on space. Articulating his
theories and concepts of space was naturally difficult, as it is much easier
to describe things, such as plants, or colors, for which there is a large
vocabulary. He rewrote the chapter on space many times, and recently, when I
read the last version, I felt that he had indeed succeeded in describing how
to think about space in the garden, and why some spaces are so inspiring to
us, and others so dull.
Harland preferred the arabesque to the axis. He liked to repeat curves,
layer horizontals, and mass verticals to create a sense of calm. He would
contrast verticals and horizontals, angles and curves of various sizes, to
invoke a sense of drama and power. Essentially, if one imagines curving
lines flowing up from the earth into the sky and back, like giant figure
8's, contrasting with linear elements (benches, yew-like plants), one has a
good head start to creating that special sense of space that is
characteristic of the Harland Hand gardens.