A first encounter with Eric Swenson’s very personal garden.
I spent an afternoon recently in one of the strangest and most personal gardens I’ve ever visited, a collection of sacred spaces and garden rooms fully envisioned and slowly being born from endless hours of meditative toil and the soaring depths of Eric Swenson’s yet-childlike imagination. And though many finished aspects of it still exist only within the poetic psyche of its creator, when you are in his presence listening to him lovingly describe each completed vision I swear you begin to see it in its completed form, too.
My visit grew out of telephone conversations between Eric and myself as we sorted out the particulars of a garden photo workshop I will be offering and a related garden photo contest I’ll be judging at the Kruckeberg Garden in early September. Somehow we began comparing life notes and garden notes, and soon he had inivited me to visit his very private wonderland, a surreal landscape of pure imagination that defies description and, to this observer’s mind, requires a sort of complete surrender in order to really even begin to appreciate it. His descriptions over the phone intrigued me and I immediately said yes.
Below: Eric is standing in the pit he has carved into the ground, and within which he intends to create on one side, a ten to fifteen foot waterfall that his adoring grandchildren will be able to stand behind and on the other, believe it or not, a subterranean sweat-lodge. That magical rabbit hole Alice tumbled into had nothing on this unfolding wonder.
As rough as certain aspects of Eric’s wondrous imagination garden still seem around their edges, I was still utterly delighted, again and again by the many unexpected, whimsical, meditative surprises his collection of botanical and spatial koans offered.
Following his introductory nickel tour (which was worth far, far more), and a bit of time then wandering this garden’s corners by myself, it dawned on me that for perhaps the first time in any garden, many of the pictures I was seeing really wouldn’t make much sense without Eric’s vital presence within them, for in this garden it is the picture of ‘what might be‘ emanating so effusively from his very being that makes the garden work as it does, and that gives it much of its magic.
I have never quite experienced a garden like this and at first was a baffled, trying to sort out a way to communicate something of its essential ‘story’ simply by picturing the spaces and the plants within them. Then it dawned on me to just ask him, which I did, tentatively, if he’d walk with me and let me picture him in a handful of his sacred places within the garden as a way to try to begin explaining a few of those essential threads of it to others who have never visited and might never get the chance. His answer to my request is self-evident, and now I ask you as viewers to try to imagine any of these images without the man in them. They just wouldn’t quite make sense, would they? Or is it just me?
Above: Eric sits beside an arching footbridge he has built atop his immense excavation and backed by a forest of different types of bamboo. From my vantage standing on a narrow ledge within that carved ravine where the waterfall will someday flow, listening to him explain his grand vision felt strangely like sitting at the feet of a great teacher or wizard in an enchanted wood. Below: This is just one of perhaps twenty meditation spots within Eric’s garden that contain a rustic bench, chair, stump, stool or seat of some other imagining from which to sit and contemplate, and watch the birds which are numerous, everywhere and very curious.
For this first visit, I just had a few hours to begin to get acquainted and begin to find the story of the place, but those hours were a surreal treat. Somehow, I thought you might enjoy a peek at this lush garden of Eric’s imagination and yet another attempt on my part to find that elusive path to telling better stories…