A Borrowed View at Riverview Garden


Verna Jennings lives with her husband, Mike on 300 acres of rolling farmland that overlooks the Nodaway River, inspiring the name Riverview. Whenever I visit her I am astounded of the beautiful setting and how she has incorporated it into the garden surrounding her home.
Shakkei is the Japanese word for borrowed scenery. This concept has been used in Japanese and Chinese gardens since the 17th century. But this idea can be used in any garden style by integrating a distant landscape into your garden composition. This could include woods, a building, the sky, or a single tree. Really any distinguishing feature can be borrowed. In the photo above, Verna has used the barberry to echo the red barn in the distance in conjunction with the parallel red fence rails mimicking the horizontal fields beyond.

Designers have identified four types of borrowing from the landscape. These include:
1. Distant- utilizing large scale landscapes
2. Adjacent-making use of neighboring buildings or landscape features
3. Upward includes the sky and clouds—lifting the eye skyward
4. Downward borrowing draws on ponds, gravel, reflections

Verna’s use of an oak stump turned upside down effectively assimilates the neighboring woods by reproducing the shapes and textures of nature.

Echoing elements with similar plantings or color can create a visual association with a magnificent view far away.
The continuum and harmony of color embraces the view beyond. Here the sumac and daylilies complement the red tin barn.

The native limestone rock in this zone 5 garden is arranged horizontally reflecting the soybeans beyond. Verna likes to use plants such as sedum, euphorbia, and vinca as a living mulch.

Verna has created an illusion of an entrance into the field by deliberately placing a recycled fence and an old post and planting an arborvitae on the other side. Thus, creating a psychological entry into the borrowed landscape. No need to borrow the whole scene. In fact, the mystery makes it more appealing.

With such an expansive view, a balance of enclosure and coziness can be difficult to achieve. I think Verna has done so brilliantly here by marking her garden with a human touch. Verna’s love of gardening was nurtured by her grandmother. Even her favorite plant, lilac, was inspired by picking the fragrant blooms for may baskets as a kid. Verna is known for her generosity.She has given countless starts of her forty year old lilac bush to others so they can also enjoy this treasured flower.

If your garden is feeling small-expand your horizons by considering what is beyond. The view does not have to be as expansive as Verna’s. Is there a beautiful tree in your neighbor’s yard you can frame as a part of your view? Is the shed next door a fabulous color you can mimic in your plantings? Consider how you can use water to reflect the sky and nearby plantings. The possibilities are limitless as shown so well in Verna’s garden.