borrowed scenery: of views and viewsheds

churchlandscape3A “NEIGHBOR” CLOSER TO THE HUDSON RIVER than I am got me thinking recently again about how much our sense of landscape and of gardens depends on “borrowed scenery” that forms our views. Frederic Church depicted his view across the Hudson to the Catskill Mountains in 1871 (shown), a vista not unlike my neighbor’s. What’s your view like, and what’s your view on views?

Such expressions by Church and other artists in the Hudson River School marked the start of the American environmental movement, many experts believe today. Standing in my neighbor friend’s garden recently and looking out at the same landscape they did, I was reminded how few of us get to witness that kind of majesty very often, and how precious a resource such viewsheds are. No wonder they inspired an entire movement.

Today a number of historic sites like Church’s astonishing home near here called Olana are working to protect their viewsheds, in part thanks to work by groups like Scenic Hudson, and to unique events like the one coming up Nov. 1 for Olana’s benefit (see details of their ‘Viewshed Tour’ below).

Nearer to New York City, the dramatic stretch of Palisades across the Hudson from the gardens of Wave Hill has long been protected from unsightly development. At Monticello, in Charlottesville, Virginia, similar viewshed preservation efforts are under way, as they are in the Napa Valley and numerous spectacular places across the country. Perhaps you know of some to share, or some you never want to lose?

Even my far-smaller views from where I sit and where I garden are precious to me: a glimpse of the sunset sinking into an adjacent cornfield across the road, the way the stand of birches to my southeast catch the sunrise in winter. Nothing to paint and hang in a national museum, exactly, and not even part of “my property,” but I am definitely attached to seeing them.

As much as where my house was situated, as much or more than any other factor, these bits of borrowed scenery influenced how and where I made my gardens on this little piece of land.  Are there views you treasure (or things you want to hide)? What scenery are you borrowing as part of your individual garden pictures?



On Saturday, Nov. 1, the Olana Partnership and the New York State Office of Parks join 12 landowners to celebrate the beauty that surrounds Olana’s landscape. This first-of-its-kind event includes access to a dozen privately owned landscapes, from orchards and farms to estates, all in the dramatic Olana viewshed and looking back at Olana, the Hudson and the Catskills beyond.  I plan to wander through them all that day, and savor the rare opportunity to take in all that borrowed scenery and help keep it safe in the process by buying a ticket and participating. Proceeds will benefit the restoration of Olana’s landscape.  All the details of this unique event are in this PDF invitation.

  1. Christiane Marks says:

    Dear Margaret and Readers,
    I am a Copake Falls admirer of this beautiful website (including the Hudson River School repro’s) and I’m a neighbor of Margaret’s,who walks by her beautiful place often in the early morning with my walking friends.
    I’d like to let you know about my show of mainly Columbia County landscape pastels at the Camphill Village Cafe in Copake.
    Friday,Oct.24,at 7pm
    Sunday, Oct. 26, 4-6 pm.
    But it’s up now, and accessible every morning from 9-12 and afternoon from 2:30 to 5:00, if not open, the salesperson at the gift shop across the hall will unlock it.
    I hope some of you, and especially you, Margaret, can come, and thanks for offering me this space!
    Christiane Marks

  2. Amy Tozer says:

    A little late to this conversation, but what serendipity! I was just enjoying a glass of wine on my back patio thinking about how I could possibly change the view. Then I came inside to catch up on A Way to Garden posts–looking for inspiration for screening plant material, and realized that what I was looking at was a viewshed. That word really elevates the intown houses, mismatched fences, and grandfathered-in houses turned into apartments I was just gazing at.

    I am one of the urbanites who, lacking rural views, must create my own. To the right, the back of a neighbor’s old garage. She told me I could paint it. With the right barn red, it could have the look of an old barn. Our garden shed in the rear is also calling out for a coat of paint. Something that says New England out building. In the foreground is my new kitchen garden, currently planted with its winter cover crop of red clover. To the left, I see more than I want of my neighbor’s house and yard. I will search your site, Margaret, for just the right plants to create a worthy viewshed.

    Cheers! and thanks for your wonderful blog.

  3. Tana Butler says:

    Hello, Margaret:

    I clicked through from Karen Templer’s blog, and am ever so glad I did. I lived once in the Hudson River Valley (Rhinebeck) and in the Catskills (Woodstock, Lake Hill, Phoenicia). Now I am on the central coast of California in a little hamlet called “Soquel” (Santa Cruz county: farmland), where “green,” most of the year, means dozens of subtle variations on pine and olive green.

    What I miss most about being back east are thunderstorms and large, deciduous trees. Here, the biggest trees are the eucalyptus. Mentioning that one likes a eucalyptus tree is a political risk in these parts: the reactionaries are quick to remind me that they’re not native, they’re invasive, and so on. I don’t care: they’re trees, and I’m basically a Druid.

    When I was last in your neck of the woods—and what beautiful woods they are—I visited a state park in Ringwood, New Jersey, where some of the trees had been planted a century and a half ago. I can’t describe the elation I felt in the presence of these royal beings.

    Now I have to content myself with a not-too-shabby view: a hundred-acre golden hill to our east, a stand of eucalyptus trees lining the creek that flows through our village, and a very big sky that sees the sun circle the entire day.


    That’s all for now. I love discovering your weblog, Margaret, and will happily subscribe to keep current. Keep up the beautiful work, and congratulations on living your dream.

  4. margaret says:

    Welcome, Tana. I am sending a dose of thunderstorms your way. I am terrified of them. :/ Seriously, though, what a lovely comment and experience you have shared. Come back soon.

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