Formal Garden: axes

“No phase of designing adds more to the charm of small properties and to the illusion of space than the skillful use of perspective.  Perspective is a broad and more or less technical term, which for our purposes can be translated into everyday language by the word “vista.”  Vistas are of many kinds –long or short, broad or narrow, formal or informal, sunlit or shady–and serve different purposes in garden planning.”  (Annette Hoyt Flanders, “The Value of Vistas in the Small Garden”, Good Housekeeping May 1934)

The Morven formal garden is organized around two axes, dating to the Marshall-era plan.  These axes are not oriented based on cardinal direction, but on vistas.  The design makes use of “borrowed scenery” – features far from the property that are incorporated into the design.

photo by Joseph Lee Vaughn, 1988 (UVA Special Collections)

Most visitors to Morven enter the garden on this axis, which frames the view of the mountains beyond.

This diagram shows the axis in plan.  In analyzing the plan, it becomes apparent that this long axis is crossed by another primary axis.

This axis, leading down to the stone overlook and curved steps is oriented toward a second view, described as the “sea view” – a view across the land leading down to the James River, which appears blue and rolling in the distance.  This view has been obscured somewhat by trees growing in the Japanese garden, but this image gives a sense of the view.


photo by Joseph Lee Vaughn, 1988 (UVA Special Collections)

Historic photograph showing the stone overlook and curved stairs. The area planted with rhododendron, at lower right, is today part of the Japanese Garden.


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