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February 6, 2011

Genius loci

Filed under: Contests,Fall,Miscellaneous,Parks,Summer,Travel,Winter — Judy @ 3:17 pm

They are running another photo contest over at Gardening Gone Wild, this time having to do with pictures demonstrating ‘Genius loci.’ So, what does that mean?

Essentially, ‘Genius loci’ means “special spirit or atmosphere of a place.” It’s a fundamental principle in landscape architecture and one that I feel strongly about when designing gardens or landscapes. Consider Alexander Pope’s seminal verse:

  • Consult the genius of the place in all;
    That tells the waters or to rise, or fall;
    Or helps th’ ambitious hill the heav’ns to scale,
    Or scoops in circling theatres the vale;
    Calls in the country, catches opening glades,
    Joins willing woods, and varies shades from shades,
    Now breaks, or now directs, th’ intending lines;
    Paints as you plant, and, as you work, designs.

I spend a considerable amount of time acquainting myself with the ‘spirit of a place,’ listening with my heart and my head to what the land tells me, before I begin designing or even dig one iota of soil. I ‘consult the genius of the place’ first.

The judge for the contest, Andrea Jones, has posted several gorgeous, gorgeous photos to illustrate this concept and has asked readers to share the special spirit or atmosphere in their own gardens or special places. This, of course, has made me think about my own personal gardens and I’ve concluded that the ‘Genius loci’ has gotten up and left the area while I’ve been busy creating for others, at least for the moment. Hmmm, can all this snow be the “white-wash” I need to visualize how to invite the ‘Genius loci’ back to my own spaces?

In any case, while examining Andrea Jones’ photos, one gets the feeling that what makes a certain place, or a landscape, or a garden, magical is the innate beauty of the location. Capturing that magical spirit with a camera is inherently difficult. She says, “It’s just a question of feel and intuition.” Yes, lots of experience and maybe luck too? She also says, “Then I wait for the light” before she captures the scene.

The pictures I am sharing with you today, while not of my own garden, are of locations that demonstrate a special spirit or atmosphere of nature to me. The light or situation at the time was magical, and I was certainly lucky to capture the picture when I did. Here’s the background on them:

Fall colors: We were driving down a back road during the fall and this vista magically appeared. Stop the car! Fortunately, I had my camera with me!

Fall colors

Fall colors in Upstate New York

Foggy Fort Niagara: This shot was taken on a September evening as the fog was rolling in off of Lake Ontario onto the Niagara River. Spooky, yet calming at the same time.

Foggy Fort Niagara

Fog rolling in near Old Fort Niagara, Youngstown NY

Mendon Ponds: The little beech tree glows like a beacon in the cold winter light, guiding the cross-country skier around the Quaker Pond loop.

Mendon Ponds in winter

Beech tree in wintery Mendon Ponds Park

Canandaigua Lake: Another wild and wooly rainstorm is beginning its march down the hills and across the lake – watch out! Here it comes!

Canandaigua Lake rainstorm

Rainstorm approaching across Canandaigua Lake

And finally, the picture I have chosen to submit to the contest was taken early in the morning as the fog was beginning to burn off over Mirror Lake. This is a location in the Adirondacks that speaks to my heart, and one that I think of often; that calms me when restless, and that cheers me when sad. We have many fond memories of visiting there. The picture was a film shot from many years ago and I had no idea that it would turn out like this until it was developed. There is one teeny tiny bright spot of color – my daughter wearing her orange life jacket! Serendipitous!

Mirror Lake morning

Morning Fog on Mirror Lake

GGW Honorable Mention Award

Tell me about the ‘Genius loci’ in your life.


  1. All of these photos are awesome, all are loci of something, taken by a genius, yet i still cannot fathom if i already have it. Lol , thanks.

    Comment by Andrea — February 17, 2011 @ 12:10 am

  2. I loved looking at your pictures and your discussion about ‘Genius loci’ . It made me stop and think about my own garden but I think you pulled out some great pictures of your place. You have an amazing garden Judy, very beautiful and peaceful. The picture you submited of Mirror Lake was wonderful. It must bring back some great memories of your trips there. I have always enjoyed good photography and love seeing things through a camera. It is amazing how a good picture can tell a story or evoke memories.

    Comment by Cathy — February 23, 2011 @ 12:45 am

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