September 16, 2004

Monk Lectures on Garden, Balance

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Teaching their audience how to express “inner harmony as outer beauty,” landscape architect Martin Mosko and writer and photographer Alxe Noden ’81 delivered a joint lecture yesterday in PepsiCo Auditorium based on their recent book, “Landscape as Spirit: Creating a Contemplative Garden.” This year’s Class of 1938 Lecture, the talk focused on the way in which beauty can be created by building a garden from a contemplative mind.

Mosko, a Zen monk, emphasized the importance of meditation and balance in creating a garden, viewing the garden as an object of this contemplation.

Comparing an ideal garden to the Tibetan Mandala, a perfectly balanced geometric design of a circle containing a square with four entrances and exits, he said, “A garden is a realization of wholeness. A sustainable garden does not divorce itself from the universe.”

While designing his gardens, Mosko looks to maintain a sense of balance with five natural elements or “energies”: earth, water, fire, air and space. To Mosko, earth is represented by rocks and soil, which provide strength and support, while defining the garden’s structural boundaries. Water in the garden provides movement, sound, refreshment and brightness, while fire is expressed by plants. Using the metaphor of the body, Mosko said that air is the “neurological system of the garden,” for its ability to allow the elements to flow through it.

Lastly, Mosko stressed the necessity of spatial energy in his gardens to create meaning by the shape of the earth and pause between forms, with volumetric depth and luminosity. Seeking to arrange these natural elements according to proper physical, energetic and metaphysical relationships, Mosko said that, “all of the energies must be balanced like a symphony.”

Noden said that although many of the gardens which Mosko has designed differ in style, they all have a unifying element to them.

“When I see one of Martin’s gardens, from the Rockies to Los Angeles, to South Carolina, to upstate New York, they all have this element of magic in them,” she said.

Mosko draws much of his inspiration for his gardens from his upbringing in the Rockies, as well as his study with Japanese master designers. Mosko showcased an Eastern influence on his life by playing the shakuhachi, a Japanese bamboo flute, for the audience at the beginning of the lecture to promote tranquility.

Mosko said that he feels blessed to be in a profession that invokes every human sense. Gardens, he said, “occupy the eyes with delight, the ears with the sound of pines in the wind, the nose with fragrance and the texture all around you.”

They are also a metaphor for our lives, Mosko said, and people must not forget the “power and responsibility” that gardens have.

Michelle Colban ’08, who attended the lecture for a Horticulture 480 class, said that the talk, “combined a lot of the elements that I wouldn’t think were in a garden.” She continued, “It also got me thinking how fascinating the world of nature can be.”

While most of his projects have been for private individuals, Mosko said that he would like to move into the public arena as well, such as completing gardens for nursing homes and community centers.

After studying painting and Sandskrit at Yale, Mosko founded the Boulder, Colo.-based landscape architecture and design firm Marpa & Associates in 1974. Noden joined the firm in 1991, after graduating from Cornell and Boston University Law School.

Archived article by Olivia Oran
Sun Contributor