Two steps to adding the promontory archetype in your garden

Here’s another in the occasional series about garden archetypes from the book The Inward Garden. The dictionary defines a promontory as:

  • a high point of land or rock projecting into a body of water
  • A prominent mass of land overlooking or projecting into a lowland

Take a look at these great photos of promontories.

Victoria, NSW, Australia - courtesy S. Robertson

Victoria, NSW, Australia - courtesy S. Robertson

Courtesy S. Roberton

Courtesy S. Roberton

You may be thinking, “A promontory really appeals to me, but there’s no way to have one in my back yard.” So, let’s analyze for a minute.  There are two steps to a promontory in your aging-in-place garden.

 First, look again at the definitions and the photos. Notice the description in the first definition.

There’s a strong contrast between high and low. There’s also a strong contrast between the solid massive landform or rock form and the almost-yielding quality of water that the promontory is projecting into. And consider the second definition. Here, the keyword is overlooking. While this definition conjures up less physical contrast, there’s an ability to compare what’s close-up on the promontory with what’s farther away in the lower overlooked area, often patterns in the land.

Think about the physical sensation of being on a promontory. You might imagine yourself walking to an edge. Or, on a large landform, the promontory might even be a cliff, with a path along the edge or winding down to the lowland or the body of water

What appeals to you about a promontory? Is something visually appealing from the photos? What memories of promontories do you have? Have you seen one or more from a distance? Did a promontory serve as a landmark in a location where you’ve lived, visited often, or vacationed?

Maybe your experience was thrilling, because you tested yourself in sliding close to the brink of a long and steep drop. Or, if you easily looked over the edge, what caught your interest might have been the sense of distance in the drop or your first awareness of depth and scale beyond your own physical size.

Second, consider how you might establish characteristics of a promontory in your garden. A deck that arches many feet above an area of plantings could be the perfect spot to experiment with an overlook.  

Think about contrasting masses of plants, a bed of different types and shapes of mulch – from wood chips to gravel to crushed glass, or even a patio with a paver design best viewed from above.

Or your promontory could be small-scale – several large rocks placed for easy climbing with a flat top where you can sit with legs dangling over the edge. Or think about the visual qualities of the promontory as landmark. One impactful solution might be a gigantic photograph of a promontory, printed on aluminum or another weather-resistance surface, placed next to a garden shed or porch doorway as a marker that seems to rise out of the soil?

What do you think about promontories? How might you add one to your aging-in-place garden? Add your comment and let me know what you think.