Tuesday, April 17, 2012

'Coloring outside the guide lines'

by aleks
SJG • 4/17/12 - fragrant Osmathus
in full bloom right now
"Coloring outside the guide lines' is a tittle of an article written by Iain Robertson for the spring issue of Washington Park Arboretum Bulletin: the article is based on the delightful lecture/talk Iain Robertson gave to the Seattle Japanese Garden guides and the ensuing conversation we all had.

The lecture was on the topic on how can visitors get the most rewarding experience from their visit to the Garden, and suggested that the guides, instead of seeing themselves as encyclopedias of the Garden knowledge could think of themselves as choreographers who provide information in ways that promote and enrich each visitor's direct, individual experience of connecting with the Garden's 'place-specific intelligence' or genius loci (translated as the 'spirit of the place').

The article is as fascinating as was the lecture - a treasure of ideas for the guides and visitors alike;  the author writes about practical issues and concerns - the fear that some information may be omitted in such approach, the value of first impression upon entering the Garden and the idea of treating the path as a narrative for threading together of spacial experiences.

Now, I have to fess up to a few 'spiel' type of tours I gave, either because I myself couldn't connect to the spirit of the Garden and was just going through the motions, station to station like in a church, or because visitors resisted...  Oh, yeah, why not blame it on them?:) -  I particularly remember a a group of people from Baltimore who approached me as I was just finishing regularly scheduled public tour and asked for an ad hoc tour - they just happened to step in and were eager to have 'done that'; they promised they wouldn't take much of my time. Oh, boy, they truly didn't, practically sprinting ahead of me on the path every time I stopped to take a breath in the middle of the sentence, and I was chasing them while spitting fragments of my 'Garden-encyclopedia' knowledge at their heels. Entrance to finish 20 minutes gallop 'experience' it was.

SJG • 4/17/12 - Two (unidentified yet) rhodies, blooming in Area D

But of course, like all the other guides, I wouldn't last on the job 8 years if all our tours were like that - one could have simply died of boredom and repetition if the guiding was just sharing what we know about the place. Each tour IS a different experience: new day, new light, new weather, new season, new bloom or scent and new people, each of them with their own individual state of being open to the Garden, which is why Iain Robertson's article is a keeper.  It reminds visitors and guides alike, that each tour is a new adventure, and helps you to have a different adventure each and every time.

SJG - 4/17/12 - Rhod. Reticulatum,
three leaf azalea, at the entrance
to the Garden, Area C
If you are a member of the Arboretum Foundation you got your copy of the Spring Bulletin in the mail (Summer issue will have part 2 of the article), but if you are not, you can still pick up your copy at the Graham Visitor Center.  The printed article has beautiful photographs taken by the author (the pics in this blog just happened to be taken today during plant committee work, and were not supposed to be an 'experience', just a work record, but will have to do).  The bulletin is NOT on-line, because it is printed as benefit of the membership, but the Bulletin info is here.
Iain M. Robertson is an associate professor of the Landscape Architecture Department and an adjunct faculty member in the center of Urban Horticulture and School of Forest Resources at the University of Washington.


  1. "Each tour IS a different experience: new day, new light, new weather, new season, new bloom or scent and new people, each of them with their own individual state of being open to the Garden"
    As usual, your comment is so true and very enlightening. Thank you for your great passion. It is contagious.

  2. thanks, Keiko. we are a lucky club to be guides in JG, aren't we?!:)

  3. Know your customer is my motto, we are there to enhance their experience, not to measure our egos by pontificating about things they have little interest in.