W4W Tracery in the Landscape

St. Joseph Cathedral Buffalo, New York, photo by GWGT

Tracery is most often associated with architecture in cathedrals, stained glass, and with the radiating ray arrangement of rose glass for instance. But in landscape design, it refers to the patterning that plants have in either form or the shadowing they cast upon other elements.

In winter, tracery is most often evident in the bare branches of tree form. The light that passes through and bounces off branches in both winter and summer, casting dappled effects and dancing patterns upon a surface. Tracery in architecture is traditionally geometric, where in the natural architecture of the landscape, is much more fluid.

St. Joseph Cathedral, built in 1855, and viewed toward the three-story tall organ, the tallest church organ in the country. Photo by GWGT

But can you see a relationship between a cathedral and tall trees? Can you sense a higher purpose and higher power in amongst the forest? Trees make you look to the sky, the heavens and above. They create a protective enclosure and make the individual appreciate the sense of sanctuary. Can you see the correlation and imagery with the arches in the cathedral?

One has a tendency to notice light passing through trees and shrubs, with the changing patterns that it casts.

The sun glistens off the branches and creates visual interest. The rain and ice form a diamond effect refracting through dense branching, similar to how glass might reflect or throw light through a building. Tracery divides light and makes interesting patterns, some regular and others random.

Shadows trace the ground and move through the course of the day, as the sun traces a line through the sky.

Tracery is a division of the visual plane into positive and negative forms. It divides in intricacy and design, lights and dark, transparency and solid. See the different tones in the layering of the branching? Tracing is many faceted.

Look at the veining of a leaf or flower petal. It divides through a tracery of detail, and often in predictable ways in some plants. Others, not so much.

Light passes through leaves and acts like a screen or window depending on the translucency. You can see the shadowing of insects walking along through the leaf or petal, the shadow casting a silhouette of form.

Flower petals divide light and also let it through in varying intensity, like the way a stained glass window might.

Other forms are shadowed through.

The stained glass of the insect world is seen in the wings of many flying insects.

The light is divided by the veining and translucency of the wing membrane.

Trees especially trace the sky, like a child scribbling with a magic marker .

The branching designs are uniquely endless in patterning.

Looking straight up from below has a cathedral-like feel when surrounded by towering trees, the light passing through and blanketing the ground below.

The design of the cathedral is cruciform and has vaulting with ornamental bosses, corbels, and neo-gothic tracery. Photo by GWGT

Look at the line of birch below and see any resemblance to the ‘branching pattern in the arches?

What would this scene be without the row of birch marching along the property line?

Plants such as Perovskia, with the delicate silver branching really have the feel of almost regal tracery. In their summer cloak, the purples reinforce and mimic regal forebears.

The fine form of grasses sparkle after a rain? The droplets shine like little gems. Garden interest and beauty can be found in so many ways.

Join us by tracing your own interpretation of the word Tracery.  You just might find a trace in your garden.

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Next post, Spring in the Blink of an Eye then… Month in Tens Calender, … then Worlds View – Water , Water Everywhere. Much is in store.

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About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at: http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com
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25 Responses to W4W Tracery in the Landscape

  1. Martha says:

    What a gorgeous, thoughtful, well considered post.

  2. Jennifer says:

    Donna, I must confess that this is a word that I did not know at all. You have done a great job at helping us to see relationships we might otherwise have missed, like the tracery found in a cathedral and that found in a tree. The shot of the delicate silver branching of the Perovskia is exquisite.

  3. thequeenofseaford says:

    I really like the comparison of the arches in the cathedral to the branching of the trees. That purple bloom with the swirled veining is amazing!!

  4. andrea says:

    Those are real awesome captures Donna. The gothic structures compared with the trees, haven’t thought of that. I’ve known the W4W as tracery but we don’t have deciduous trees as bare as your winter ones. Anyway, i will try my best and show the difference of skeletons in your country versus what we have in the tropics. Pardon for the word “skeleton” as my psyche can relate to it better. I hope i can find some! hahaha

  5. HolleyGarden says:

    That cathedral is magnificent! You are so right that being under trees can seem like being in a cathedral. And the vines over the pergola have that same sort of feel to it – almost sacred. I have my post ready – I’ll join in tomorrow.

  6. In the first photo, I love how the arches look translucent.

  7. Laurrie says:

    I have always loved the look of bare branches and the play of shadows in the garden, but couldn’t articulate it or even describe it. How well you have done that with your words (even just the term tracery) and pictures. Love those birches in an open line.

  8. Donna I loved this word and your post…it was at first difficult for me, and it took me in so many directions as you cite here…where I ended up was a surprise…back to my waxing philosophical a bit…I hope you like the post!

  9. Indie says:

    Beautiful post! I love the photos, especially of the cathedral. I confess that I didn’t know the meaning of this word, but you illustrate it beautifully. I love how the branches of the trees stretch heavenward to make a cathedral-like room. It reminds me of a scene from the book, Girl of the Limberlost, one of my favorites growing up.

  10. These images are lovely and illustrate tracery beautifully. I especially like the shadow on the snow…excellent! Thanks for hosting.

  11. Wonderful examples. I love your cathedral photos! This was certainly a more difficult one for me to translate to the garden but I found what I could. It is good to be stretched!

  12. I keep thinking I’m done with winter/early spring but then I see something like this and almost look forward to autumn’s theft of foliage. Pretty impressive you can make me feel that way when we’re still in the hypnotic and feverish chartreuse budding leaf stage!

  13. My favorite post of yours so far.

  14. b-a-g says:

    Well done Donna – I wasn’t sure if using a random word generator to select your W4W was a good idea, but you proved me wrong. I totally understand what tracery means now!

  15. Kala says:

    I would never thought of the arch of the cathedral being associated with nature. Interesting post.

    • Many architectural forms over many design periods in time were inspired through nature. I usually don’t address this on a garden blog though. Usually it is a stretch to see the association. But with arches, they have a structural connection, just as a tree supports the canopy, the buttresses and arches support the structure and roof. Often the ribs (like branches) were exaggerated to reinforce the form.

  16. Patty says:

    I have often admired and considered the veining in plants and butterfly wings but never took it to the next steps, trees and cathedrals. Very interesting post. Perhaps related – looking at the patterns on seashells when held up to the light.

  17. Beautiful photos as usual – the cathedral looks amazing.

  18. Marguerite says:

    I never would have thought of cathedrals in comparison to trees but I see what you mean. I love the way light and shadows play in the winter snow, beautiful images.

  19. helensadornmentsblog says:

    I’m a glass person so I really enjoyed the information on light and reflections. Great post!

  20. Brian Comeau says:

    Thanks for teaching me a new term. The shots of the Cathedral are gorgeous and I really love the shot of the sunflower from behind. Terrific capture of the shadows on the snow!

  21. Dear Donna, Stunning pictures that teach so much about tracery. It’s impossible to pick a favorite. Thank you for hosting this meme. P. x

  22. What a beautiful post. I never really thought about the correlation of towering trees in a forest to the vaulted ceilings over naves in churches and cathedrals. I can certainly see it now though.

  23. You are a masterful photographer and teacher, Donna. This is a beautifully conceived and illustrated post.

  24. sergioslandscaping says:

    Your comparison of trees and plants with cathedrals are just divine. One would indeed stop and think of your wonderful descriptions and compare. Being in the lawn maintenance Phoenix industry, we encounter various plants daily and this post is so inspiring, it makes us thankful to be in such line of work.

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