Series brings ‘GardenStory’ to life
Photo by Dan Addison
|Landscape architecture professor Reuben M. Rainey (right) discusses a detail of a paviliion garden with Rebecca Frischkorn (left). They are co-executive producers of the PBS series GardenStory. The 13-part PBS series began airing on June 2, and will continue on June 9. Check the schedule at www.gardenstory.org.
By Jane Ford
Reuben M. Rainey believes there’s a story behind every garden, one that brings the landscape to life with the narrative of the people, spirit, philosophy and politics that underlies the design and transforms a plot of earth into something magical.
Rainey, the William Stone Weedon Professor in Asian Architecture in the School of Architecture, has taught at U.Va. for 27 years. He entered the field of landscape architecture mid-career and has focused his research and teaching on the history of landscape architecture. His background in comparative religion and philosophy — he has a master’s degree in divinity and a Ph.D. in the philosophy of religion and history — laid the groundwork for him to ask the deeper questions about landscape architecture that he brings to his research, teaching and, most recently, to filmmaking.
Rainey’s interest in the power of film to capture movement through space and the unfolding experience of a garden led him to join Charlottesville resident and self-taught landscape designer Rebecca Frischkorn as co-executive producer of a 13-part PBS series, GardenStory, that exhibits the power of gardens to transform lives. The shows, conceived and hosted by Frischkorn, were directed by local filmmaker William Reifenberger, who teaches in U.Va.’s media studies program. Four of the films will air in central Virginia on WHTJTV Charlottesville PBS, and VCVE, Richmond PBS, June 2 and June 9. They highlight a garden of serenity and quiet inspiration, created by a Harlem Renaissance poet; a garden as a classroom — Jefferson’s Academical Village; a garden as a realm of creativity, featuring composer John McLennan’s Berkshire Mountain landscape, which embodies the parallel between garden design and the composition of music; and the garden as an environmental stewardship, featuring a 34-acre sanctuary for endangered species in a West Virginia forest once devastated by over-timbering that reveals how a forest can be nurtured as a garden.
Rainey is no stranger to the idea of film as an educational tool to bring to life the designer’s vision and the cultural environments in which they were created. He has used film in his landscape architecture history classes since 1994. He came upon the idea one summer while lecturing to students at the gardens of the Villa d’Este. They were attending U.Va.’s School of Architecture summer program in Vicenza, Italy, where Rainey has taught for 11 years. He was struck by how different the experience was for these students, compared to those who attended his slide lectures in Charlottesville.
“So much of landscape architecture is about movement through space. I thought in a slide lecture ‘all these fountains are frozen.’ A slide cannot convey the sound of water and the play of light, but maybe film could do it,” Rainey said.
In the summer of 1994, he decided to attend a filmmaking program at the University of Southern California School Cinema-Television in the summer of 1994. The USC program offered him the opportunity to pursue his film vision solo. He remembers that everyone was making narrative films with actors, plots and crews. His classmates teased him as he wandered off with his camera to explore nearby gardens.
Armed with his USC training, Rainey continued filming outdoor spaces to supplement his class lectures as he visited gardens worldwide.
When Frischkorn began sharing her idea for a TV series on gardens with friends, they all said she needed to meet Rainey. A mutual friend introduced them in 2002. It began a collaboration of like minds that Rainey describes as uncanny.
According to Rainey, people have commented that in the book they co-authored on the Harlem Renaissance poet, “Half My World: The Gardens of Anne Spencer, A History and Guide,” it is hard to distinguish who wrote which part. The book won a 2004 Medal of Honor from the American Society of Landscape Architects.
“The multistrengths he brings to the project, especially his background in comparative religions and his film-school training, have enriched the project,” Frischkorn said, describing how his wit, compassion and deep understanding of the way film and music can capture what she refers to as the four dimensions of the garden as an art form.
The production of the first film in the series was already under way when Rainey visited an early shoot at the Spencer garden in Lynchburg, Va. Frischkorn sensed his commitment and interest in the project and soon asked him to join the effort.
The collaboration between the two landscape architecture aficionados will not end with the June broadcasts of GardenStory, the first four films. The team continues to work to secure funding for the next four films in the series, which they hope to complete in about a year and a half. The episodes will focus on the social dimensions of the garden and will highlight spaces in the New York City area. The topics include community gardens in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brownsville and the Lower East Side and their power to renew the inner city; an AIDS garden —the Joel Schnaper Memorial Garden at the Terence Cardinal Cooke Health Care Center — focusing on the garden as a healing environment; the Conservatory Garden in Central Park and how it enhances the quality of urban life; and the Prudential Outdoor Learning Center of the Greater Newark Conservancy, which will focus on the role of gardens in the lives of innercity children and how this garden fosters environmental values.
GardenStory is a 13-part PBS series that exhibits the power of gardens to transform lives. Two of the first four films in the series aired on WHTJ-TV, Charlottesville’s PBS station (channel 41, cable 7) and WCVE, Richmond PBS on June 2. The other films will be shown on June 9. They are:
The Garden as Realm of Creativity
“Ashintully in Tyringham, Massachusetts”
Composer John McLennan’s Berkshire Mountain landscape embodies the parallel between garden design and the composition of music.
The Garden as Environmental Stewardship
“The Upper Shavers Fork Nature Conservancy Preserve in Randolph County, West Virginia”
A 34-acre sanctuary for endangered species in a forest once devastated by over-timbering reveals how a forest can be nurtured as a garden.