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Botanic Garden Designing the Scottish Landscape

Courtesy Allan Pollok-Morris
This photo by Allan Pollok-Morris shows the Black Hole Terrace in the Garden of Cosmic Speculation, designed by Charles Jencks as a place to explore certain fundamental aspects of the universe.

As blustery winds and biting cold plague the National Mall, the Botanic Garden offers a welcome respite to visitors — both green-thumbed and otherwise. The garden’s newest exhibit whisks its audience to Scotland’s most captivating gardens, thanks to 40 large-scale photographs by Allan Pollok-Morris.

To shoot the photographs in “Close: a Journey in Scotland,” Pollok-Morris spent five years traveling through Scotland to visit works by more than 30 renowned landscape designers and artists, including Andy Goldsworthy, Charles Jencks, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Arabella Lennox-Boyd and Penelope Hobhouse.

Always on the lookout for innovative exhibitions that tell a story, the Botanic Garden chose to feature Pollok-Morris to show a different side of gardening.

“These gardens are about landforms and land art,” said Christine Flanagan, the Botanic Garden’s public programs manager. “It’s a much larger statement about how humans interact with their landscape, with the skin of the earth.”

Holly Shimizu, the garden’s executive director, said, “People will be amazed at the kind of garden art that’s being done in Scotland.”

Within the collection, no two gardens — or photographs — are alike. A romantic scene of a Scottish castle adorned with wildflowers hangs next to a stark, spindly sculpture covered in snow. A wide-angle vista of gardens by the sea contrasts with a close-up of the annual nicotiana affinis. Across the gallery, the warm and inviting Dunbeath Castle glows at the end of a tall line of foreboding trees.

“It takes you out of the everyday human scale and into something quite unreal,” Flanagan said. “It makes you wonder.”

Many of the photographs in the exhibit feature Cawdor Castle, often rumored to be the setting of William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” The castle’s gardens are famous for their bright red benches, which contrast with the lush greens and vibrant purples of the landscapes around them in Pollok-Morris’ photos.

“Gardens are a lot more than visual,” Shimizu said. “They are so experiential, so stimulating to the mind, senses and thoughts.”

While each of the gardens in the collection requires contemplation, Jencks’ 30-acre Garden of Cosmic Speculation seems to have fallen out of a surrealist painting.

“I was just so entranced with it,” Flanagan said. “It just overwhelms you.”

In his photographs of the garden, Pollok-Morris highlights a terraced hill covered with vibrant grass, reflected in a teardrop pond at its base. In another picture, eerily reminiscent of Alice’s Wonderland, a checkerboard of moss and metal twists over a hill.

“It’s such an amazing concept,” Shimizu said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

In an e-mail, Pollok-Morris wrote, “My aim is to make open, objective, thought-provoking photographs on the subject of man’s relationship with the natural world.”

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