Sunday, March 21, 2010

Garden thoughts

Over the last few weeks, I’ve read several blogs and listened to a few podcasts that have provided some really inspiring and thoughtful reflections on gardening. The debates range from the meaning and philosophy of gardens, to their purpose in our modern world, to the ongoing question of where gardens fit in the realm of art. Some pretty deep and insightful stuff. As someone very interested in gardening, it’s great to see that people are stirred enough by gardens, both emotionally and intellectually, to fuel these discussions.

This brings me back to my own little blog, and its intended purpose. When I initially started the blog, I thought about it as just a way to keep track of the gardens I visited and my immediate impressions of them, basically a reference list I could easily come back to later. But now I’ve been inspired to think a little further. For the blog to be worthwhile, I shouldn’t be describing simply what was there and general impressions, but rather to use it as an opportunity to analyze my garden visits in greater detail, to try to distill the lessons of each garden. I’m under no illusion that my ponderings are going to be as insightful or eloquent as the other garden thinkers I’m referring to above, but my goal is learning, no matter if the process may be awkward and full of mistakes.

I suppose the main question I am interested in is what exactly makes some gardens work, while others do not? Sometimes you step into a garden and it’s just magical, there is a connection and an emotional response. Others, even when the ‘required elements’ seem to be in place, just don’t manage to evoke this. It’s the immediate emotional response that I find most interesting about great gardens - to quote Penelope Hobhouse from a Vista Lectures podcast I was just listening to, you know within 10 seconds of stepping into a garden whether it's a good one or not. I also find it interesting that this response is more or less universal, and doesn’t depend on identifying with a particular garden element that may hold special significance for an individual; rather, great gardens are recognized as such by a majority of people, so they must manage to strike a common cord in all of us. I’m also not really concerned about reading too much into gardens, such as the meaning of symbolic elements or the like. To me, the garden alone should tell its story and not need an accompanying guidebook to clarify meaning to the ordinary visitor. Simply, I want to ask myself whether a garden spoke to me, and if it did, what did I feel was the reason?

Well, that was meant as a short introduction to the next garden on my Loire Valley trip, but I think it’s too late to delve into that. I’ll be back in the next days with Villandry!


  1. I look forward to reading about what you find. Such simplicity, whether a garden speaks to you, can be hard, at least for me. It's so easy to become lost in delightful detail.

  2. That's true, as I was just reminded on my way home today. Small details, like suddenly turning the corner and coming across the giant, shimmering catkins of a pussy willow in the ditch, or the unexpected perfume of a hyacinth as I was whizzing by on my bike, can touch you just as deeply. But I do think that great gardens speak to me as soon as I walk in, before there is a chance to appreciate the details. We'll see!