Tag Archives: Bosco della Ragnaia

Bosco della Ragnaia: A Garden for the Mind

July 13th, 2020 | 6 Comments »

Gardens and the peace they can bring are much on my mind today, as the number of people infected with COVID-19 continues to grow.  It is a fact that gardens can heal the body as well as the mind. Research from around the world tells us that even brief contacts with nature are beneficial, lowering blood pressure and reducing stress as effectively as antidepressants for mild to moderate depression.

Almost any reconnection with nature has a powerful physical and mental healing effect, even something as simple as weeding a flower bed. That’s a powerful message in these times. But I believe that a garden can do more.

Bosco della Ragnaia, the garden landscape created near Siena in Italy by Sheppard Craige, soothes the soul and excites the mind. I’ve visited this garden twice and would happily return many times more. For this is a place that offers insights that endure.


This overview of the sunny side of Bosco della Ragnaia illustrates how the garden maker has played with perspective and historic precedence.
This overview of the sunny side of Bosco della Ragnaia illustrates how the garden maker has played with perspective and historic precedence.


A 10-acre plot described by its maker as a woodland park of tall trees, Bosco della Ragnaia is more a work of art than a garden in any traditional sense.  And although it is privately owned, it is open to individuals at no cost, without reservations or advance booking.

Visitors enter the garden along a tree-lined avenue where clay sculptures by the American artist Frances Lansing depict woodland scenes, animals and Sheppard Craige, the garden maker and Lansing’s husband.


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At the end of the path, almost magically, those same visitors move from bright sunlight into deep shade, an abrupt plunge that makes duality, one of the themes of the garden, explicit.

Posts painted in alternate stripes of black and white suggest an antithesis that eliminates any possibility of grey.


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But the absolutist position becomes increasingly nuanced as the garden opens up.


was I

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Is it a fluke that the stone reading Night appears in sunlight and the stone reading Day appears in shadow? Possibly.







But again and again throughout Bosco della Ragnaia, words question our certainties.  Montaigne’s dictum “Que sais-je?” or ‘What do I know?’ makes this explicit.

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Shown again and again in the garden as Pan, the Arcadian god of wild groves, Craige is a playful spirit.


If not here, where?
If not here, where?


He shows us the universe as it is via a large book that opens to mirror the sky above. At the same time he cautions us against thinking we can comprehend nature in its entirety. An upright stone near the entrance is engraved to read

Everywhere you can see part of it

Nowhere can you see all of it.


The German artist Gerhard Richter once wrote a note to himself. “Pictures which are interpretable, and which contain a meaning, are bad pictures.” A good picture “takes away our certainty, because it …  shows us the thing in all the manifold significance and infinite variety that preclude the emergence of any single meaning and view.”

A good garden does the same, and Bosco della Ragnaia is a very good garden. Even while its multiple references demonstrate Craige’s Renaissance sensibilities and familiarity with classical literature, the questioning that underpins it  makes Bosco della Ragnaia very much a garden for today, one where unequivocal certainties are continually unsettled.

Our understanding of nature itself comes under scrutiny through the words of Werner Heisenberg, he of the uncertainty principle.

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Rarely has a garden become rooted in my mind as deeply as Bosco della Ragnaia, and I find myself returning regularly to my photos and my memories to discover new ideas and interpretations, calling into question my own certainties and beliefs.

Recently, Sheppard Cragie was kind enough to send me a copy of a limited edition booklet he produced that tells the story of the garden. Subtitled “When the woods was ruled by Sages,” the text presents the garden in all its complexity. It offers no simple answers or conclusions, but offers choices:

Dunque, or therefore, on one side of the path,


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Invece, or on the other hand, on the opposite.


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And lodged in the opening of both, hard, intractable stones.

Again and again throughout the garden, we are encouraged to think about what we see. To take nothing for granted. To consider our surroundings and how we affect them. In the sunlit side of the garden, three stones laid flat on the ground offer counsel: Not Knowing but Asking; Not Asking but Thinking; not Thinking but Doing.

Sage advice for these days, or for any other.


Thinking about Gardens

February 13th, 2017 | 17 Comments »
This sign seen at the wonderful Italian garden Bosco della Ragnaia, created by Sheppard Craige, says it all: If not here, where?
After a short but enjoyable holiday in Florida, I'm back in Quebec. Moving from one weather system to another that is radically different strains the body and provokes obvious questions. Why leave ocean breezes for frozen lakes, or blue skies and green palm trees for white snow and grey skies?   [caption id="attachment_4918" align="aligncenter" width="600"] The angle of this photo tells you how hard I was working in Florida. Don't laugh: leaning back and doing nothing takes some doing. (Ok, not much.)[/caption]   It is cold here. And it keeps on snowing,


Visiting Gardens: Nine Do’s and a Don’t

April 20th, 2016 | 10 Comments »
John Coke, owner of Bury Court in , has a wealth of knowledge about the plants in his garden which he freely shares.
Visiting gardens is one the joys of my life. For the last four years, I've been hosting small group tours to gardens in Britain and Italy, working alongside an outstanding professional travel agent based in Vancouver. Julia Guest at Travel Concepts does the detailed planning that is essential to ensure a good garden tour. Without her work, the tours couldn't happen. Without the cooperation of individual garden owners, the tours wouldn't be as inspirational. And without the companionship of the men and women who have been part of the tours, they


Allusions in the Garden

April 12th, 2016 | 13 Comments »
This statue of Hercules dominating his surroundings is at the entrance to Kykuit, the country house of the Rockefeller family. Allusions to power and dominance are obvious.
The most recent post on the excellent British website ThinkinGardens is about the use of allusions in gardens. Noel Kingsbury, one of three people taking part in the conversation, suggested that allusions were all well and good in gardens from other times and places but that in today's gardens, they are outmoded. "Allusion in the West which previous generations of artists and garden makers used was based on Classical and Christian mythologies. Very few of [us] are now conversant with either. So – first question – how do we create and use


Glass, Metal and Shadows

November 24th, 2014 | 2 Comments »
A shark flies through the air at Hatfield House in England.
Water and mirrors are probably the most common reflecting surfaces in a garden but glass, which shares many characteristics with them, is another source with additional possibilities. Unlike mirrors, glass is both reflective and transparent. Webster's Column, a glass and stainless steel sculpture I made to commemorate my husband's long career in journalism, both reflects the surrounding trees and gives a glimpse of the newspapers stacked inside. [caption id="attachment_1462" align="aligncenter" width="683"] Webster's Column, 2010, by Patterson Webster[/caption]   Frequently, the image given back by glass is distorted or broken into segments, whether


Bosco della Ragnaia

May 25th, 2014 | 6 Comments »
From Roman times, the contrast between sun and shade has played a major role in Italian garden design. Understandably so, in a country where people search for shade in the summer and for the warmth of sun in winter.This traditional feature is a major design element in a contemporary garden near Siena, Bosco della Ragnaia. Two parts form this garden: a shady woodland,This is the central area of the woodland garden.and a former field, now opened to sunlight and the distant view.An overview of the sunny garden shows how Bosco