Tag Archives: English gardens

The Way to Go, or Not to Go

May 15th, 2018 | 18 Comments »

 

One of the decisions I have to make when groups visit Glen Villa is which way to go. Shall I to lead the group around the garden this way or that?

In some gardens the choice is made for you. There is a set route that the garden maker or garden owner wants you to take. Or that the government authority in charge has dictated.

This is the case at Villa Lante, the Renaissance garden built for Cardinal Gamberaia and now owned by the government of Italy. The Cardinal’s garden used water to show how nature, untamed and chaotic, is ‘civilized’ by art and the power of man. To follow the story, visitors entered the garden at the top of a hill, where water poured  out over rough tufa walls.

 

The Grotto of the Deluge marks the division between primitive life and the beginning of civilization.
This area is called the Grotto of the Deluge. It is meant to mark the division between primitive life and the beginning of civilization.

 

As they moved down the hill, they witnessed a gradual transformation, with art increasingly dominating nature.

 

Each hand-carved scroll on the sides of the rill is slightly different, modifying the sound of the water as it descends.
Hand-carved, each scroll on the rill is slightly different, and that difference modifies the sound of the water as it descends.

 

The transformation reached its climax at the lowest level, where water rested, calmly contained within a large square basin surrounded by a formal broderie design.

 

The town of Viterbo lies just outside the garden walls.
The town of Viterbo lies just outside the garden walls.

 

Today the direction is reversed. Visitors enter at the bottom of the garden, distorting the Cardinal’s metaphor by presenting it backwards.

The same bottom to top problem exists at Villa d’Este in Tivoli. In the 1500s, visitors entering at the bottom of the garden spied the palace high above them. The sight was meant to overwhelm, and it did.

 

There is no straight path to the top of the hill. A visitor might follow one path on a first visit, another on a second.
No path leads straight to the top of the hill. A visitor might follow one path on a first visit, another on a second.

 

Today’s visitors enter at the top, looking down from the seat of power instead of up to it.

 

 

This terrace is one of many that visitors encounter as they make their way through the garden.
This terrace is one of many that visitors encounter as they make their way through the garden.

 

 

Few gardens today are designed to convey messages through topography. (I can’t think of any. Can you?) But the way visitors move through a garden still matters, because the route we take affects how we experience the space.

A few years ago I visited the Morikami Japanese Garden in southern Florida. My companion had been to the garden once before and, because she hadn’t found the experience particularly meaningful, wasn’t eager to return. The second visit changed her mind — and all because we went round the garden the ‘right’ way.

A pond lies at the centre of the garden, and visitors are meant to walk around it counterclockwise. This is also the case at Stourhead, an18th century English landscape garden in Wiltshire. Circling the lake the ‘right’ way presents views to their best advantage, the way the garden’s creator, Henry Hoare, intended.

 

Hoare created the lake by damming a stream. His classical buildings provide focal points as well as telling a story.
Hoare created the lake by damming a stream. His classical buildings provide focal points as well as telling a story.

 

 

Views aren’t the only reason why a visitor may be encouraged, or forced, to take one path rather than another. Consider Mt. Cuba, a garden located near Wilmington, Delaware, where native plants are the raison d’être. Showing wildflowers to their best advantage does not depend on the path you follow. But because Mt Cuba is open to the public, visitors’ steps are directed along clearly defined routes.

 

 

Visitors need to be directed around the garden to protect sensitive plants and sensitive areas.
Controlling where visitors walk protects sensitive plants and sensitive areas.

 

 

The lushly romantic garden of Ninfa was designed for wandering, and it’s easy to  imagine the original owners lingering here or there to smell a rose or listen to a murmuring stream. The experience is different for visitors today. Groups are frogmarched through the garden on a predetermined route and at a predetermined pace that dampens even a whisper of romance.

 

Ninfa has been described as the most romantic garden in the world.
Ninfa has been described as the most romantic garden in the world.

 

 

The experience at Prospect Cottage, Derek Jarman’s garden on the shingle beach in Kent, is different again. A private garden, it nonetheless feels public — it fronts onto a public road and no fences separate the garden from its surroundings. Visitors can wander as the please, circling the house one way or the other, exploring each vignette and finding whatever meaning they choose.

 

 

The setting is bleak, windy and inspirational.
The setting is bleak, windy and inspirational.

 

Where you enter the garden can make a difference to the experience. In the Walled Garden at Scampston Hall, visitors are encouraged to walk around three sides of the garden before entering the first of nine garden rooms, the Piet Oudolf designed Drifts of Grass.

 

Nine distinct garden 'rooms' divide 4.5 acres enclosed within 18th century bricks walls at this Yorkshire garden.
Nine distinct garden ‘rooms’ divide 4.5 acres enclosed within 18th century bricks walls at this Yorkshire garden.

 

 

Natural features in the landscape or elements deliberately placed can shape a garden journey. Water rills, hedges, walls and gates: all can dictate the way a visitor must go. Simple flower beds can do the same. In a private garden in New York state, a winding path edged by plants gently directs visitors towards an open area.

 

 

Mown grass makes a comfortable path through this garen.
Mown grass makes a comfortable path through this garden.

 

 

People can move through the garden at Glen Villa in any number of ways. They can walk south towards the Lower Garden …

 

 

Magnolias are in full bloom now in the Lower Garden.
Magnolias are in full bloom now in the Lower Garden.

 

 

… or north, towards the Aqueduct.

 

 

This photo is from last summer. Plants here now are barely above ground.
This photo is from last summer. Plants here now are barely above ground.

 

If they enter by the pond they see one view.

 

This pond exists because of a dam built about 150 years ago.
This pond exists because of a dam built about 150 years ago.

 

If they enter through the fields they see another.

 

Buttercups cover the fields in June.
Buttercups cover the fields in June.

 

 

I like having a choice, in my own garden and in someone else’s. But having a choice can be confusing. I know my way around Glen Villa. I know I will see everything I want to see, with or without directions, or a map, or arrows pointing this way or that. But for others, a map or arrows may be essential.

What about you? Do you like to be directed around a garden or do you prefer to wander?

Malverleys: A Garden of Contrasts

November 27th, 2017 | 17 Comments »
Vivid colours appear in the hot border. Contrasts are more subtle in the cool-toned border but are still  dynamic and inventive.
Winter is almost here in Quebec, which means that not much is going on in the garden at Glen Villa. So instead of moaning about that, I'm remembering one of the gardens I visited in England last May. Malverleys is a large private estate, rarely open to the public, so the small group of gardeners who were on the tour I was hosting was fortunate to be able to visit. We were doubly fortunate to tour the garden in the company of Mat Reese, the head gardener. Anyone who subscribes to Gardens Illustrated, or

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Gardeners (and Gardens) to Remember

June 7th, 2017 | 14 Comments »
This garden by James Alexander Sinclair showed the relationship between sound and motion. Water gurgled and spouted in response to sound waves. Very ingenious.
I'm home again at Glen Villa, my garden in Quebec, after touring gardens in England. In ten days, the small group I was hosting visited 17 gardens, each special in its own way. Add in the Chelsea Flower Show and pre-tour visits to three other gardens and you can imagine the result: more photos and memories than a dozen blog posts can handle. Let me mention a few highlights. (More blog posts will come once I catch my breath and begin to assimilate all I saw.) The Chelsea Flower Show

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Ascott: A Garden Review

October 25th, 2016 | 11 Comments »
The hours are shown in Roman numerals, the text in block letters circling behind.
Note: Recently I became aware of a technical glitz that was causing problems with the delivery of this blog. It has now been resolved. To those of you reading a blog post for the first time, even if you subscribed many months ago -- my apologies for the delay and welcome to the Site and Insight blog! I welcome your comments.   "It is magnificent. It is what God would have done if he had the money."   I don't know whose garden Noel Coward was describing when he penned those words, but you

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Prospect Cottage: A Garden Review

October 12th, 2016 | 12 Comments »
The cottage retains its original strongly contrasting paint colours.
  The garden at Prospect Cottage, located in Kent on England's east coast, was created by the late Derek Jarmon, a filmmaker, diarist and early advocate of gay rights. It is a garden that sits lightly on the land while simultaneously conveying a powerful sense of place. It is also one that elicits a strong response from visitors. Either they like it or they don't, are intrigued by it or walk through quickly, dismissing what they see as a collection of rubbish with some flowers thrown in.   [caption id="attachment_4107" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]

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The Gibberd Garden

June 6th, 2016 | 8 Comments »
A bust of Gibberd by Gerda Rubinstein site is viewed comfortably through a house window.
  Sir Frederick Gibberd was an English architect, landscape designer and town planner. His design for Harlow New Town, generally regarded as the most successful of Britain's post-WWII developments, is his greatest achievement. His garden is his most personal. Located in Essex on the outskirts of the town he designed, the garden is little known and little visited, despite being called by BBC Gardeners' World one of the most important post-war gardens in the country.   [caption id="attachment_4032" align="aligncenter" width="3888"] A bust of Gibberd by Gerda Rubinstein is viewed comfortably

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A Year of Visiting Gardens

December 20th, 2015 | 13 Comments »
This bridge is one of the most photographed features at Magnolia Plantation. To me the ovals reflected in the black water look like elongated eyes.
2015 was a bumper year for garden visits. I'm almost overwhelmed when I realize how many gardens I visited -- well over 100 by a quick count. Some days, I found the experience exhausting; every day it was fun. My year of visiting gardens started in February when I saw two outstanding gardens in South Carolina. Middleton Place lived up to its reputation as one of America's premier historic gardens. Begun by Henry Middleton in 1741,  the garden follows the principles of André Le Nôtre -- which means that order, balance and focal points enlivened by

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Doing the Unexpected

November 15th, 2015 | 12 Comments »
Colour and shape smack you in the face.
Does your garden suffer from the blahs? You know, that late season feeling when everything looks past its best before date and a walk around the garden drags you down? That's how my garden has been looking recently, and that's how I've been feeling. But I may have found a remedy. To prepare for a short talk I gave last week, I flipped through my photographs of gardens in Scotland and the north of England. Some photos I passed by quickly, others made me stop for a second look. Why?

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Througham Court: A Garden of Ideas

January 13th, 2015 | 7 Comments »
Througham Court 2013-116
Are gardens intellectual endeavours or places to soothe the spirits? If a garden is intended to be a conceptual work of art, does it succeed if it has to be explained? And what responsibility rests on the person viewing the garden to understand the ideas that shaped it? Make the questions personal: should I have to work to understand what a garden is about or is it enough merely to enjoy what I see? If I don't understand the ideas, on what basis do I judge the garden? Visiting Througham Court in

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Is Mosaiculture topiary?

September 22nd, 2013 | 2 Comments »
24
Strictly speaking, the answer is -- no. Both are living sculptures, but they are made in different ways. Mosaiculture is also a contemporary form of plant display, while topiary has a long and distinguished history, dating back to  Roman times.So, what are the differences? The most obvious one is that topiary uses a single plant to create architectural and sculptural shapes while mosaiculture creates forms by combining a variety of plants with different colours and textures. Traditionally, creating a topiary took a long time; a plant, tree or shrub was clipped and shaped

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