In other words, an English garden.
All other designs flow from that concept, or defy it in an attempt to update it or to be provocative. But even as modern garden designs dare to do something different, the norm they are escaping is the English border.
As I visit other gardens I don't even realize that I judge all designs from that starting point.
It made me think of the time we visited the Pitti Palace in Florence, Italy to see the famous Boboli Garden.
The grand gardens are on a hillside behind the palace, with allees, paths, stone steps, hideaways and open areas twisting among the greenery as you climb. As we entered the courtyard and took in the initial scene, the tourists behind us could be heard saying:
But where are the gardens?
First of all, I'm a tourist too, so no pretense there. Second, I had the same reaction. Where were the gardens? Were we supposed to go up the hill to find them at the top?
Of course this was a Renaissance garden, built over centuries beginning in the 1550s. So we knew it would be formal and full of sculpture. There are resources all over the internet to tell you about the palace history, the Medici family, and the lavish style of the garden. But putting all that wonderful history aside, let me give you my impression of the design of the garden, seen through the eyes of an American gardener.
There were no flowers.
That fact alone made us disoriented. The lack of any blooms made us think there was no garden here. The stonework was impressive, and there were gravel drives and open grass and statues and walls, and a lot of greenery, but it didn't fit our concept of what a garden looks like.
Without flowers, where was the garden?
It was in the framed views.
All design in this space was to enhance what could be seen below, either the hills of olive orchards falling away in one direction or the city of Florence in the other. Or looking back from the hillside garden, the majesty of the palace structure itself, just to impress.
It was in the use of light.
In Italy the sun is an element in the garden. The way you enter the garden is up shallow walled steps, through cloistered shade and suddenly into the bold light. Pleached allees of shady trees further up the hill offer coolness, and also a play of dappled light. You walk this garden, you don't just look at it.
It was in the hardscape.
Statuary, of course; lots of it strategically placed against green backdrops. Walls and steps naturally. Stone fountains. Even a simple pool with some potted lemon trees became a beautifully designed space.
|I told you I was a tourist. I make no excuses.|
The flowery herbaceous border full of color did not develop until recently, really only in the 20th century. Yet we now think of it as the norm. While we mow our lawns, hike in the woods, or love to see a prairie expanse, it is flowers and shrubs that define what it means to have an ornamental garden now.
I love the style of my typical American suburban garden, but oh, how travel to another time and place expands our definition of things!