January 06, 2005

The Garden Book

Phaidon organized these five hundred gardens by their designers; Aalto to Zug, each is represented by one garden, each garden represented by one small vivid photograph and about three paragraphs of text. It isn't, therefore, much use if you're looking for something relevant to any particular garden; but all the photos are good of their kind, so it's very calming to flip through. Since the five hundred most glorious gardens tend to have been built with lots of space, and lots of money, and often lots of time, it wasn't going to be a utilitarian book anyway.

There are more photos than I would like of a single built object rather than a plant or landscape layout. Sometimes this is reasonable; the Chinese teahouse at Sanssouci is a joy.

I was enthralled by the tiny description of the Quinta de Regaleira, built by someone amazingly rich even by the standards of the Gilded Age and very fond of symbolism and mystery; it's described as "the garden of an obsessive", or "allegorical", and seems to be composed largely of turrets and grottos, or dry wells, connected by half-hidden ways. Clearly a mastermind of ambiguous morality should live there.

These stunnerous gardens don't last forever; war and development took some, many of them require constant upkeep, others were plowed under by inheritors of money but not taste, many are ruins thousands of years old (and still striking), some of them had natural lifespans limited by the lives of trees. I am made the more happy by the Cang Lang Ting:

The Cang Lang Ting is one of the oldest gardens in Suzhou and has been so miraculously preserved that it still resembles the drawing its creator, the scholar and poet Su Zimei, made when he designed the garden in 1044. Carved on to a black stone, which still stands at the entrance to the garden, the plan shows a bird's-eye view[...]

It was moved or rebuilt in the 17th century, but everyone says it kept the spirit of the Song builders.

A significant number of the gardens are 'out of place' in some way, as when Catherine the Great hired a Scottish architect to build a Chinese village and a pyramid mausoleum (for her dogs!) .East and West exchanged styles, also North and South, and maybe the transplants required more genius to flourish; or maybe they stayed famous because they were so obviously made things. The pyramids are a recurring theme, too, said to represent reason and enlightenment but often associated with secrets.

ISBN: 0741843555

So wrote clew in Gardening. | TrackBack
And thus wrote others:
TrackBacks turned off...