Stripping away and paring back the overgrowth in my own plot, I have been musing and pondering the while. On the pint pot scale, this is milk bottle size and weirdly enough we have dug a rich seam of these out of the bank down the far end. Archeology in the making. In reality it is tennis court size, but boundaries follow the outline of a drying-up cloth, hung in haste and askew, on the washing line.
What then do we want from this garden? Not much:
Log store, washing line, chickens, vine-draped sunspot, getting in and out of the joint, storage for rusting bicycles and tools, somewhere to smoke out of the rain, greenhouse, cold frames, holding beds for transplantees, shade for relaxing in, flowery mead to sit in the middle of, fruit, dog bone-gnawing place, zinging colour, jungle, castellated hedging, asparagus bed .....oh and a conceptualist space.
What of that lot can we fit in? A headache is brought on by the spirit of the place spiralling upwards with a shriek of despair. Time to pause and draw breath. It is handy to stop, dip into a few books, scribble notes and ask a few questions. So what is a garden after all? A wander in the dusty shelves and it emerges that a garden is a paradise, “filled with all the good things that the earth brings forth”. A paradise. This word comes from the ancient Persian paira - meaning around and daiza meaning walls. From there fast forward to the enclosed and highly formal medieval garden, the Hortus Conclusus, a symbolic space representing the church or the Virgin Mary. Sanctuary, stillness and contemplation crowd in.
Critical to the definition of conceptualism in gardening is the notion that the garden takes its central idea as more important than decorative appeal. How interesting to note that the church got there centuries ago. And sounded a gong to the Grandmoma of Conceptualist landscaping, Martha Schwartz: “to make a landscape that speaks to people of the human condtion”. And so from this crystal goblet of definition to one or two of the gardens in this category at the last RHS flower show, Hampton Court.
The fluffy wufffy bunny appeal of ‘Las Mariposas’ lipstick pink and soft billows of Stipa tenuissimma and cornflowers belie a grim idea indeed. The high levels of sexual violation of women in Nicaragua. The butterflies, casked in glass are their hopes of reprieve from such violence.
By contrast Tony Smith, the ‘maverick designer’, has been sternly uncompromising on looks. His pavement is a play on Chaos theory and all is ascetic rather than aesthetically appealing.
I don’t suppose for a moment that there is a notion that we should graft such high-mindedness or the ziggurats of intellectual concepts into our own gardens but that squeezed drying-up cloth of mine gives a potential space before busting into bone-gnawing or flowery territory. The pondering goes on and on.