AESTHETIC STUDY | GARDEN
ISSUE TWO | AESTHETIC STUDY
G A R D E N
Words & Visuals by Lily McFly
GARDEN IS AN INTRANSIGENT VERB; IT IS AN ACT OF CREATING A BOTANICAL WORLD USING SELECTED PLANTS AND IMAGINATION. CONSIDERED AS AESTHETIC EXPRESSIONS OF BEAUTY THROUGH ART AND NATURE, A GARDEN REVEALS A PARADOX: MADE BY MAN USING NATURAL MATERIALS, IT IS AS MUCH INFLUENCED BY THE ACTIONS OF MAN AS BY THE FORCES OF NATURE. AND IT HAS GOT MORE PAST AND FUTURE THAN IT MIGHT SEEM.
Gardens of different epochs expressed different ideas: the resolve to illustrate and pay homage to man’s mastery over nature, the megalomania of the artist, and the power of money. Though there was a time when gardens were used by people only to collect and secure food. Forest gardens – the world’s oldest form of land use – originated in prehistoric times in the jungles and existed as a part of the early humans’ process of improving their environment. Useful trees were selected and protected whilst unwanted plants were removed. Some researchers would compare forest gardens to the religious concept of the Garden of Eden, because these jungle gardens required little maintenance and barely any hard work.
Gardens for purely aesthetic purposes were created only after the emergence of the first civilizations. The earliest evidence of ornamental horticulture and landscape design was found in the Egyptian tombs. Also, Persians had a strong gardening tradition – the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were renowned as a Wonder of the World. Egyptian and Persian gardens had sophisticated design elements: trees and flowers were organized symmetrically; there were pounds, fountains and statues. The Persian “paradise garden” is one of the original garden types from which all the world’s gardens derive.
C U L T U R A L N O T E S
Gardens are made to symbolize our idea about nature and therefore different design approaches result from many meanings encompassed by the word “nature”. Ancient Greeks conceived nature as “the form, which shape the real world”. At the same time, one of the greatest Greek philosophers, Pythagoras sought to interpret the entire physical world in terms of numbers. Pythagoras’ discovery of harmonic proportion in music was an example of mathematics being used to explain an aspect of nature with aesthetic consequences. However, Greeks did not own private gardens. But in Roman culture, a garden was a part of every farm. The wealthiest Romans built extensive villa gardens with water features, flowerbeds and ornamental trees, which served as an ideal milieu for a leisurely stroll after a meal and some mild conversation.
To unite the earthly with the divine – that was the purpose of medieval gardens in Europe. The enclosed garden as an allegory for paradise or a “lost Eden” was termed the Hortus Conclusus. It typically had a well or fountain at the center, bearing its usual symbolic freight (“Fountain of Life”) in addition to its practical uses. Hortus Conclusus was often depicted in the visual arts, picturing the Virgin Mary, a fountain, a unicorn (symbol of the Incarnation) and roses inside an enclosed area. Gardening was mainly concentrated in Christian monasteries, and monks tended to imbue the garden with symbolic values looking upward for divine inspiration, as it was a feature of medieval culture in general. A square closter garth was meant to represent the four points of the compass with a round pool and a pentagonal fountain, which would symbolize a microcosm.
Aristocratic garden of Renaissance broke down the wall between the garden, the house, and the landscape outside. Symbolizing the power and magnificence of the ruling dynasties, gardens were made by the most talented architects, sculptors, and painters. Le N?tre, the creator of the park of the Palace of Versailles, was one of the most important landscape architects of that epoch. Leon Battista Alberti, Italian humanist author, philosopher, and true Renaissance man, described what a garden should look like:
The construction will give pleasure to the visitor if, when they leave the city, they see the villa in all its charm, as if to seduce and welcome the new arrivals. Toward this end, I would place it on a slightly elevated place. I would also have the road climb so gently that it fools those who take it to the point that they do not realize how high they have climbed until they discover the countryside below.
20th century garden design followed the modernist philosophy of “form following function”. The space for outdoor living should echo natural surroundings, becoming an open-air room. In 1948 Thomas Church, the pioneer landscape design known as the ‘California Style’ inserted a kidney-shaped swimming pool into the garden, which became a modern classic. “A garden should have no beginning and no end,” he wrote in Gardens Are for People, “and should be pleasing when seen from any angle, not only from the house.”
G A R D E N C I T Y
An alternative to overcrowded and industrial cities, a fully sustainable community – a garden city – is an ideal town surrounded by “greenbelts”, containing proportionate areas of residences, industry and agriculture. Garden city movement was initiated in 1898 by Sir Ebenezer Howard in the United Kingdom. In his book titled ‘To-Morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform’ Howard described idealized garden city being situated within a belt of open countryside, even thought not necessarily having gardens within every residence. But why is it called a garden city?
The main goal for Howard was to bring together the traditional countryside with the traditional town, hence to combine nature with the city. For too long people have had to make the difficult decision about living in a culturally isolated rural area or giving up nature to live in a city, but “human society and the beauty of nature are meant to be enjoyed together.” A garden city is also, furthermore, planned in advance. Unlike constantly growing megacities with their dehumanizing and over-building effects, a garden city would be planned to house 32,000 people, so when it reached full population, another garden city would be developed nearby. Howard was no designer, but he included rough diagrams to represent the true principles and plans on which all towns should grow,
thought he stated that the plan for a town on an actual site would doubtless depart from the one he described.
He also labeled each of his drawings “Diagram only. Plan cannot be drawn until site selected.” Nevertheless, his verbal pictures and accompanying diagrams reflect his own beliefs about how a model garden city should be laid out. Howard’s ideas attracted enough attention and financial backing to begin Letchworth, one of the world’s first new towns and the first garden city that had great influence on future town planning, inspiring other projects around the world including Canberra, the Australian capital, Hellerau, Germany, small village of Tapanila, Finland, and Me?aparks in Latvia.
Even though garden cities may seem a perfect place to live, they were often criticized for damaging the economy, being destructive of the beauty of nature, and being inconvenient. However, contemporary town-planning movements like New Urbanism, which promotes walkable neighborhoods, and Principles of Intelligent Urbanism originated with this movement. Today there are many garden cities in the world, but most of them have devolved to city suburbs, which completely differ from what Howard meant to create.
P L A N E T A R Y G A R D E N
“Together, let us assume that the Earth is one small garden.”
This is how Gilles Cl?ment, a French gardener, writer and creator of the Garden in Motion and the Planetary Garden, radically changes our perception of man and his environment. He sees the Earth as a fragile, autonomous enclosure, which should be observed and understood better before our intervention into the processes of nature. Viewing the garden in the context of planet earth, Gilles Cl?ment believes in bio-diversity that extends beyond the individual garden to encompass the earth’s ecosystem as a whole. This concept is modeled much as a question in which Clements asks us, ‘if there can be a man-made planetary garden, which promotes bio-diversity? Because although man understands that nature thrives on diversity, we fight it.’ So it explains how the gardener, a planetary citizen, acts locally in the name and the interest of the planet.
‘The role of humans in the environment is to understand how it functions, and to promote its continued functioning. Since man is just one species among the great diversity of species in nature, he cannot hope to intervene and to exploit this diversity without jeopardising the mechanisms of interaction among the many forms of life on the planet.’
Gilles Clement, 2006
T H E G A R D E N O F F O R K I N G P A T H S
by Jorge Luis Borges
….From the rear of the house within a lantern approached: a lantern that the trees sometimes striped and sometimes eclipsed, a paper lantern that had the form of a drum and the color of the moon. A tall man bore it. I didn’t see his face for the light blinded me. He opened the door and said slowly, in my own language: “I see that the pious Hsi P’eng persists in correcting my solitude. You no doubt wish to see the garden?”
I recognized the name of one of our consuls and I replied, disconcerted, “The garden?”
“The garden of forking paths.”
Something stirred in my memory and I uttered with incomprehensible certainty, “The garden of my ancestor Ts’ui P?n.”
“Your ancestor? Your illustrious ancestor? Come in.”
The damp path zigzagged like those of my childhood. We came to a library of Eastern and Western books. I recognized bound in yellow silk several volumes of the Lost Encyclopedia, edited by the Third Emperor of the Luminous Dynasty but never printed. The record on the phonograph revolved next to a bronze phoenix. I also recall a famille rose vase and another, many centuries older, of that shade of blue which our craftsmen copied from the potters of Persia . . .
Stephen Albert observed me with a smile. He was, as I have said, very tall, sharp-featured, with gray eyes and a gray beard. He told me that he had been a missionary in Tientsin “before aspiring to become a Sinologist.”
We sat down—I on a long, low divan, he with his back to the window and a tall circular clock. I calculated that my pursuer, Richard Madden, could not arrive for at least an hour. My irrevocable determination could wait.
“An astounding fate, that of Ts’ui P?n,” Stephen Albert said. “Governor of his native province, learned in astronomy, in astrology and in the tireless interpretation of the canonical books, chess player, famous poet and calligrapher—he abandoned all this in order to compose a book and a maze. He renounced the pleasures of both tyranny and justice, of his populous couch, of his banquets and even of erudition—all to close himself up for thirteen years in the Pavilion of the Limpid Solitude. When he died, his heirs found nothing save chaotic manuscripts. His family, as you may be aware, wished to condemn them to the fire; but his executor—a Taoist or Buddhist monk—insisted on their publication.”
‘We descendants of Ts’ui P?n,” I replied, “continue to curse that monk. Their publication was senseless. The book is an indeterminate heap of contradictory drafts. I examined it once: in the third chapter the hero dies, in the fourth he is alive. As for the other undertaking of Ts’ui P?n, his labyrinth . . .”
“Here is Ts’ui P?n’s labyrinth,” he said, indicating a tall lacquered desk.
“An ivory labyrinth!” I exclaimed. “A minimum labyrinth.”
“A labyrinth of symbols,” he corrected. “An invisible labyrinth of time. To me, a barbarous Englishman, has been entrusted the revelation of this diaphanous mystery. After more than a hundred years, the details are irretrievable; but it is not hard to conjecture what happened. Ts’ui Pe must have said once: I am withdrawing to write a book. And another time: I am withdrawing to construct a labyrinth. Every one imagined two works; to no one did it occur that the book and the maze were one and the same thing. The Pavilion of the Limpid Solitude stood in the center of a garden that was perhaps intricate; that circumstance could have suggested to the heirs a physical labyrinth. Ts’ui P?n died; no one in the vast territories that were his came upon the labyrinth; the confusion of the novel suggested to me that it was the maze. Two circumstances gave me the correct solution of the problem. One: the curious legend that Ts’ui P?n had planned to create a labyrinth which would be strictly infinite. The other: a fragment of a letter I discovered.”
“The Garden of Forking Paths” is a 1941 short story by Argentine writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges.