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It has been a long time since we had a garden post here. In order to make the time pass more quickly until spring arrives and we have real flower gardening, here are some pictures of various beautiful sculpture gardens scattered across North America and Europe. They make we want to add some sculptures to my own backyard garden (which has a sphinx and a fu dog). Does anybody know where I could get a Janus statue and maybe some lamassus? Perhaps it’s time I broke out of this torpor and just carved a bunch of crazy mystical animals! Anyway enjoy the sculpture gardens…
The ancient Romans were devotees of all sorts of gardens. As classical Mediterranean culture reached its apogee during the eras of the Roman Republic and the Roman Principate, Roman gardeners combined the best aspects of garden styles from Greece, Persia, and Egypt to create their own tranquil refuges from stress, strife, and crowds. Some of these gardens were sprawling temple gardens built to honor various deities (while also granting beauty and serenity to the worshippers), or large pleasure gardens which combined orchards with ornate terraces, but the classical Roman garden which everyone thinks of today was the peristyle garden at the center of the Roman urban household. This was designed to be one of the two centers of the Roman home. The other center, the atria was symbolic and formal—it related to ancestors, religion, and the past, but the garden was meant to be lived in and enjoyed.
A peristyle garden was located in an open courtyard of a domus and was generally surrounded by colonnades. Various ornamental plants and statues could be found in the garden. If the family was especially prosperous, there might also be fountains, pools, murals, and running water. However even humbler houses would have an opening in the ceiling and some potted herbs and flowers.
For security reasons Roman urban houses did not usually have windows facing the street, so the garden (and the formal atrium at the front of the house) became the source of fresh air as well as water. Fragrant, herbs, shrubs and flowers were carefully cultivated amidst complementary artworks. We have paintings of these gardens, and literary descriptions, but, best of all, we have examples of the gardens themselves from Pompeii. Although the actual plants from Pompeian villas emerged worse for the wear after being entombed for centuries beneath volcanic ash, the statues and decorations remained. This post contains photos of how some of these actual Roman gardens look when replanted and tended.
The old-fashioned Roman domus began to vanish in the 6th century AD as Christianity became universal, but the peristyle did not vanish. The peristyle garden evolved into the atrium of the Basillica–and then the concept became even more removed from the mundane world as it changed into the monastic cloister.
Yesterday’s post concerning Pluto, Greco-Roman lord of the underworld contained a photograph of a beautiful two-thousand year old statue as well as one of the greatest and most harrowing of classical myths–but I am afraid it incorrectly tinted my recent trip to California with somber shades. So today I have decided to describe the roses from the Huntington Botanical Garden in San Marino (just outside Pasadena). This garden was once the home of a railroad baron who grabbed control of the steel rails which tied California together. He was a rare book collector (which I will get back to on Monday) and a lover of gardens.
All of the gardens at the Huntington were unreasonably lovely. The grounds contained both a large Japanese garden and a magnificent Chinese garden. I didn’t even get to see the world famous desert garden and I am still regretting it. However the real highlight for me was the rose garden. Pasadena styles itself as the city of roses. The city hosts a rose parade and some sort of huge rose bowl for college sportsmen. There is a reason for all of the fanfare—the roses everywhere in Pasadena and the towns nearby were beautiful. But the roses at the Huntington Botanical Garden were ineffably transcendentally gorgeous. It was the most splendid rose garden I have ever seen.
Here is the description of the garden as lifted wholesale from the Huntington website:
The three and a half acre rose garden was designed by Myron Hunt and first planted by William Hertrich as a display garden in 1908. In the 1970s, the garden was reorganized as a “collection garden” with more than 1,200 cultivars (approx 4,000 individual plants) arranged historically to trace the development of roses from ancient to modern times beginning with the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans.
The entrance pathway leads to an 18th-century French stone tempietto and statue, “Love, the Captive of Youth,” encircled by “French Lace” roses. The beds north of the arbor next to the Shakespeare Garden have a paved walk, and feature Tea and China roses and their descendants, first introduced into Europe from China around 1900.
On the south side of the rose arbor are nineteenth-century shrub roses, descended from old European varieties. Climbing and rambling roses—from all periods and groups—grow on the arbors, arches, and pergolas.
The central part of the garden contains Hybrid Teas, Floribundas, Polyanthas, and miniatures, with separate beds for classic pre-1920 hybrid teas and for roses from the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s. Other beds feature roses introduced since the 1950s and introductions from abroad, including recent plantings of roses from India.
This somewhat dry text indeed explains the basics of the garden, but, alas, there is a terrible frustration in trying to convey the true nature of such a place. The roses were all perfect. Each blossom was the size of a dinner plate and every rose was blooming. By some magical circumstance we visited the garden at peak season. The heady scent of roses wafted on the warm breeze and time seemed to dilate. Yesterday I wrote about the mythical gardens of the underworld. Today I am writing about the gardens of paradise—which, somewhat surprisingly, are real and are located just to the southwest of Pasadena.
I love fountains and my home, New York City, is an excellent place to witness all manner of lovely ornamental waterworks. No doubt other bloggers have extolled Manhattan’s many famous fountains, so I thought I would briefly write about my favorite fountain in Brooklyn, the Bailey Fountain, which is located at Grand Army Plaza at the north end of Prospect Park. The fountain lies beyond the huge triumphal arch which celebrates the victorious conclusion of the American Civil War. Both fountain and arch lie on a traffic island surrounded at all times by dangerous rivers of vehicles.
The Bailey Fountain was conceived of during the late nineteen twenties but it was built in 1932. The tension between these two very different eras is noticeable in the ferocity and severity of the classical figures. The fountain seems to be an allegory of abundance however the individual figures look like they instead portray greed, abandon, and resignation. The fountain is the work of architect Edgerton Swarthout and the bronze sculptures were crafted by Eugene Savage. I think the final work might transcend what either had initially intended.
Bailey fountain portrays a pair of magnificent bronze nudes standing on the deck of a ship. The two respectively represent wisdom and felicity. I assume the man is wisdom and the woman is felicity, but it is not easy to tell because she does not look happy and he does not look wise. Although they both look powerful the figures seem wan and resigned. Additionally, although they are connected, their backs are forever turned to each other. A bestial Neptune sprawls on the prow as grim Tritons sound horns and writhe on both sides of the boat. Strange frog and fish faces spew white water around the tormented figures. The boat and its inhabitants represent humankind and the figures in the water represent chance and the forces of nature. When contemplating the fountain it is easy to pitch your mind back to the time of the great depression and see Neptune and his fierce watery compatriots as the unquenchable appetite and greed which spawned the many hardships of that era.
The Bailey fountain replaced a bizarre Victorian electric water show which was the rainbow-colored high-pressured wonder of its time (but which did not hold up well since it combined early electrical technology, 19th century plumbing, and Brooklyn winters). I first saw the Bailey fountain in the mid-nineties when it was broken and dry: large portions of the work were painted the same aqua blue as swimming pools. The plaza seemed deserted except for the eternal traffic, the sinister vine covered trees, and a huge tribe of rats. Great hunks of granite pavement had been broken apart by frost heave (or some other urban force) and melancholy pervaded the scene. A lone homeless person sidled up and sadly informed me that the fountain was haunted and, in the lugubrious twilight, I half believed him. Today, however, the fountain has been restored, and you can contemplate its enigmatic meaning in a much more pleasant surrounding.