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Sallustio_Crispo_incisione

As our republic shakes apart from corruption, incompetence, cowardice, and naked lust for power, I keep thinking about Gaius Sallustius Crispus AKA Sallust, a Roman politician who lived through the fall of the Republic.  Although classicists rhapsodize about Sallust’s political (and stylistic) foe, Cicero, I am no Latin grammar expert. I studied history!  So Sallust, the moralizing historian, interests me more than Cicero, the supremely self-satisfied orator.  Although not famed for his annoying aphorisms, Sallust could certainly turn a phrase himself.  My favorite zinger from him is this jewel: “Those most moved to tears by every word of a preacher are generally weak and a rascal when the feelings evaporate.”

At any rate Sallust was a populare…which is to say that, although he was born in an aristocratic family, he sought the support (and broadly advocated for the welfare) of the plebiscite.  As a youth, Sallust was a famous sybarite known for excesses of sensual depravity, but he became infamously moral and censorious later in life.  This strikes me as humorous on many levels, but particularly because the high point of his political career was his term as governor of Africa Nova (what is today the coastal portion of Algeria and parts of Morocco and Tunisia).  To quote Wikipedia “As governor he committed such oppression and extortion that only Caesar’s influence enabled him to escape condemnation.”  Hahahaha…so much for all of that talk of ascetic virtue and the excesses of aristocracy.

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At any rate, what really interests me about Sallust is what he did with the stolen wealth of North Africa…which he used to build a timelessly famous garden in northeast Rome between the Pincian and Quirinal hills.  The Horti Sallustiani “Gardens of Sallust” contained a temple to Venus, a vast portico, and an array of beautiful and famous sculptures–some of which have survived or been unearthed and are among the finest examples of Roman art.  Here is a little gallery of the most famous pieces.  As you can immediately see, they have had an enormous impact on western sculpture.

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“The Dying Gaul”(A Roman copy of the lost Greek original)

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“The Borghese Vase” excavated from the site of the gardens of Sallust in 1566. Napoleon bought it from his brother-in-law Camillo Borghese in 1808

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The Ludovisi Throne, an enormous chair of contested origin which was discovered at the site of the Gardens of Sallust in 1887

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An aulos player on the wing of the Ludovisi Throne

The Gardens of Sallust passed to the author’s grand nephew and then became the property of the Roman emperors who kept them opened as a public amenity and added many features across a span of four centuries!  Even today, some of the original buildings and features are still extant.

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After four centuries, the gardens enter history one more time–or history entered them.  When the Goths sacked Rome it was still walled and heavily defended.  Alaric’s men laid siege to the eternal city three times.  The first two times, they were rebuffed by walls, defenders, and shrewd political guile, but the third time they gained access to the city through the Salarian Gate…which opened into the Horti Sallustiani.  Imagine the barbarians among the mausoleums, sarcophagi, and funereal urns outside the city, and then, by treachery or by Germanic ingenuity somehow, after 800 years they were within Rome itself among the pleasure pavilions and flowers and ornamental trees of the Gardens of Sallust.

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One of life’s lesser disappointments is how boring everything here in America looks.  I am not sure if this is a result of banal & puritanical tastes of home buyers or if the regulatory capture which is such an aspect of life here has allowed developers and zoning boards to prevent everything but prefab ranches and ugly co-ops.  Probably it is a result of a combination of these things (along with a real desire by builders to keep people safe and an equal desire to make things that appeal to everyone). Anyway I am looking forward to a future of wilder and more eclectic buildings and we can already see inklings of such possibilities by looking abroad.

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For example this is “Quetzalcoatl’s Nest” a complex of ten different apartments built by renowned Mexican architect Javier Senosiain in Naucalpan, Mexico.  Senosiain is an advocate of organic architecture, which takes its inspiration from a combination of preexisting landscape features and natural forms.  Quetzalcoatl’s Nest is built in a hilly landscape of natural caverns, serpentine ridges and old oak groves.   looking at this landscape, Senosiain saw the shape of a colossal mythological serpent.  He incorporated a large cave into the building as the snake’s head and then set out to build other textures of snake ribs and scales and serpentine patterns into the compound.

 

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The fantastical lair includes water gardens, strange modern hideaways, and fantastic stained glass show spaces in a hard-to-describe architectural tour-de-force which spreads over 16,500 square feet.   I have included a selection of pictures here, but you should really find a video somewhere so you can get a better sense of what is going on.  Why couldn’t the Barclay’s Center people hire this guy so that their rattlesnake could look awesome instead of sinister and corporate.

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Forsythia

Forsythia

Spring, spring, spring! Today is the first day that has actually felt like spring. Soon the forsythias will be up and then, suddenly all sorts of spring blossoms will appear in a riot of beautiful color. Forsythias are such a familiar blossoming shrubs that I have never thought to find out where they are from, and how they got here. The instantly familiar yellow flowers grow on long whiplike shoots and appear everywhere in early spring. They are the introductory notes from which the rest of the symphony swells (and yet they are always there beneath the rest of the music). Wasn’t it always that way?

Forsythia in a formal garden

Forsythia in a formal garden

Actually, forsythias are native to East Asia. Out of eleven wild species, only one obscure species had spread from Asia to southeastern Europe prior to the age of exploration. It wasn’t until the eighteenth century that western gardeners and botanists found out about them as traders and diplomats visited the great gardens of China, Korea, and Japan.

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Forsythias are extremely easy to cultivate from cuttings. Low hanging boughs frequently already have rootlets. Europeans wasted no time in bringing the lovely yellow shrubs back home where they fed the public’s insatiable appetite for novelty. Indeed they were part of the 18th century Chinoiserie fad, which also gave us the monstrous invasive tree of heaven [spits on ground and curses]. Soon forsythias were in temperate gardens everywhere. They are coincidentally named for William Forsyth (1737–1804), a Scottish botanist who was the king’s head gardener and a founding member of the Royal Horticultural Society.

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Ironically, despite the fact that forsythias have been omnipresent in American and European gardens since the late eighteenth century, they have not permeated very far into western culture. They are a beautiful shrub which is everywhere, but they do not have the same mythical and herbal associations for us as myrtles, redbuds, crocuses or such. Of course forsythias do have such associations in China, Korea, and Japan. They are one of the fundamental herbs of Chinese medicine and their sticks are used to manufacture a classical Korean stringed instrument. The myths and art of East Asia likewise favor the beautiful golden shrubs. The flower exemplify nature’s promise of rebirth.

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One of my personal all-time favorite moments with flora and fauna involved forsythia…and my favorite animal—the mighty elephant. I was at the Bronx Zoo in early spring and their (then) adolescent female Asian elephant was outside appreciating the first nice day. Elephants eat lots of vegetation of all sorts and a thoughtful zookeeper had put a bunch of flowering forsythia fronds in the enclosure as a treat.

Elephants are arguably the most intelligent land animals except for certain problematic primates. They love to play and show off. The little elephant grabbed the beautiful yellow forsythias in her trunk and ran back and forth holding them aloft like a girl with a bouquet. Then, in a moment of pure exuberance, she threw them all high up in the air and raced back and forth in the resultant shower of bright yellow blossoms.

Adolescent elephant with Forsythias (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, ink and colored pencil)

Adolescent elephant with Forsythias (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, ink and colored pencil)

Since she was such a young elephant, she was still covered with fine downy hairs and the forsythia flowers got all caught up in these. So she became dotted with little golden flowers. She was beaming in delight and had one of the happiest expressions I have ever seen on anyone. The memory is enshrined in my heart as an enduring exemplar of joy.  Although the internet had plenty of other sorts of images, I couldn’t find any happy elephants with forsythias–so I sketched one for you just now above,

Longwood Gardens Outdoor light display (by Daniel Traub)

Longwood Gardens Outdoor light display (by Daniel Traub)

I’m busy sprucing up the ol’ homestead for my holiday party and putting the finishing touches on my winter solstice decorations.  As I was hanging festive lanterns in the denuded winter garden—which is empty of greenery save for the holly, the yew, and the hellebores—my minded drifted off to my favorite formal garden.  Back when I was a sullen adolescent, my family would frequently visit the princely Longwood Gardens, a summer estate of the inhumanly rich Dupont family, monopolists who controlled a world-spanning empire of industrial chemicals.  Although the Duponts are probably busy to this day despoiling things and making cheap indispensable products, they have long since turned over their formal gardens to a trust which runs them for the public benefit.  Longwood Gardens are, weirdly, located in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, “the Mushroom Capital of the World!”  You can visit them any time (during business hours) if you have the fortitude to head to Pennsylvania.

Longwood Gardens Christmas

Longwood Gardens Christmas

Anyway, looking at the wintry ruins of my own garden, I wondered whether Longwood Gardens escapes the ravages of the season, and, if so, how?  Well, as you have probably guessed from the pictures, the professionals at Longwood have an exquisite winter garden!  They landscape outside with conifers, topiaries, and lights.  Inside their acres of climate controlled greenhouses, they are free to run wild and create whatever horticultural extravagances they can devise.  So, as a holiday treat, check out these exquisite garden photos!  Um, in my own garden, I put up some sparkly ornaments…and the holly really does look pretty.  I guess we’ll get back to all of the other plants in spring…

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I mean, yeah, that’s great and all…if exquisite views of an otherworldly paradise is your thing, but can they make chocolate pie with whipped topping?  Happy winter solstice!

Aeneas and the Sibyl in the Underworld (Jan Brueghel, ca. 1600, oil)

Aeneas and the Sibyl in the Underworld (Jan Brueghel, ca. 1600, oil)

Here is a painting of the Greco-Roman underworld which was painted sometime around 1600 AD by Jan Brueghel the Elder. It is presumed that the painting shows Aeneas and the Cumaean sibyl, although a handful of scholars have argued—unsuccessfully, to my mind– that these are actually Hades and Persephone (whom I never imagine as harrowed pedestrians). Admittedly the sibyl looks quite winsome (these being her pre-jar days). Jan Brueghel does not have the same cachet as his famous father Pieter Bruegel (whose busy landscapes of 16th century Flanders do so much to enliven our understanding of the era), but the son was certainly a master artist in his own right. In this amazing vista the damned souls writhe, scream, and quiver amongst legions of demons and monsters. Along the foreground great heaps of bones and masses of snakes remind us we are in the land of the dead. Yet the painting’s greatest strength is the magnificent dark landscape itself. Honeycombed cliffs rise like a diseased columbarium while volcanoes belch magma onto the spirits. In the distance lies a brooding city of the dead where all is forever night. Strange ghost gardens march along the shores of the Acheron and shrieking…things fly overhead. It is a horrible—and beautiful—vision of a subject which had already obsessed artists for millennia when Jan Brughel painted it (and he wound up painting the underworld again and again through his career).

Isola Bella (Lake Maggiore)

Isola Bella (Lake Maggiore)

The House of Borromeo was an influential family of Lombardi aristocrats who ruled Arona, a town on Lake Maggiore (a long prealpine lake which snakes through Lombardy and up into Switzerland).   Various members of the Borromeo family played important roles in the politics of Milan and of the Catholic reformation (particularly as Archbishops), and even today they control a business empire with considerable wealth and clout.

The Gardens of Isola Bella

The Gardens of Isola Bella

More importantly, however, the Borromeo family was responsible for one of the world’s most impressive residences—an immense palazzo and exquisite formal garden which take up the entirety of Isola Bella, a small island on Lake Maggiore.  Isola Bella was once a rocky crag with a small fishing village on it (the whole island is only 320 metres long by 400 metres wide), however, in 1632 Carlo III set out to build a grand palace and garden on the tiny spot of land.  The climate of Lake Maggiore is uncommonly mild, and the Count undoubtedly was looking forward to cool summers and warm winters on his isolated retreat.  Not even rapacious aristocrats get everything they want however, and the villa’s construction was interrupted by a plague which broke out in Milan in the middle of the 17th century.

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The palazzo is just another enormous beautiful Italian palace filled with sumptuous rooms, art masterpieces, and precious treasures but the tiered baroque gardens are truly remarkable.  Exquisite Mediterranean plants thrive beneath a background of snow-topped Alpine peaks.  Magnificent stairs and formal statuary add additional splendor to the garden.

The Shell Grotto at Isola Bella

The Shell Grotto at Isola Bella

Although aesthetes might find it difficult to pin down the most remarkable feature of this remarkable place, we here at Ferrebeekeeper have an easier task.  The gardens at Isola Bella feature one of the most striking mollusk-themed rooms on Earth.  The shell grotto room connects the ten-tiered garden on one side of the island with the huge mansion on the other—it is literally the linchpin of the island.  The grotto was designed to provide a cool retreat from summer.  The walls, ceilings, floors, and doorways are all covered with intricate murals made from shells and black pebbles.  So ornate is the shell-work that it took workmen and architects a century to complete the grotto…

A different room in the grotto

A different room in the grotto

The Mohonk Mountain House looms over Mohonk Lake

The Mohonk Mountain House looms over Mohonk Lake


The Mohonk Mountain House is a monstrous Victorian castle built between 1879 and 1910 on Lake Mohonk in upstate New York. I was there this weekend to attend my friends’ wedding in the sprawling gardens, and I was forcefully struck by the Ghormenghast grandeur of the house and properties which are simultaneously beautiful and cheerful yet exude a haunting wistfulness.
Mohonk Mountain House Gardens

Mohonk Mountain House Gardens


Located just beyond the southern boundary of the Catskills, the hotel features multiple ornate turrets and towers festooned with finials and oddly shaped weather vanes (squids maybe?). The inside is a baffling labyrinth of hallways, sitting rooms, libraries, and porches. Outside, numerous rustic gazebos and folly buildings are spread through gorgeous gardens and vertiginous meadow rambles. Beyond the hotel, lovely forests stretch up into the mountains or down into the spooky wooded fens which feed the mighty Hudson.
A fen (or carr, or tarn, or bog?) by New Paltz, New York

A fen (or carr, or tarn, or bog?) by New Paltz, New York

Speaking of spooky, the hotel and the surrounding hills have amassed all sorts of reports concerning specters of varying temperaments and classes, from giggling children, to poltergeists, to wispy flames, to lurking drown victims, to dark toothy shadows in the hedge maze: the Mohonk seems to have every sort of ghost story.

Mohonk Mountain House (photo by cindy from rPhotosOnline.com)

Mohonk Mountain House (photo by cindy from rPhotosOnline.com)

It is said that a young, poor Stephen King visited the house and that shadows of the building linger in The Shining, The Regulators, and The Talisman. The Mohonk was also used as the set for the Victorian Sanitarium in the movie The Road to Wellville.
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Apparently there were once a great many lumbering Victorian edifices like the Mohonk spread through America, but almost all of them have now burnt down. The Smiley brothers, who constructed the building, were early advocates of safety and environmental awareness, so their huge flammable heap was equipped with all sorts of sprinklers and fire hoses. We should probably feel that the big burned-up spots where the other hotels used to be are haunted and celebrate the lovely Mohonk as the safest and least disaster-prone resort of its era.

Hooray for Safety!

Hooray for Safety!

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What a long week!  What with mad bombers and North Korea and taxes and sexy exes and goodness knows what else, I am totally ready to phone in today’s blog post.  Fortunately I have the ideal solution for a quick but fun post!  This year I forgot to celebrate Ferrebeekeeper’s 3rd anniversary.  For our first year celebration I published a group of doodles.  These are little drawings which I do at the Monday morning staff meeting at the beginning of every work week. This might sound well…sketchy, but I assure you doodling keeps me alert and allows me to remember what was said at each meeting. As you can see from the strange eclectic subjects, I think the whimsy and freedom of the weekend hasn’t quite worn off when I draw these.  Sometimes, during my lunch break I color my little doodles in with highlighters or crayons.  So here are 21 weeks’ worth of Monday morning staff meeting doodles.  These little throw-away doodles open up a world into the subconscious where our true feelings about the universe can be found.  Strangely these doodles reveal that I really like melting Middle Eastern cities of arabesques and angels (?).  Less surprisingly I love fantasy beasts, gardens, fish, and mammals.  I’m not sure why I love paisleys so much—maybe the sixties had a greater influence on me than I know (though I certainly wasn’t around back then).

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My favorite is the little purple pleasure garden where a flamingo watches a phoenix fly away from the ruins of an alien robot (below), but I also like the bat and the geometric widget beast relaxing by a tree at sunset, as well as the underwater city of sharks and biomechanical walking buildings.  Which ones do you like?  Please leave a comment–I promise I’ll respond next week!

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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…

Gabriel Albert's garden (Chez Audebert, France)

Gabriel Albert’s garden (Chez Audebert, France)

La fontaine Médicis (Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris, France)

La fontaine Médicis (Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris, France)

Huntington Garden (Pasadena)

Huntington Garden (Pasadena)

Desert Rose Labyrinth, close to Coyote Gulch Art Village in Kayenta

Desert Rose Labyrinth, close to Coyote Gulch Art Village in Kayenta

Carolina Escobar's sculpture exhibition Whispers of a New World (Desert Botanical Garden)

Carolina Escobar’s sculpture exhibition Whispers of a New World (Desert Botanical Garden)

Getty Sculpture Garden

Getty Sculpture Garden

André Morvan Sculpture garden (Brittany, France)

André Morvan Sculpture garden (Brittany, France)

Miniature "Outsider Garden" theme: Pearls Before Swine (High Desert, California)

Miniature “Outsider Garden” theme: Pearls Before Swine (High Desert, California)

Moma Sculpture Garden

Moma Sculpture Garden

Underwater Sculpture Garden (Cancun, Mexico)

Underwater Sculpture Garden (Cancun, Mexico)

Sphinx Garden (Ireland) photo by Bibliona

Sphinx Garden (Ireland) photo by Bibliona

Fake Roman Ruins at the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna

Fake Roman Ruins at the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna

Dagan Shklovsky Sculpture Garden at Kibbuz E'in Carmel (Israel)

Dagan Shklovsky Sculpture Garden at Kibbuz E’in Carmel (Israel)

Native American Art sculptures in Stanley Park Vancouver BC

Native American Art sculptures in Stanley Park Vancouver BC

Storm King, New York

Storm King, New York

 

 

Heidelberg Castle and the Hortus Palatinus

Frederick V, the elector Palatinate and briefly crowned King of Bohemia was not a very successful ruler…but that is not the only thing that there is to life.  Frederick had a happy marriage and he was an ardent lover of gardens. When he spent a winter in England romancing Elizabeth Stuart (the daughter of King James I of the United Kingdom), Frederick was himself courted by several visionary gardeners and engineers.  In 1614, Frederick commissioned one of these men, Salomon de Caus, a Huguenot hydraulic engineer and architect, to design an epic garden around Heidelberg Castle as a present for his new bride. The garden which de Caus designed, the Hortus Palatinus, or Garden of the Palatinate, was accounted to be the finest Baroque garden in Germany.  Some awe-struck contemporaries went farther and called the garden the eighth wonder of the world.

Elizabeth Stuart (Nicholas Hilliard, ca. 1610)

Since the ground around Heidelberg castle was steep, the builders had to cut and level great terraces for the Hortus Palatinus.  Once they had carved a huge “L” shape around the castle, no expense was spared in furnishing the gardens.  Exotic plants were collected from around Europe and the world (including tropical plants such as a full grove of orange trees).  Gorgeous flowers and fully grown ornamental trees were planted amidst sumptuous statues, grottos, fountains, and follies.  Great knotted parterre mazes led the wandering visitor through the sprawling grounds where costly novelties abounded. There was a huge water organ built according to the design of an ancient Roman text, clockwork cuckoos and nightingales which sang musical pieces, and an animated statue of Memnon, a Trojan warrior who was the son of the goddess of the Dawn. Among some circles it was whispered that de Caus was a mystical Rosicrucian and he had coded secret magical wisdom within the repeating octagonal motifs of the garden.

Historic view of Heidelberg, Germany and the Hortus Palatinus

By 1619, the Hortus Palatinus, was the foremost Renaissance garden of northern Europe, and it was still not finished.  To quote Gardens of the Gods, Myth Magic and Meaning,“Heidelberg was the scene of a brief idyll of enlightenment, culture, learning, and toleration.” The young king Frederick and his pretty English bride would romantically dally in the garden he had created for her. Then everything went wrong.  Frederick V went to war with Ferdinand II and lost badly, a conflict which began the Thirty Years war.  The garden was never finished.  Instead it was destroyed by Catholic artillery who then used it as a base for destroying the city.  By the time that Frederick’s son was restored to lordship of the Lower Palatinate, the region was in ruins.  The garden was never rebuilt—it remains a picturesque ruin to this day.

The Hortus Palatinus Today

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