Leigh Hunt on “Yes, Gardens can be works of art”

July 27, 2007

in Uncategorized

Comment on Germaine Greer’s “Yes, Gardens can be works of art, but you’d never know it from the Chelsea Flower show”

I certainly feel that we have lost the familiarity of looking for meanings in landscape and for understanding the language of ornament, and this hampers us from moving forward. When, for example, at Stowe Landscape Garden the eighteenth century visitor saw that the Temple of Modern Virtue was a ramshackled ruin so unlike the princely Temple of Ancient Virtue, it was obviously a sardonic jib at the government of the day. How many modern gardens would we even begin to look express this type of meaning (especially with the current politics overdose)? And have we become more aesthetically aware, yet dulled to its significance – here I’m drawing on experiences of visiting any homeware store, whether that be Habitat or M&S, which sell homogenous items for styling a home, rather than things that might be meaningful to either the individual or have their own intrinsic value.

I would like to suggest two possible ways for gardens to progress in the twenty-first century:

  1. They should become a mirror of their owners, like a portrait. Obviously, this does have good and bad results, just as there are good and bad portraits. However, a skilled designer should be able to capture and interpret people and reflect this in landscape. I think this may explain why your grass parterre is the way it is (although I haven’t seen it) – it reflects you as well as the past, so it makes it more complex to interpret.
  2. Gardens should reflect modern themes and concerns. This is not to say that we should draw up a top ten like the Pre-Raphaelites, but I think the themes are often apparent. For example, on the one hand there is a great yearning to be modern again (after the backlash to 60s architecture) and this is creating more linear forms, blocks of planting etc. On the other hand, there is the back-to-nature, naturalistic, green movements. Both can have meaning. For example, surely creating a prairie in a hard, urban space is a statement in itself, if a subconscious rather than spelt out messages.

Leigh Hunt – horticultural advisor, RHS Garden Wisley

Return to the article

Subscribe to the thinkinGardens Blog

Enter your email address to get new articles from the thinkinGardens blog by email:

Previous post:

Next post: