Sunday, June 15, 2008

Dream Gardens

Fondation Maeght, with Empennage by Alexander Calder

I have been thinking this week about the gardens of my dreams and if I could create any sort of garden what sort would it be. So this got me thinking about the gardens I have visited over time and which are my favourites and it happens that all of them contain sculpture in one form or another.

I have to say that art and sculpture in gardens when well placed is one of my favourite things of all time. Why? Why? Why? I ask myself and it is a question not easily answered. Perhaps partly for me while I love art I do not find art galleries necessarily very relaxing places. I am always conscious of the other people, I feel exposed and self conscious especially if I sit and contemplate. Besides the places to sit are always floating in space which makes me nervy. In the outdoors I feel much more comfortable. I feel I can sit and look, I feel I can chat to a friend, I feel I can look at the art if I choose or just soak up the atmosphere. I can enjoy the sun, the plants and the smells. There is so much more for the senses to feed on than in a somewhat sterile environment of a gallery.

More often than not I find sculpture soothing. I’m not really sure why this is. I like the interaction the artworks have with the surrounding environment something that you really do not obtain in a gallery. There is no interaction. They are merely objects in space, demanding your full attention. Perhaps I like the fact that the outdoors reduces the artworks demands on you. I feel free to take them in or not. I feel free to eat a sandwich, read a book, close my eyes. None of which I can do in a gallery. A sculpture garden allows me to be human.

So that's the explanation and now for the gardens – these make my list.

The Hannah Peschar Sculpture Garden, Surrey, England

Aaah how I love this garden. It combines the garden design skills of designer Anthony Paul (who by the way is definitely in my top 5 designers list) and some of the most extraordinary sculpture. One of glories of this garden is how well considered the placement of each sculpture is. Never have I seen this done better than in this garden. In my opinion the placement of sculpture it is often something that is either ill considered or could be done so much better. The sculpture in this garden is mostly not on the monumental scale that we associate with some public gardens but on a much more human scale. You wander through the garden finding extraordinary sculptures in exquisite settings at every turn it really does take your breath away.

Anthony Paul’s planting is outstanding. The garden is set in a woodland with many pools and ponds. His planting subtly melds with the natural environment enhancing it and the sculpture.

For copyright reasons I can’t put photos of the garden here but the website is lovely and worth a visit.

The garden of the Fondation Maeght, St Paul de Vence, France

Les Renforts by Alexander Calder and La Fourche by Joan Miro

As the garden of art museum, the work is more “monumental” than in the Peschar Garden but still the placement is lovely. There are lots of quiet places to sit, beautiful trees, courtyards and alcoves that provide a human scale even though some of the work is quite monumental. Again the planting and in this case also the hard landscaping enhance the work. The trees as you can see are sculptural in themselves.

The sculpture garden at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, Venice, Italy.

Oooh I loved this relatively small courtyard sculpture garden. My memories of it fade a little as my visit was eight years ago now but I loved it. I was particularly fond of the two works side by side Mirko’s Architectural Element–Lines of Force in Space and Claire Falkenstein’s Entrance Gates to the Palazzo. I just remember that it used the courtyard space very well and had a lovely combination between the three elements of planting, hard landscaping and sculpture. My visit was in late October so it was not over-run with tourists.

Claire Falkenstein's Entrance Gates to the Palazzo

The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden, Moma, New York

My visit to this garden was even longer ago and it has since been redeveloped so I don’t know if it still retains its original charm (although these photos indicate that it has). This was probably my first experience of a sculpture garden and I adored it. My visit here was prior to my garden design training but I loved the combination of extraordinary artwork, use of water and planting and most of all I loved the fact that they provided moveable seating so that you could sit where you wished, with whom you wished. The quality of seating remains in my mind too – and I have coveted the Bertoia chairs ever since. Art museums can be so exhausting and this was a marvellous place to sit, relax and refresh before continuing on with the demands of a visit. If anyone has visited recently let me know if it still retains its charm.

Aaah and here I must end my flight of fancy. Next week or the week after depending on my time management I think I'll get back to real life gardens here in Melbourne - looking at courtyard gardens. If I could contain a pinch of the brilliance of any of these gardens in my designs I should be very content.