“Dean Hole, the celebrated Nineteenth-century rosarian, reported a variety of answers when he asked the question ‘What are gardens for?. ‘Strawberries’, a youngster replies. Those slightly older answer, ‘Tennis’ and ‘garden parties’. A horticultural bore opines, ‘A garden is for botanical research and for the classification of plants.’ A rapturous ‘flapper’ takes a different tack: ‘What is a garden for? For the soul, sir, for the soul of the poet. For visions for the invisible, for grasping the intangible, for hearing the inaudible, for exaltations…above the miserable dullness of common life into the splendid regions of imagination and romance.’ The first answers may be succinct to the point of being lapidary, and the last may breathless gush, but all contain a grain of truth about the universal motives for garden making and for garden visiting. Among other things gardens are for food, fun and fantasizing. Remembering Jane Austen’s heroines and all those significant walks in the shrubbery, we might extend the alliteration by adding ‘flirtation’.” – Rory Stuart pg. 8 in the book WHAT ARE GARDENS FOR? Visiting, Experiencing and Thinking about Gardens
That is how Rory Stuart starts his book. Your mind is activated from the first paragraph of this delightful book. I love pondering, and this book helps the reader think more holistically about our relationship with gardens and gardening. It was recommended to me in a comment to one of my posts. In the book he talks about critiquing gardens. And that was very useful to me, as I critique my own work and the work of others. How I wish I could have a conversation with Mr. Stuart and get his thoughts on gardens I have designed. In lieu of that, I go back as often as I can to gardens I have designed and we have installed and let them tell me themselves if they work.
Reading is another one of my passions, only slightly second to visiting gardens and gardening. I have thought about the connection of gardens and books about them. I think I look to authors to help me define, in words, my life long obsession with plants and gardens. In the end of the day, I can’t truly describe why I love to be in a garden…but I do think it is very basic. I am at peace in a garden! And heaven would be reading a book in a garden : )
RORY STUART is the author of the Gardens of the World: the Great Traditions. He worked as a teacher of English literature in India and America and at Uppingham School, Westminster School, and The Cheltenham Ladies’ College. He inherited a Cotswold cottage with a beautiful garden and began to look at plants and gardens critically, which eventually led to a course in Garden Design. He set up as a designer, and began writing articles for magazines including Hortus, The Garden, The English Garden and The Historic Gardens Review. He has led garden tours of France, India and Italy and his fascination with gardens has now taken him to Rome, where he is learning how to grow plants in the challenging conditions of the hills outside the city. – from Amazon
Here is an interesting review of the book in the British paper The Telegraph. And a more provocative review by Sheppard Craige in the blog Thinking Gardens.
I would enjoy you sharing your thoughts about what gardens are for you in the comments?
I love this book. I went to a talk by Rory Stuart last year and he was very interesting on this subject. The talk provoked some lively debate.
If you look back on gardens in history, they have been places of sanctuary and spiritual refreshment; an attempt to recapture Eden. They have also been used as outdoor cages; secure and pretty places to keep women out of sight of the world. But mostly they have been a way to show your wealth and power if you were rich (or a way of growing enough food to keep alive if you were poor). They still are a way of showing off wealth.
Perhaps gardens have more purposes these days than ever before. They are still places of spiritual refreshment but they are also important for games and recreation. People talk about outdoor rooms as if the garden is just an extension of their living space.
With our native flora and fauna increasingly under threat gardens are important as wildlife reserves.
There are gardeners who are like stamp collectors and who look upon their gardens as a place to keep and display their collections.
But most gardeners see their gardens as a creative outlet, a way to create something beautiful. When I wrote a post on the topic: ‘Is the Garden an Art Form? ‘earlier this year I had more comments than on any other post. It is clearly a subject which interests gardeners.
I think most serious gardens are passionate about trees and plants and need to be surrounded by them both for spiritual refreshment and as a refuge from the world. The garden satisfies both our creative needs and our needs to nurture living things. As more of us are worried about our health being compromised by processed food, the garden becomes ever more important as a place to grow fresh food to feed our families.
This is a fascinating topic for a post and I look forward to reading the comments.
If anyone is interested in the subject this is a great book.
Laurin Lindsey said:
Thank you for sharing your thoughts! It is a great conversation. I get more and more requests for native wildlife attracting gardens, for herb and veggie beds and fruit trees each year. It is all quiet exciting. And I might have added to my post, my husband likes to say “Gardens keep our lights on!” I really enjoyed reading Sheppard Craige review of Rory Stuarts book and then Rory Stuarts review of Sheppard Craige’s garden. Following what to me feel like gossamer threads via the Internet and meeting new friends is making blogging very rewarding!
I’ve been thinking about your post. There are probably as many reasons to garden as there are people. I do not have a grand garden. I don’t take big pictures of the design because it is very much a work in progress. I kindof sortof have a vision of where I’d like it to go but it isn’t much to look at in the present. But the other day I was reading a book in my living room. The windows were open because it was HOT. Two women were walking by and they just stopped at the corner. One says to the other, “I could just stand here all night. It smells so heavenly.” The magnolia is in bloom but she was probably talking about the confederate jasmine that wafts through the whole property. They did stand there for quite some time. Talking. Laughing. Eventually they moved on.
Bringing unexpected joy or a moment of pleasure into someone’s life — someone I’ve never met — that is way up on the list of reasons to garden.
Laurin Lindsey said:
That is lovely Debra! I am glad you got to hear them enjoying your garden. I do design gardens for a living but my own garden is more chaotic. I love plants and am always trying to make room for something new : ) I enjoy the plants…that they live and thrive and ask so little in return. I like to watch the birds, bees and butterflies feasting in my garden. And if the bugs eat up the leaves of something….I am pretty calm about it! And I have left all the sunflowers that have sprouted up in all the beds from the seeds that the birds have strewn about. : )