Watch Someone Else Do It

My favorite gardening movies

This is the lane to Montacute, which was used as a Sense and Sensibility location, and which we visited in 04.

Actually, I don’t have any, not movies that are actually about gardening, that is. I don’t choose movies for gardening subject matter but I do pay attention—quite intently, as you’d expect from someone who sees the world through their obsession—to how nature and gardens are used on the large and small screens.

British mini-series and costume dramas nearly always feature gardens prominently, and sometimes they have significance. I was re-watching the entire Brideshead Revisited recently, and in the early part, the halcyon days of Charles Ryder’s (Jeremy Irons) and Sebastian Flyte’s (Anthony Andrews) friendship, gardens and flowers are prominent. Early on, Ryder says he loves his Oxford rooms because of the gillyflowers (Dianthus? Some kind of wallflower? Sources disagree.) that grow under the window. And then, almost all the Jane Austen adaptations are replete with shrubberies, woods, and formal gardens. Author Phillippa Gregory, known for her Tudor books (great bodice-rippers!),discusses this, a bit, in an article in yesterday’s Guardian:

Why do we like to watch historical drama?
For many, I am sure, it is the visual delight of a pre-industrial landscape. Rural poverty is always pretty, and the loving shots of unsprayed cornfields and ragged haymeadows, little villages with wandering geese and charming urchins, have all the joy of gardening programmes without the implied requirement that you learn something and then put it into practice.

Many of the Masterpiece Theater productions are great for this. I’m watching, via Netflix, The Pallisers now, and even though budgets were low by today’s standards, the locations have beautiful plantings (big advantage of shooting in England—castles, mansions, and their extensive gardens all over the damn place).

While the historical drama Gregory refers to is not an especially tranquil story (The Other Boleyn Girl), most of the PBS stuff I watch is pretty mild-mannered, as well as having lovely garden settings. It’s that association that is most comforting in these movies and miniseries. In many of these shows, really bad things don’t happen; they’re a soothing escape, much as we try to create when we garden.

And thanks to Netflix, I’ll have plenty of these to watch, easily enough to last me into warm weather. Though they’re more filled with tragic matter than I would prefer, I do think Gregory’s two botany novels would make for interesting movies.

Posted by on March 2, 2008 at 9:00 am, in the category Watch Someone Else Do It.
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21 responses to “My favorite gardening movies”

  1. Emmakw says:

    I agree re Earthly Joys and Virgin Earth – especially as the house and some of the gardens in Earthly Joys are still existing! But I am looking forward to The Other Boleyn Girl, to see if they use the real Hever Castle or not… I grew up not far from it, and visited the castle and the extensive grounds many times as a child with my grandparents ( along with every stately home in Kent!!).

  2. Commonweeder says:

    I’m right with you Elizabeth. I love the Brits and their stately homes and gardens. Happily my brother gave us a boxed set of ‘old’ Jane Austen mini-sries for Christmas so we can dip into that idyllic world at will. I was also lucky to be on a Garden Tour in England with Elsa Bakalar in 1983 and I remember the delights of Hever Castle very well. What a world.

  3. Claire Splan says:

    I’ve just finished watching (also via Netflix) the Masterpiece Theater production of All Passion Spent. Given that it’s based on a Vita Sackville-West novel, you know it has to have a bit in it about gardening. Lady Slane (played by the wonderful Wendy Hiller) tells the handyman who’s helping her plant spring flowers and bulbs that she prefers them to not be in a line, but to be placed in a more natural arrangement. He tells her that at home he planted his flowers in lines to spell out his wife’s name. Lady Slane has a look on her face somewhere between horror and amusement, but she’s very gracious about it nonetheless. It was such a sweet story that I’m adding the book to my “to be read” list.

  4. Michele Owens says:

    Hey, now I’ve learned something. My vote for the greatest garden scene in the movies is Kate Winslet’s despairing walk among the topiary yews in Sense and Sensibility. She looks so very lonely among those static, uncaring, vaguely human forms. So it’s Montacute!

  5. Kim says:

    I would love to see a great movie where gardening passion was the main topic. Why not a movie about Gertrude Jekyll, Christopher Lloyd, or the many other fantastic gardeners that have imprinted our lives. Why does history repeat itself in movies with the same characters over and over again?
    A fictional garden mystery would be appealing, too.
    How about that Orchid Thief movie?
    More violence than orchids. It rates only 2 green thumbs.
    I’m waiting for Netflix’s,
    BBC TV’s Rosemary & Thyme series
    to arrive. I saw an episode the other day for the first time. It was obvious with it’s sleuthing clues and simplistic but the plants were beguiling in the British sunshine.

  6. Marte says:

    Beverley Nichols wrote some mysteries, didn’t he? I wonder if there were any gardens involved? I believe his mysteries are all out of print, but has anyone read one? Were they any good?

  7. lmw says:

    Greenfingers starring Clive Owen is also available on Netflix. Based on a true story about British inmates who make it to Hampton Court. “Heart-warming” tale of self-discovery, goofy romance included. I own it on VHS.

  8. eliz says:

    Marte, not a clue. I have only read the Nichols gardening books.

    Greenfingers I’ve seen. It’s a fun movie.

  9. layaneel says:

    I recently saw ‘A Good Year’ with Russell Crowe and the story was centered around a beautiful, but decaying, landscape in France. A vineyard which the characters brought back to life. Beautiful scenery. Did anyone else see this one?

  10. Lizzie says:

    There’s always Enchanted April. If I remember correctly, that wonderful English movie has wonderful shots of the gardens in their rented house/hideaway!

  11. John says:

    I say we take the bull by the proverbial horns and come up with our own list of suggestions for future Hollywood projects:

    La Vie en Rosebush: the heartbreaking saga of an urban gardener fighting poor soil and children with large feet in her quest to grow roses.

    Heathers: Winona Ryder and Shannen Doherty narrate this documentary on the many varieties of perennial shrubs common in Europe.

    Terminator VI: Arnold gets to reprise his “Hosta la vista, baby!” catchphrase.

    Nightmare on Elm Street: but enough about my garden…

  12. Leslie Harris says:

    I saw “A Good Year” too and liked the landscape. But the best gardening “feel” I ever got from a movie was “Green Card”. Andi McDowell plays a keen horticulturalist with a flat in Manhattan that has a green house, but must get married to keep it. In one scene she arrives at home frustrated by something and instead of whipping out the Ben and Jerry’s, as I would have done, she runs to her potting bench, practically hyperventilating, coat on, purse still on shoulder, to dig her trowel into the soil and scoop it into some pots–as if it is air she must breathe. Pretty memorable (that scene, if not the whole movie).

  13. germi says:

    My favorite garden scene in any movie is actually in 2 movies – the same scene …
    entering the door to the Chocolate Factory in Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
    Even now, watching the scene in either movie makes me SO HAPPY! Both movies show the most incredible, surreal fantasy of a garden … I think I’ve wanted to re-create that garden my entire life!

  14. Lisa Albert says:

    So many of my favorite garden movies have already been mentioned: Enchanted April, Sense and Sensibility, Green Card (her conservatory is to die for!). I need to rent the others suggested.

    For those who crave stately English houses and immense estate grounds, check out They don’t show enough of the gardens, unfortunately, but it’s fun to do the virtual tours anyway (move your mouse over the video to slow it down or stop it, otherwise it moves at a dizzying pace).

    In its former life, Hampden House was a girls’ boarding school that I attended when I was 11 (a first former in English terms) when my family moved to England for a year. The dorm room I shared with 9 other girls was just off the Great Hall Gallery. It was enchanting then – an incredible experience for a “Yank” – and even more so now, thanks to efforts by the insurance group that bought the estate and brought it back to its glory days. One of these days I just might be able to return for a visit.

  15. CJ says:

    Yes, “Enchanted April” and Kenneth Branagh’s “Much Ado About Nothing.”

    I recently re-watched “The Pallisers.” Just as good as I remembered it being. It wasn’t the gardens that got me, though. The CLOTHES, my heaven, the clothes.

  16. My favorite: Saving Grace starring a young Craig Ferguson. The trailer, some thoughts and a long garden movie favorite thread here:

  17. eliz says:

    Yes, CJ, I like the Pallisers clothes too. Better than those weird Regency dresses with the waist under the armpits. Of course Susan Hampshire is pregnant all the time in the part I’m on. I still have 6 disks to go.
    But, yeah, the garden scenes are lessening.

  18. Have you watched the British television series, “Rosemary and Thyme” yet?

    One of the mystery detectives lost her job as a plant pathologist and now restores gardens on English estates with her partner.

    Lots of garden talk among the crime solving. It’s a fun series on PBS in the US.

  19. Stephanie says:

    I have to 2nd (or 3rd) Greenfingers. It is adorable and it also has Helen Mirren. Plus, it is British and based on a true story. So what’s not to love?

  20. I second the vote for ‘GreenFingers’. Not only does it have the drool-worthy Clive Owens in it (something I’m guessing you Ranters will appreciate), it really speaks to the quirky passions that gardening brings out in those who fall under the spell.

  21. magourmet says:

    What about Jean De Florette and Manon of the Spring?