A Choral Feast.
At Christmas we went to a (socially distanced) concert in Hereford Cathedral. We are great fans of small choirs who sing Renaissance, Baroque and modern choral music: in this case it was Ex Cathedra. And part of the beauty of the experience is the places these choirs perform in, which are usually cathedrals. So, there is a combination of architectural delight, statues, memorials, history and glorious music. A saturation of pleasure and interest.
I’m afraid that I was a little distracted that night, thinking about the things this experience shares with a garden which is open to the public.
A Unique Occasion.
The music was performed in this way, by these particular people, with their own individual interpretations of the pieces, just for this occasion. It was fleeting, just as flowers are in a garden. The cathedral provided a magnificent historic setting for this small moment, just as the garden provides the setting for plants and flowers.
People will insist on saying that gardens can’t be art, because they are constantly changing. Well, indeed, so is music. Last night we heard unfamiliar arrangements of pieces we were very familiar with and this is quite usual. The performers and the conductor themselves bring changes and this is why people will pay great sums of money and travel miles to hear particular singers and musicians. The performance we heard will never be heard again.
I am a very ignorant concert goer. I recently heard one of the conductors of such a choir discussing the music – the composer, the setting, the particular performance and the place these pieces had in the development of the religious choral tradition, and then – just why they work so well.
I was confronted by my absolute ignorance and I knew just how much more pleasure I could get if I learnt more and, indeed, listened more. But I still get great pleasure from my ignorant listening.
Music – and Gardens?
One of the joys of both music and a garden may be, then, that they can both be appreciated by someone who knows nothing about them. And no doubt appreciated infinitely more by someone who has learned about them in depth. And perhaps both are worth learning about in depth?
But one thing is dramatically different between music and gardens.
I don’t think many people think that only musicians can enjoy and appreciate music. I think it’s generally believed that everyone can enjoy music. Different kinds of music, perhaps, but listening to it is not confined to musicians. How absurd would that be?
However, no-one seems to believe anyone but a gardener can enjoy and appreciate a garden. Our visitors are 98% gardeners, and the remaining 2% are usually a reluctant spouse or child. I find this extraordinary.
British gardens were once seen as one of the major art forms, worthy of anyone’s attention. What on earth happened?
And it’s worse than this. Gardeners are full of preoccupations which bluntly have very little to do with what we are aiming to achieve in the garden. They may be interested in weeds, and whether we use weed killer, they want to know about how we cut the hedges, they sometimes like horrible neat lawn edging and general neat and tidiness. They look down perhaps more than up. They are very good at plant spotting and are often devastated that we don’t do teas.
When visitors come politely to thank us for their visit they will usually say ‘lovely garden, what’s that plant?’ Perhaps people would visit an art gallery to discover just what was that blue paint that Monet was using?
However, sometimes there is a ray of light. Carolyn Mullet has just published ‘Adventures in Eden’ and in her introduction she says ‘..I believe that gardens are cultural expressions worthy of attention just like painting, sculpture, theatre and music..’
But does that mean we will ever have painters, sculptors, actors and musicians visit the garden? Or will they read Carolyn’s book? Maybe even those people who believe they aren’t interested in gardens might read or visit? Unlikely. What would it take for them to come or read such a book?
Are our gardens actually still worthy of such attention, as Carolyn clearly believes they are?
First, congratulations on the inclusion in Carolyn’s book. I have it on the ‘to read’ list. Next, a question concerning your comment about ‘horribly neat garden edging’…can it be too neat? I am all for the rough and tumble of blowsy perennials but an also a fan of a clean, cut edge which gives formality to the informality within a bed or border.
I love the contrast of formality with informality, but achieve this with hedges and walls. I hate bare soil (invitation to weeds) and most lawn edgers seem to use plants in bare soil.
I plant to overlap the grass with plants, so that they sit happily together instead of rigidly apart. Alchemilla mollis is good for this – I have it mixed with blue geraniums. I must write a post about this. I confess, I truly hate an edged lawn – it looks so uncomfortable. (and the work!)
I so agree about bare soil…Mother Nature hates bare ground but that said, I truly have fallen in love with a cleanly cut edge. Control where there really is no control at all. I garden in the middle of a pine/oak forest with ledge and rocks galore. A clean edge soothes my soul. In my mind, I can see your overlapping plants romping with happy abandon. I am sure they are brilliant! Alchemilla mollis is almost my favorite of perennials and is a great edger as you say. I would love to read your post on this topic. I imagine the alchemilla looks wonderful with blue geraniums but they do not like it here in my garden. I actually have tried this combination. Sigh, plant health is about so much more than hardiness. Gardening is ever so regional but the glory of finding gardens on the internet and seeing them through books and travel (cut so short these days) is how much we learn from each other. The hand of the gardener should always be clearly visible. I hope to see those tumbling, rowdy edges of yours some day.
There would be small joy in gardens if we could all grow the same plants. And setting matters – I find it hard to imagine my dreaded lawn edges in the middle of a forest. I will, however, make a post on the topic for you, – and I hope to see images of your garden in a forest also?
And I hope to show you my edgeless borders soon!! Xxx
Great post, your analogy between music and gardens is very apt! I wonder if the reason you see mostly visitors who are gardeners is a function of the effort and cost of coming there (I don’t know if you charge admission), or perhaps the way your garden is promoted? I was part of a group of small farms that started inviting the public to visit many years ago as a way to educate the mostly ag-ignorant public about farming and agriculture, but it has since morphed into a major local tourist attraction including all kinds of events and activities so that all kinds of people visit. One of my favorites is when artists are invited to come and draw, paint and photograph (and even write!). These pieces of art then show up in all kinds of public spaces throughout the area, providing another context to explore the farms besides an interest in ag. I can only imagine what artists would see in your garden!
I think this is a much wider issue than simply our own garden – though I may be corrected here, who knows? Garden have a poor press, seem as hobby or pastime for the challenged middle aged, and so who but a gardener would want to see their efforts, even for free?
Anne, just curious here. How do you pronounce “Veddw”? And what is the origin of the word?
It’s currently pronounced ‘veddoo’ – though that has changed just in the time we’ve been here. Here’s the history: https://veddw.com/local-history/the-name-veddw/
Great article and so much that I identify with. In fact I’ve often wondered how I’d feel about gardens if my horticulture knowledge could be wiped away overnight. How would I think about plants and gardens, would they still call out to me as they do today?
Could I enjoy visiting a garden purely for its style and artistic qualities? Or would I still be driven by a desire to understand it’s history or the plants that have been used (and indeed, whether the garden is managed in a green way!)
Either way, I think I’d still see gardens as works of art. Some of them at least! Best wishes, Gary
It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? Sadly my interest was prompted by my starting a garden, so I can’t even refer back to a time of innocence: I was learning about gardens…. I have a non gardening friend though who has promised to come next summer and record her impressions, and that may be interesting. (she’s a singer!)
A lovely post and thread, much enjoyed by this Anglophile gardener, writer and BBC fan. Something about hearing Classical music in an Episcopal (Anglican) Cathedral just wins it for me. St. john’s Cathedral in the Wilderness (which it once indeed was), here in Denver is my sacred space in more ways than one. Lovely gardens, too. Glad you have joined up with Garden Rant. Many thanks.
Correx: Upper case on John’s, of course.
Of course. (That J). Delighted to share the pleasure – and I hope to offer you more! Thank you for the welcome. xx
The best companion for a garden visit is a child. 7 to 10 is the ideal age. 4 to 6 is ok as long as you keep them on a lead in the precious bits of gardens. Their actions will let you know whether it is a space they enjoy and from which they derive excitement. Other garden visitors will hate you if they enjoy it loudly.
Their reactions are unfettered by knowledge of gardening and plants. Half an hour will not be long enough in the right sort of garden…and if it isn’t, 20 minutes will be the limit before the familiar whine…Can we GO now, I’m BORED…
My son at the age of 9 or 10 declared he was too bored to come with me and daughter round Veddw. I insisted on 10 minutes and the car keys if he was still bored by then…after 45 minutes he declared the garden ‘cool’. I asked him to relate that to Anne, who said there was no finer assessment.
One of the very best appreciations Veddw has ever had. I’d be interested to hear what he had to say about other places you dragged them round: was it always just ‘bored’ ?