The real thing, the Trevi Fountain
The slowdown in posts of late is not an indication of lack of active gardening here. Far from it. But I subscribe to a few gardening blogs and have come to the conclusion that there is a limit to how interesting it is to read the day to day minutiae of somebody else’s garden. When I had to come up with three new stories a week for the Waikato Times, I was constantly alert to potential topics and thinking ahead. Without that discipline, my attention has wandered.
However, my Sunday morning conversations with Tony Murrell on Radio Live have me focusing my thoughts again. I have to. Going to air live at 6.30am means I must rise with some thoughts already formed. We agree to a topic or two in advance but then allow the conversation to flow as it may. This morning it was about sculpture, garden decoration and the difficulty of placing these well in a garden setting.
The whole topic of garden decoration is enormous, of course. But it did have me thinking about the difference between sculpture and ornamentation and searching out some of my many photos to send to RadioLive. For someone who owns a garden that is very light on decoration, I sure have a lot of photos of examples of these from other people’s gardens. Today’s post brings you the good – and the bad – of people. We have no human figurines in our garden, let alone larger figures which may pass as statues. “There is,” as Mark says, “nothing armless, legless or white in our garden”. The same cannot be said of Eden Gardens in Auckland. Maybe their figures were bequests, as much of that garden depends on memorial bequests.
Armless and white in Eden Gardens
The armless or legless white figures presumably allude to the Ancient Greeks and Romans, though the debt is rather distant. I have only seen the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum and did not look at them that closely but I have seen Italian marble sculptures up close and personal. Some created by Bernini, even. They were so astounding in their exquisite execution that I just had to touch them to make sure they were marble. It is a mystery to me as to why some gardeners think that this style is appropriate to reproduce in the palest of pale and coarse imitations across the world in the antipodes many centuries later. After all, it is not as if New Zealand gardens have anything at all in common with the likes of the Trevi Fountain.
Much of the white domestic garden figurine decoration here probably has a closer debt to the pre Raphaelites and Victorian sentimentality, but personally, I remain unconvinced as to what it adds to home gardens. Especially as so many garden owners appear to feel the need to repaint their figures every year or two, to maintain that pristine whiteness. Each to their own, is all I can say.
It took a visit to Gresgarth, the wonderfully romantic garden of Arabella Lennox-Boyd in Lancaster, UK, to make me reconsider statuary. Her two figures in a sloping meadow were quite simply charming. And subtle. They didn’t shout “look at me! Look at me!” They sat so comfortably in their setting and added interest without dominating the area. Would they look better scrubbed free of their patina of age and lichen and painted white? I think not.
In a similar mould, I think I could even find the right spot for this unloved figure of the harvest maid that is marooned in the area serving some equally unloved apartments in Auckland. By the Countdown Supermarket on the corner of Dominion Road in Mt Eden, if my memory serves me right. But Mark may disagree. “Why,” he says, “must we import the art and history of other countries? Can we not evolve our own?”
Evolution into a modern time and place can be seen in the two figures in the Barnett Garden near New Plymouth. These are one-offs, sculptures by an artist. In a large garden where the owners are very family-focused, they are delightfully apt and contemporary with just that touch of edgy tension in their balance.
Similarly, the Holyoakes in New Plymouth are strongly family oriented and told me that their large Lego man makes them smile and acts as a constant reminder of the delights of child rearing. While uncompromising as a piece of garden sculpture, they have placed it in a small courtyard visible only from their living room, surrounded by the grandeur of the very large bird of paradise plant – Strelitzia nicolai.
By no means can all garden statuary be called sculpture. Some is more akin to craft than art although at its best, crafty efforts can cross over to folk art (more on this another time). Figures made from terracotta pots are found relatively frequently, usually created by the garden owner. This is affordable garden decoration, not sculpture or art.
Finally, I offer you the flat planes of figures. Whether you find the first charming and the second amusing is entirely a matter of personal opinion. Indeed whether you even find them decorative in a garden setting, adding to the scene, is similarly determined by personal taste. I could not possibly comment.
Finally, as a complete afterthought, I give you Headless in Giverny. Not in Monet’s garden but at the converted millhouse where we stayed.
Post-postscript. I will stop soon. But I have just found Armless, Headless and Legless but not entirely lacking in body parts in an Auckland garden I visited during the Heroic Garden Festival.