An earlier version of this post referred to a photo found on line and credited there to the Cultural Landscape Foundation. Thank you to Christine Facer Hoffman for pointing out that the photo said to be of the Garden Cosmic Speculation was actually her own photo, of her own garden at Througham Court. For my review of this intriguing garden see http://thinkingardens.co.uk/reviews/art-or-science-a-review-of-througham-court-by-pat-webster/
The post I wrote about where my garden ideas have come from (http://glenvillaartgarden.com/reflections-and-inspirations/) generated a lot of interest and feedback. The degree of interest prompted me to consider which other garden makers have copied ideas, and who they have copied them from.
I’m delighted to find myself in good company.
Les Quatre Vents, the Quebec garden created by the late Frank Cabot, is full of ideas imported from gardens around the world. The white garden near the Norman-style chateau copies Vita Sackville-West’s creation at Sissinghurst, but copying that idea is such a commonplace that it hardly counts. Cabot’s large gateway arch apparently was built after seeing a photograph of Edward Lutyens’ arch at the Royal Mughal Gardens in New Delhi; the brick structure and long reflecting pond in the Pigeonnier gardens adapt ideas found at the Pin Mill at Bodnant in North Wales and in the approach to the Taj Mahal.
Less obvious is the copying involved in the rill near the house.
The shape of this hillside water feature is so similar to a design by Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe at Shute House in Dorset that the source seems unmistakeable. This may not be as clear in the photos as it is in reality, since I took the photo of the Cabot garden from the top of the rill and the one at Shute House from mid-way down.
I don’t fault Mr Cabot for re-using the idea — Sir Geoffrey’s design has Moorish precedents that I’m sure he would acknowledge. I do question the plantings, though. At Shute House, the rill emerges from an exuberantly planted area; it make its way down the hill through a broad and open area of grass, making the shape of the rill stand out clearly. At Les Quatre Vents, while the large leaves edging the rill provide a loose contrast to the tidily trimmed evergreens, the plantings interfere with this clear view of the design. (I do, however, applaud the crooked white birch tree that draws the eye into the space beyond the end of the rill.)
At Kiftsgate Court in England, I saw another Jellicoe knock-off. The pool that replaced an old tennis court copies a part of Jellicoe’s design for the garden at Sutton Place in Surrey. The stepping stones that cross the moat there carry a symbolic message — they are the first steps in an allegorical journey through time. The steps at Kiftsgate lead to an island; the only way off is to retrace your steps. What was meaningful has become decorative.
Copying design ideas from other times and other places has a long and honourable history. Moorish gardens inspired Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe. Roman gardens and the statues they contained inspired Italian Renaissance designers. Indeed, it seems that in Renaissance times, copying was a competitive sport. Cardinals and popes competed to have the best this or the largest that. The water chains at Villa Lante …
were copied at Villa d’Este at Tivoli — one cardinal trying to out-do another.
Visiting Vaux-le-Vicomte a few years ago, I had an ‘a-ha!’ moment when I climbed steps to a small side garden. Trees trimmed like stilts immediately made me think of Lawrence Johnson’s Stilt Garden at Hidcote.
Noting how the water chains at Villa Lante and Villa d’Este mimic one another made me wonder if their curving edges inspired the canal at Brian’s Ground in Herefordshire.
Copying a design does not necessarily entail copying the idea behind it. At Sutton Place the steps began a voyage of the mind. At Kiftsgate, they appear merely decorative. Curving edges are an essential part of Renaissance water chains, wavy edges at Brian’s Ground are not.
Inspiration from the past necessarily acquires different meanings in different times. The warning bells ring when a garden designer copies his or her own work. While she may be building on past experience, repetition becomes far too easy. Static ideas lose their impact and meaning.