Friday, October 09, 2009

green thoughts/green shade

What do you want to do on your day? was the question last week, & after thinking a bit, I realized that I wanted to do something that would combine pleasure with work. (I have a lot of sympathy with Adorno, reflecting on how the "illustrated weeklies" always report on famous people's "hobbies":
I have no hobby. Not that I am the kind of workaholic, who is incapable of doing anything with his time but applying himself industriously to the required task. But, as far as my activities beyond the bounds of my recognized profession are concerned, I take them all, without except, very seriously. So much so, that I should be horrified by the very idea that they had anything to do with hobbies – preoccupations with which I had become mindlessly infatuated merely in order to kill the time – had I not become hardened by experience to such examples of this now widespread, barbarous mentality. Making music, listening to music, reading with all my attention, these activities are part and parcel of my life; to call them hobbies would make a mockery of them.)
So I said, "let's go to Vizcaya."

Villa Vizcaya, down Miami-way, is an Italianate villa built by zillionaire industrialist James Deering early in the last century as a winter home. The house itself is a rather splendid affair, chock-full of 400-years'-worth of fine & decorative artworks Deering had plundered from Europe. My own interest, however centered on the gardens. Vizcaya's extensive formal gardens, designed by Colombian landscape architect Diego Suarez, are probably the finest example in the United States of a garden in the 16th-century Italian formal style.

I wandered thru the grottoes, along the curvilinear parterres, past the statuary and fountains, snapping literally hundreds of photographs, trying to take in the garden not merely as pretty thing but as experience, as aesthetic whole. It's not that I hadn't been there before – I've visited probably 3 times in the past, & I've been to many of the important bits of landscape architecture along the east coast: the gardens of Williamsburg (& of course all of the gardens adjoining most of the historic mansions in the Virginia/Carolina region), Longwood Gardens, Winterthur, Biltmore, Dumbarton Oaks, etc. (Not to mention a handful of the more important northern Italian gardens, Butchart Gardens in Victoria, & of course Central Park.) But I'm trying to begin to make sense of the garden experience, to conceptualize what goes into garden design & what experience a design aims to provoke in the garden's visitor.

All of which signals that my longtime interest in garden poetics, which first poked its head out of the ground in a 1996 Toronto paper on 80 Flowers (still unpublished, & for good reason), is beginning to become a central research occupation. It gives me a chance to correct the errors of & update my Ian Hamilton Finlay essay (oddly enough, perhaps my single most cited piece of "scholarly" writing). And it gives me an excuse to spend lots of time with books that have large, beautiful photographs.


Emma J said...

what an intriguing "research occupation"! I have not known Finlay's work - found your article compelling.

undine said...

Garden poetics: This does sound like an interesting research occupation, and echoes of Marvell are never a bad thing.

Archambeau said...

I gotta get me one of them curvilinear parterres.

Also: do you have a copy of Jesse Sheeler's book on Little Sparta?

Good stuff.


Mark Scroggins said...

Indeed, Bob -- see

E. M. Selinger said...

You know, Mark, I used to spend a lot of time with magazines full of large, beautiful photographs. A central research preoccupation for most of my adolescence: grottoes, curvilinear parterres, the works.

Never got a book out of it, but I had a lot of fun!