In a bid to distract oneself from the northeast’s own version of 50 shades of gray, I went with a friend to the New York Botanical Gardens for a lecture. If you are fortunate to have a botanical garden near by, take full advantage. In the frozen, bleak depths of winter, it will offer respite with lectures on gardens and gardening, exhibits and displays in conservatories and a shop to provide retail therapy. These escapes will preserve your sanity and uplift your mood. You have my word.
This particular lecture was given by Alexandre De Vogue on Vaux le Viscomte: From Le Notre to Today. To be honest, I went without caring what the talk would be about. I desperately needed to see pretty garden pictures, hear about them and feel the good vibes from fellow attendees – all garden lovers. I craved this comfort zone.
The lecture was quite interesting. I’ve yet to visit Vaux le Viscomte and it has been on my list for a while. To get a first hand recount from a member of the family that undertook its restoration made it decidedly better. There are several good books on this famous garden so I won’t bother waxing eloquent about it. I do however highly recommend that you discover this garden for yourself.
As the garden that formally launched the classical French garden style, it was necessary to learn something about its designer Andre Le Notre. Yes, he of Versailles fame.
Learning that this illustrious man was not only schooled in horticulture but, also in painting and perspective, sculpture as well as architecture was not surprising. His gardens are testaments to his knowledge and artistry. It turns out the gentleman also had an exceptional memory, a strong sense of proportion and space, was a visionary able to juggle with space, volume and distance. His personal reading encompassed subjects such as geography and mathematics. Even more impressive right?
Sitting in the presence of todays horticultural giants such as Marco Polo Stufano and feeling a bit beaten by the protracted, tundra-like winter it got me feeling as though my own aspirations for my garden were a lost cause. A why bother kind of consciousness crept in.
Then, it got me thinking why the heck not? As Monsieur De Vogue talked about the restoration and then about the current challenges, I realized that he had the same garden problems as the rest of us. Only much larger and more costly. He is battling blight and other diseases with his boxwoods, finding replacements for his sick elms and trying to make environmentally sound decisions just like us. And he too has financial worries.
All of a sudden, the playground was even. We were really all alike. A bunch of passionate gardeners doing our best to create beauty and purpose in assorted places. To each garden we bring our knowledge and experience and put our unique stamp on it. We too apply history, art, science, mathematics, geography, architecture and so much else learned from living our lives. Some are given special places to express their creativity and some more humble plots. Some get paid for their expertise and others do not. Ultimately, it does not matter where or why we garden. We just do because we must. Our hearts dictate to us that working the soil is how we love to live.
In a moment of enlightenment, I realized that Le Notre was just like us! I strongly suspect he’d be the first to agree.
Having said all of the above, I feel compelled to share a few nuggets of wisdom from the great gardener himself:
The eye creates perspective, walking makes it alive. Create a garden so one must go in to fully experience it.
Be wary of your own beliefs. Things are not always what they seem. Be flexible.
Let the sky enter into your composition. Use water to mirror the sky. Think ponds, rills and canals.
Open the garden towards the landscape beyond. Expand the view and illusion.
FYI – At Vaux le Vicomte:
Ilex crenata is being considered as replacement for boxwood.
Hornbeams and linden trees will take the place of elms.
(c)2015 Shobha Vanchiswar