Please watch this introductory video:
UNIT 1 – FIRST STEPS
In the Beginning was the Imagination
Before the Hanging Gardens of Babylon or the paradise garden of Shalimar in Kashmir or any of the legendary gardens of the world were built they had to be conceived in the imagination of a Nebuchadnezzar or an Emperor Jahangir or some other visionary patron. In the process of creating our sacred garden, or garden of the mysteries, imagination will be a key factor in two ways. First, especially if we are building the garden from scratch, we need to form a vision in our imaginations of how we want the garden to look.
An artist’s impression of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon
Puck and a Fairy, by Arthur Rackham
Secondly, we need to know how to look at a real garden with the eye of the imagination and imbue it with enchantment – or rather to re-learn the ability that a child has to do just that. As children we could see a clump of trees as the abode of gnomes or fairies or the characters from Wind in the Willows. As adults we may have a different set of references, but still the work of creating our garden of the mysteries will rely just as much on our imaginations as on the physical work of our hands.
Gardens convey meaning through three different media: (a) Form and structural features; (b) plants and their associations; (c) decorative features such as statues, fountains, grottoes etc. In this unit and the next two we shall look at three features of the form and structure – the entrance, the overall shape and the center – as they are treated in different gardening traditions.
The entrance When you enter a garden you are crossing over a threshold into a place that is between different worlds. It is between art and nature and between the everyday world and the special world of the garden. Therefore the entrance is commonly treated as a key feature. Here are some examples.
As the entrance marks a transition between two worlds you could say that it has a hybrid quality, which is why entrances and boundaries are often marked by hybrid creatues. Sphinxes, for example, which are half-lion, half- human, are a favourite motif in western gardens. The one on the right is in the gardens of the Belvedere palace, in Vienna
Satyrs – half-human, half-goat – are another favourite entrance marker. The photograph below shows one at the Villa Garzoni at Collodi in Tuscany at the side of a stairway leading from the formal part of the garden to a wilder area where the vegetation grows more freely
The gryphon – half-eagle, half-lion – is also found as a threshold marker. Here on the right is a particularly striking one at the entrance to the Farkasréti cemetery, Budapest.
Some threshold guardians are not exactly hybrid, but decidedly fierce. This type of guardian is called for when the space on the other side of the threshold is somehow sacred. The above example is a lion guardian in the Forbidden City, Beijing.
- Describe some garden entrances or gateways that you have found particularly striking.
- Do the same with regard to threshold guardians.
- As a case study, take an area of your own garden or a garden of your imagination and choose or design a marker or guardian for the entrance.