THE MODERN MINT BLOG
We have recently been presenting a new garden talk – ‘What Do I Do With This Space?’ – to a number of gardening groups in Essex. (To find out where we are presenting the talk next, please visit the Talks page.)
What looks like a simple question has turned out to be incredibly complex to answer, and in a one hour talk of free form ideas we barely have time to scratch the surface. What do people do with the land around them? How does the landscape inform their lives and the choices they make?
For example, some people have enough money, time, skill and labour to make their garden into whatever they can dream of. They can prove their dominance over nature – think the way the Bawa Brothers gardened in Sri Lanka…
Or there are places where nature wins, and the people who live there shape the lives the lead and the way they garden to the pulse of the wild. The gardens of Scandinavia look the way they do because of the weather…
Between talks we are still asking this question, still researching in the hope of finding further similarities between each new answer we discover. The latest notes we have made, and we will try and work this into the next talk, is from a book we have just finished called ‘Gossip from the Forest’ by Sara Maitland.
It is a beautiful book about our relationship to fairy stories and woodland – exactly what we are wanting to read about when trying to answer the question ‘What Do I Do With This Space?’ – and its form is unusual too; each chapter is about a forest she has visited, its history and relationship to a theme or character from fairy stories.
These chapters are then followed up by a retelling of a fairy tale – her ‘Seven Dwarves’ is composed of such strong, elegant images it becomes hard to stop thinking about when finished (we read it again, enjoyed it again, like a piece of music that has got into your ear and travelled through your body, taking up residence under your skin) while ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ is a story that leaves you uneasy, glancing into the dark corners of the room wondering if there is more to the shadows than an absence of light.
We want to quote from her here – quite a long quote – so please forgive us, but it seems important to capture something of the wonderful ideas she offers us about our relationship to the landscape…
“… landscape informs the collective imaginations as much as or more than it forms the individual psyche and its imagination, but this dimension is not something to which we always pay enough attention.
It cannot be by chance that the three great monotheist religions – the Abrahamic faiths – have their roots in the desert, in the vast empty spaces under those enormous stars, where life is always provisional, always at risk. Human beings are tiny and vulnerable and necessarily on the move: local gods of place, small titular deities, are not going to be adequate in the desert – you need a big god to fill the vast spaces and speak into the huge silence; you need a god who will travel with you.
It cannot be simply accidental that Tibetan Buddhism emerges from high places, where the everlasting silence of the snows invites a kind of concentration, a loss of ego in the enormity of the mountains…
I am just trying to give some better-known examples of how the land, the scenery and the climate shape and inform the imaginations of the people… I believe that the great stretches of forest in Northern Europe, with their constant seasonal changes, their restricted views, their astonishing biological diversity, their secret gifts and perils and the knowledge that you have to go through them to get to anywhere else, created the themes and ethics of the fairytales we know best.”
As a garden designer we must constantly ask the question – What Do I Do With This Space? – and it is from books like Gossip from the Forest that we learn the landscape, not just the space we are working on right then, but the landscapes we have lived all our lives in, have been influencing us and the stories we tell from the very first day we were born.
Fernando Caruncho is a garden designer from Madrid. I am always inspired by his work – his clean lines, ‘green architecture’, sense of proportion, balance and minimal plant palette. This seems to bring out the atmosphere of the garden, the space, intensifying its… spirit. I have written about him a lot – here, for example… and here. But recently I have discovered a few more interviews with him, so thought I would link to his words as he always has something interesting to say, the opposite of prosaic. This first interview from the Society of Garden Designers will give you …
In 2021 I will be offering 5 talks – so if you are a Garden Club, Horticultural Society, WI, Probus group or club of some kind who needs a speaker, click on the link below to read a short document with all the details! Talks Information 2021 inc Zoom Darren Lerigo, Modern Mint There is an FAQ’s section included in the download, but if you have another question that needs answering then please do get in touch with me and ask it. I’m happy to help! Contact Me About A Talk For Your Group
Charlotte Molesworth, my topiary mentor, and I are running our popular topiary workshop again in 2021. You can email me for details – or go here for information, your ticket and to find out about dates. Book A Spot On A Topiary Workshop, September 2021