Charles Jencks Portrack Garden of Cosmic Speculation

by Tom Turner @ 11:59 am October 28, 2009 -- Filed under: Garden Design,Garden Visiting   

Charles Jencks has been making the most interesting postmodern garden in Britain, with the Prince of Wales Highgrove garden as its only rival. Jencks, as the leading theorist of postmodernism, has the stronger theoretical base and I daresay there is not much to chose between the gardens with regard to resource costs. The Prince is the clear winner on sustainability grounds.

Apart from its striking visual character, the most interesting thing about Jencks Portrack garden is the way it carries forward the ancient project of making gardens which imitate (mimesis) the Nature of nature. Jencks seeks to understand the nature of the world, through science, and to embody the nature of the world in a garden design. The pharaohs, Plato, the emperors of China, Alberti, Capability Brown, William Robinson and Charles Prince of Wales  had the same intention. The results differ because their understandings of nature differ.

One criticism I have heard of Jencks’ Portrack Garden is that he is too literal in his ‘imitations’ of physical and chemical laws, principles and formulae. While not seeing this as a fault, I agree with the observation. The alternative would be to use the revelations of science as Jencks’ renaissance predecessors used optics and mechanics to produce remarkable visual effects and devices in gardens. Outside the garden realm, one of the most dazzling examples of what might be done, from the nineteenth century, is the Foucault Pendulum, demonstrating the rotation of the earth. “The direction along which the pendulum swings rotates with time because of Earth’s daily rotation. The first public exhibition of a Foucault pendulum took place in February 1851 in the Meridian Room of the Paris Observatory. A few weeks later, Foucault made his most famous pendulum when he suspended a 28-kg bob with a 67-metre wire from the dome of the Panthéon in Paris. The plane of the pendulum’s swing rotated clockwise 11° per hour, making a full circle in 32.7 hours.”  It is not too late to be making Foucault Gardens, Foucault-inspired gardens and other gardens inspired by a scientific understandings of Nature.

Charles Jencks Portrack House

Charles Jencks Portrack House

Image courtesy Marilyn Mullay


  1. Reminds me of the Escher lithograph ‘Relativity’.

    Comment by Christine — October 29, 2009 @ 3:10 am

  2. ps. the web link [ ]

    Comment by Christine — October 29, 2009 @ 3:11 am

  3. Love it and would love to visit – but wouldn’t want to live with it.

    Comment by Sue in Milan — November 8, 2009 @ 9:59 am

  4. This part of Charles Jenck’s garden has a rather Alice-in-Wonderland like quality.You almost expect to stumble upon the infamous tea party![ ]I wonder whether Timothy Burton considered using the garden as a location for the film remake due for release in 2010?[ ]

    Comment by christine — November 23, 2009 @ 5:04 am

  5. There is good information on Charles Jencks’ projects on his own website:

    Comment by Tom Turner — April 5, 2011 @ 5:05 am

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