Charles Jencks Garden of Cosmic Speculation

“Gardens like cities are whispering games in which the key is to pass on meaning even as it changes.” And “Design is like a conversation, if you knew the outcome it wouldn’t be worth having…” Charles Jencks in ‘The Garden of Cosmic Speculation’ (2003).

[Image & text source :…]

9 thoughts on “Charles Jencks Garden of Cosmic Speculation

  1. Tom Turner

    The quotations are fascinating – though I am unsure what point you are using them to make. I think lack of meaning was a major ‘gap’ in the abstract style of garden design, as it is in most current garden design, and that Jencks has both identified the problem and made an interesting response. Your photograph is of an interesting scene which stands firmly in the western design tradition. But I have reservations about other features in the garden. They appear to be over-literal representations of ‘cosmic’ theories.

  2. Christine Post author

    An interesting teaching exercise I once undertood was to get participants to choose a photograph of an interior space from a magazine and then to explain what it was about the photograph that they liked. Why they had selected that particular image.

    By beginning the conversation about the qualities of a space (rather than strictly the appearance or style) much can be understood about what is actually being communicated by ‘preference’ for an image.

    However, what Jencks was saying in his book ‘The Garden of Cosmic Speculation’was that a garden (so too a city)is never finished, it is always in the process of being added to and renewed.

    This has important implications for meaning in cities. [But that is another topic.]

  3. Christine Post author

    ps. I am wondering when you speak of ‘lack meaning’ are you referring to lack of an underlying narrative, memesis, metaphor and/or symbolism or to something else again?

  4. Hilary Maltman

    Visited this garden at Portrack literally ‘by accident’ as were ‘just passing’ on 4th May this year – and what a wonderful coincidence. Were entralled, captivated etc etc – so much so wish to make the journey from Yorkshire again in 2009 for the annual open day to the public. Just one problem – can nowhere find time and date of opening in 2009 though presume it will be Sunday 3rd May (first Sun of month) but can’t remember time. Perhaps you would confirm details for me? Would hate to miss it – was so unexpected in so many ways – layout, size, interpretations, plantings, use of materials etc and was impossible to take in and appreciate to the full with one visit. Also, feel sure the garden is constantly dynamic so will be good to try to recognise any changes, additions etc.

    Many thanks and season’s greetings!


  5. Christine

    You might also be interested in listening to the music by American composer Michael Gandolfi inspired by his visit to the garden of Cosmic Speculation.

    Michael Gandolfi The Garden Of Cosmic Speculation Track Listing

    Part 1
    1. The Zeroroom
    2. Soliton Waves
    3. The Snail and the Poetics of Going Slow
    4. Symmetry Break Terrace / Black Hole Terrace
    5. The Willowtwist
    Part 2
    6. The Universe Cascade/The Garden of the Senses Suite
    7. Allemande (audition)
    8. Courante (olfaction)
    9. Sarabande (gustation)
    10. Passepied (palpation)
    11. Gigue (vision)
    12. Chorale (the sixth sense: intuition)
    Part 3
    13. Fractal Terrace
    14. The Jumping Bridge
    15. The Quark Walk
    16. The Nonsense

    Michael Gandolfi says of his work;
    “I have long been interested in modern physics…and it seemed proper for music to participate in this magnificent joining of physics and architecture. I discovered The Garden of Cosmic Speculation, and after a month or so of sketching musical ideas, I decided to focus on several aspects of the garden to which I had the strongest musical response.”

  6. simon rose

    I have visited many, many gardens in nearly 40 years in horticulture, but this garden is far and away the best for inspiration. I knew little about it, but the message is hard to miss. I have compared the feeling it gave me to the birth of my son. I felt connected and uplifted for three days.

    Omphalos at portrack

  7. Tom Turner

    Simon, thank you for the comment. Did you notice a difference between the older section, done in co-operation with Maggie Keswick, and the newer section, done since Maggie died?

  8. Christine

    Thankyou for bringing to my attention the myth of Omphalos.[] It seems to have remarkable connections through to Judaism.

    Samuel Terrien in ‘The Omphalos Myth and Hebrew Religion’ [Vestus Testamentum, Vol 20, Fasc 3 (Jul 1970) pp315-338 has the following to say;

    “It has long been recognised that the Omphalos myth played an important part in the cults of ancient Greece…
    1) In all probability the myth of the navel of the earth, far from being an incidential aspect of worship at the temple of Jerusalem, constitutes in effect the determining factor which links together a number of its cultic practices and beliefs that otherwise appear to be unrelated.
    2)…Brevard Childs has shown that according to the biblical traditions the sacred space of the Jerusalem temple is set apart from all other spaces on earth, not only because Yahweh has chosen Zion as his ‘menhah’, his ‘resting place’
    3)…the Judahites have adopted from the Canaatnites of ancient Jebus the belief that the site of Zion was related to the navel of the earth. Solomon’s temple is built on a rock
    4) which is the earth centre, the world mountain, the foundations stone of creation, the extremity of the umbilical cord which provides a link between heaven,earth and the underworld. It therefore becomes associated with the cosmic tree.” pp317-8.


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