Garden as setting for life's drama

Anna Gilman Hill’s ‘Grey Garden’ in the East Hamptons is the setting for a movie on the lives of mother and daughter Little and Big Eddie. Anna Hill has been described as “one of the world’s greatest feminine horticulturalists.”

Yet the women who acquired her garden were challenged by the legacy she left them.

The Grey Garden, and the women’s struggle to maintain a viable garden in a beachside setting, somehow parallel their lives as individuals.

6 thoughts on “Garden as setting for life's drama

  1. Tom Turner

    Pastel shades, usually with a background of grey foliage, was a high fashion in English 1920s planting design and probably came from Gertrude Jekyll. Jekyll was pre-Impressionist but the quotation you link to is as fine an example of Impressionist Garden Writing as one could hope to find:
    “It was truly a gray garden. The soft gray of the dunes, cement walls and sea mists gave us our color scheme as well as our name….nepeta, stachys, and pinks….clipped bunches of santolina, lavender and rosemary made gray mounds here and there. Only flowers in pale colors were allowed inside the walls, yet the effect was far from insipid….I close my eyes and sense again the scent of those wild roses, the caress of the hot sun on our backs as we sauntered to and fro from our bath and lazy mornings on the beach.”—Anna Gilman Hill, former owner of Grey Gardens in her book Forty Years of Gardening

  2. Christine

    Describing the symbolism in the movie Grey Gardens is an allusion to the death of the American dream:

    “…the withdrawal of the two women from modern society is a tale that symbolises the death of the American dream, particularly that promoted by the Kennedy administration, and the high society in which they circulated.”

    In ‘The American Dream vs the Gospel of Wealth: The Fight for a Productive Middle Class Economy’ by Norton Garfinkle is a description of the opposing economic ideas.

    It is said that the historic vision of the American Dream “is that continuing economic growth and political stability can be achieved by supporting income growth and the economic security of middle class families without restricting the ability of wealthy business men to gain wealth.” This vision has been opposed to the ‘Gospel of Wealth’ based on the idea that “providing maximum financial rewards to the most successful business men is the way to maintain high economic growth to benefit all Americans.”

  3. Tom Turner

    I will need to read more about the American Dream – I thought it was of limitless prosperity and ever-increasing wealth. The Arts and Crafts Style of Anna Gilman Hill’s ‘Grey Garden’ is interesting as perhaps the first high-art style in garden history where the work of maintaining the garden was undertaken by the owners – as much or more than by hired labour. Did the American Gardening Dream involve doing the work oneself or becoming rich enough to employ othes to do the work?

  4. christine

    Yes. Is seems to be based on the notion of ‘rags to riches’…(possibly in the mould of Dickens?) How the person behaviours once they have acquired wealth does not seem to be specified. Perhaps Bill Gates gives us a few clues?
    [ ]:

    “The ‘rags to riches’ legend has and continues to be a cornerstone of the American Dream. The traditional message taught that through hard work, frugality, and self-sacrifice one could achieve financial success and social mobility.”

    Interestingly, it is not just a dream for individuals, but also a national aspiration:

    “Ben Franklin counseled industry, Abraham Lincoln sang the praises of the northern labor system, and Horatio Alger instilled hope in generations of Americans. All three helped to establish basic guidelines for success in a land of infinite possibility.”

    [ ]

    So the principle also guides economic thinking (and most probably foreign policy)in the US.

  5. Tom Turner

    Perhaps it is the unbridled materialism of The American Dream – also becoming The Asian Dream – which has led to America being so much more of a religious society than Europe (ie because actions provoke reactions). Bill Gates success in dreaming The Dream also seems to led to his burst of (non-religious) philanthropy. Personally, I am sorry that his efforts are not more directed to environmental issues in general and renewable energy in particular. I also wish he would decide to make a Great Garden – and ‘design a garden for Bill Gates’ would be an intersting theme for a design project (or a design competition).
    Note: The American Dream derives from the ‘Renaissance Dream’ as expressed by Giovanni Pico della Miarndola (1463-1494):
    ‘To him it is granted to have whatever he chooses, to be whatever he wills’. Like Ficino, Pico was interested in in Hermetic philosophy. He promoted a ‘science of the Divine’, which ’embraces the deepest contemplation of the most secret things, and at last the knowledge of all nature’.

  6. Christine

    Great idea to have a competition to design a garden for Bill Gates. Perhaps he would be interested in sponsoring it and providing a brief? Perhaps he might include environmental issues and renewable energy in his brief. I can imagine designing a ‘Feed the World’ garden for Bono… [ ] A wonder what title Bill Gates would like to give his garden?


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