Damien Hirst is the lord of Toddington Manor. The old manor house was drawn by Kip in the eighteenth century and rebuilt as a gothic revival mansion in the nineteenth century. Hirst uses the manor for his art collection and I hope he is making a YBA garden.
Neil MacGregor’s Living with the Gods episode on water does not mention gardens, but it could have done!
Beliefs have always influenced garden design styles, just as they influence contemporary gardens. And just as they will surely influence future gardens. I do not have a religion but I do believe in beliefs and in their importance for designers. Neil MacGregor’s radio series on Living with Gods is therefore of great interest to me. Taking objects and places as examples, MacGregor explains the beliefs that led to their creation. This is what I tried to do when writing histories of Asian, European and British garden design. So when I can see a connections between what MacGregor say and the history of gardens I will blog and tweet about them using the hastag #GardenBeliefs. I am hoping he will devote a programme to Nelumbo nucifera the Sacred Lotus – but doubt it. It was a celebrated garden plant long before the Buddha made it a very famous garden plant as recorded in the story of the Flower Sermon:
Toward the end of his life, the Buddha took his disciples to a quiet pond for instruction. As they had done so many times before, the Buddha’s followers sat in a small circle around him, and waited for the teaching. But this time the Buddha had no words. He reached into the muck and pulled up a lotus flower. And he held it silently before them, its roots dripping mud and water. The disciples were greatly confused. Buddha quietly displayed the lotus to each of them. In turn, the disciples did their best to expound upon the meaning of the flower: what it symbollized, and how it fit into the body of Buddha’s teaching. When at last the Buddha came to his follower Mahakasyapa, the disciple suddenly understood. He smiled and began to laugh. Buddha handed the lotus to Mahakasyapa and began to speak. “What can be said I have said to you,” smiled the Buddha, “and what cannot be said, I have given to Mahakashyapa.”
Alan Watts a great interpreter of Buddhist ideas for westerners made a wise comment on contemporary religious ideas (he uses the term ‘faith’ where I use ‘belief’):
The present phase of human thought and history … almost compels us to face reality with open minds, and you can only know God through an open mind just as you can only see the sky through a clear window. You will not see the sky if you have covered the glass with blue paint. But “religious” people who resist the scraping of the paint from the glass, who regard the scientific attitude with fear and mistrust, and confuse faith with clinging to certain ideas, are curiously ignorant of laws of the spiritual life which they might find in their own traditional records.
With regard to garden design, I’m a great believer in the importance of beliefs – and used the word in the titles a book on the history of Asian gardens. Neil MacGregor’s Radio 4 series on Living with the Gods is therefore of great interest to me.
In the first episode MacGregor discusses is the Lion Man. This 40,000 year old figurine is interpreted as a representation of man’s relationship with the natural world – which is one of the grand themes in the history of garden design. A question for me is whether the Lion Man was made by nomads or whether it was made by a holy man who settled near a cave and a place where he could live without being nomadic.
In the second episode, on Fire and State MacGregor focuses ‘on sacred fire which comes to represent the state itself’. He discusses the perpetual fire tended by the Vestal Virgins below the Palatine Hill in Rome, which is in our Garden Finder, and also the Parsi fire temple in Udvada, India, and ‘la Flamme de la Nation’ beneath the Arc de Triomphe in Paris’.
The Baroque style avenues of sweet chestnuts (Castanea sativa) in Greenwich Park are believed to have been planted 1660-1. So they may have been 356 years old when these video clips were taken on 28th October 2017. Greenwich was imparked in the fifteenth century is the oldest of London’s Royal Parks. Maybe ten years ago they were looking unloved. Today they are very well cared for. Instead of mowing the grass under the trees, the turf is being removed and bark chippings are being spread, as shown below.
With good care the Greenwich chestnuts might live as long as the oldest chestnut tree in Britain (571 years and at Stourhead) but the aim should for them to live as long as the Hundred-Horse Chestnut (Castagno dei Cento Cavalli) in Sicily: estimated to be 3000 years old.