The Landscape Guide

19.4 The garden revolution of the 1990s

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The last two decades have seen a turning away from abstraction in many arts. Poets and painters have renewed their interest in figurative themes; musicians have recovered their interest in melody. Architects have resumed their study of the classical orders. Garden designers have drawn new inspiration from meanings, iconography and allusion. As all these developments came after the vacant period of abstract modernism, it is safe to classify them as postmodern. In garden design, the trend is most advanced in America and is identified by the title of Mark Francis' book on Meanings of the Garden.

Contributors to Francis' book write about different sorts of meaning. Thayer, for example, has made fire the central feature of his garden because "sharing one's fire, although mass-marketed in such popular works as Clan of the Cave Bear, is still extremely meaningful to me'. Dawson finds meaning in the animals that inhabit his garden, and quotes Rachel Carson: "Take your child out on a still October night... presently your ears will detect tiny wisps of sound -- sharp chirps, sibilant lisps and call notes'. Grampp writes of

Mexicans with Japanese gardens; Americans with Mexican gardens; homeowners who were largely indifferent to their lavish, expensive gardens; and owners of rundown, overgrown yards who had nonetheless invested their gardens with more meaning than I would ever have imagined.

Laurie writes that the 1620 Katsura palace garden was modelled on "scenes from the 11th century tale of Genshi with which the garden prince, Toshito was reputedly obsessed'.