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Garden Variety Series

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Garden Variety Series


Garden Variety Series, 2000
by Wick Alexander

We are all victims, whether we know it or not, of a way of thinking that sets the city apart from any other kind of environment. At the root of this confusion is one single error: the error which proclaims that nature is something outside of us, something green which we can perhaps enjoy as a spectacle or examine for future exploitation, but which is only distantly related to us. Nature, thus defined, belongs in the country and is all but totally excluded from the city; hence the oft-repeated outcry that urban man is alienated from it. Nature is actually omnipresent in the city: in the city’s climate, topography and vegetation, and we are in fact surrounded by an impalpable or invisible landscape of spaces and color and sound and movement and temperature, in the city no less than in the country.
J.B. Jackson

When we look at a garden, do we see nature or culture? That questions lies at the heart of the writings of three authors that inspire my current work. John Prest’s book The Garden of Eden explores how religious and gardening allegory is interwoven. His book traces man’s desire to recreate Paradise to the design of the enclosed botanic garden where “beside the fountain in the middle, a man could enter into communion with what was green and full of sap, recover his innocence, and shed his fear of decay.”

In Simon Schama’s book Landscape and Memory, he argues that every landscape—forest, river or mountain—is a work of the mind, a repository of the memories and obsessions of the people who gaze upon it. Among other things, Schama’s book reveals Gothic architecture as the embodiment of forest wilderness; the play of Christian and Pagan myth in Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers; the history of hiking; and the origins of such garden features as the obelisk, the labyrinth and the fountain.

A Sense of Place, A Sense of Time by J.B. Jackson is a series of essays about how our surroundings reflect our culture. He coined the term “vernacular garden” and states, “Landscape is history made visible.” His brilliant insights and challenges to the mind, eye and conscience contained in his essays continue to inspire me. When once asked to define himself and his work, Jackson declared: “I see things very clearly, and I rely on what I see . . . and I see things that other people don’t see, and I call their attention to it.”

Jackson, who like John Prest, believes that the domestic garden is the re-creation of heaven on earth, makes the following statement: For if we are to put this study of the relation between man and environment on an enduring basis, we must not be afraid to rediscover and reassert a neglected truth: that man is the product, the child of God and that his works must therefore always betray even in a distorted form, that identity. Man the inhabitant reveals his origin in the habitat which he himself creates.


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