You might have got the impression from the last couple of posts that it was only contemporary gardeners who were capable of doing things in the spirit of the Silly Season but there are plenty of examples in history too, even amongst the greatest names. John Evelyn the diarist, garden writer and garden maker was one such.
Like the gooseberry growers of two weeks ago or the designers of quirky gardens at Chaumont last week Evelyn has a very strong sense of what the ideal garden should be like.
He’d visited plenty, designed several and was prepared to both to work hard and take the risk of trying the unusual to achieve what he wanted. But what he wanted wasn’t always exactly the kind of garden you might expect a wealthy 17thc gentleman to aim for.
Trees by Bernard de Lassus
I paid my annual trip to the International Garden Festival at Chaumont-sur-Loire last week. As a laboratory for contemporary garden and landscape design for nearly 30 years, and still full of weird and whacky ideas, Chaumont fits the idea of the Silly Season perfectly.
The theme this year was Biomimicry – and don’t worry I had to think what that meant as well. But actually it’s a really interesting concept because as the organisers say “Understanding and imitating living systems and, in particular, natural ecosystems is one of the keys to our future.”
What’s a termite nest doing in a contempoary garden?
Biomimicry sees Nature much more than just a resource or a constraint but a source of inspiration for human progress : “Whether you look at the silk of spiders, the organisation of termite mounds or the tendrils of the Virginia creeper or burdock, there are a thousand opportunities to take a leaf out of nature’s book and apply its techniques to the garden” and beyond.
Now that all sounds very serious and worthy so what’s it got to do with the Silly Season? I think that will become clear when we look at some of this year’s temporary gardens but ask yourself first where do dinosaurs lay their eggs and what would it be like to sit inside a lemon squeezer ?
What species are these exotic looking birds?
August traditionally marks the start of the silly season so in that spirit…..We’ve all heard of tulip mania in the mid-17thc and most will know about orchid-mania and the fern fever in the mid-19th but what about a gooseberry craze? I like gooseberries myself and grow a lot of them but I don’t think I’d describe myself as a gooseberry fanatic and hadn’t realised until I started researching this post that they could be the subject of intense passion. Yet for well over a hundred years they were, and there still are a small band of enthusiasts for whom that continues to be the case.
And if you want to know why then you should have been in Cheshire last week or be getting ready to go to North Yorkshire on Tuesday afternoon. These were/will be very serious occasions and anything but the silly season. Nevertheless in popular culture gooseberries often have strange assocations …
This post started out as another “serious” look at the history of treehouses but has ended up a bit more off-beat than usual , somehow managing to include mentions of a well-known children’s book, a Disney film, donkeys, bars in the skies, the French rock star Johnny Halliday and a mistress of the Prince of Wales. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.
Carrying on with the “proper” garden history from last week …the “natural” landscape garden of the 18thc seemed to have no place for treehouses preferring instead temples and other paraphernalia of classical antiquity, but these too fell out of fashion as more romantic ideas about “wild” nature and landscape began to assert themselves.
So what happened next?
I was recently sent a book about treehouses for my birthday and it was a subtle reminder that we’d inherited the remains of one here in France when we bought the house 15 years ago and even laid the boards for another in a willow tree over the lake. Alas the best laid plans of mice and garden owners gang aft a-gley as Robbie Burns didn’t quite say, and the treehouse’s base still sits unfinished. Having looked at the book though maybe one day !
I was pleased – as well as surprised – to see that one of the authors was Paula Henderson a historian I admire and whose work on early modern gardens has been groundbreaking. I had no idea she was interested in treehouses and wondered what the possible connection was between them and the Tudors. You don’t somehow imagine Henry VIII sitting in an oak tree or Elizabeth I clambering up a ladder for the view.
Of course I ought to have known but as I flicked through the section on treehouses of the past the penny quickly dropped….