The Ministry of Silly Gardens
Does anybody remember the old Monty Python sketch about the Ministry of Silly Walks? This diverting bit of absurdity came to mind when Judy and I visited the International Garden Festival at Chateau Chaumont back in September. The Festival contained a number of gardens which, like the Ministry, took themselves very seriously but were in fact rather silly.
Every year the International Garden Festival gets prominent or aspiring designers to install gardens which, according to the brochure, are “the gardens of tomorrow.” In 2013 there were 24 gardens, which are maintained from spring through fall. We only got to see about half, because we had also spent a lot of time visiting the Chateau and it was a very hot day.
Each of the gardens had plaques explaining their significance. Unfortunately they were in French only. Judy speaks some French but the translating was a bit arduous. I wish now that I had taken notes, but oh well.
Certainly the silliest garden, and the most annoying, was about Death. Or Death and Life, or the Great Circle of Life, also depicted in Walt Disney’s The Lion King. This garden had a pomegranate tree, symbolizing Life (see legend of Persephone), and a big dead branch lying on the ground, symbolizing Death. Only thing is, someone had not been taking good care of the tree, because it was pretty much half dead. Or maybe that was intentional, I don’t know.
In case anybody missed the symbolism, there was a wall featuring a quote about life and death by the Russian abstract painter Kazimir Malevich, who is himself dead. Personally I don’t really approve of driving home the theme or message of a garden with a big sign. I mean, would Da Vinci have put a banner on the Mona Lisa reading: “Hey, is this lady’s smile mysterious or what?”
Another silly garden featured what looks like an abandoned suburban backyard with a pool and patio. Perhaps it’s title was “Subprime Home Mortgage”, by Bank of America. This is not a garden of tomorrow, as you can already go to quite a few places where it is the garden of today.
Then there was a garden that was about sound, I think. It had mini lamp posts from which hung a sort of botanical version of the Cone of Silence from the old TV comedy Get Smart. (I’m just full of pop culture references today, generally about 30 years out of date.) You were supposed to stand under them so you could hear … something. I tried but didn’t really hear anything. Kids found it entertaining, though.
Another garden was about wind. It had pieces of aluminum mesh hanging from clotheslines. Reminded me that I had not fixed the screen door before leaving on this trip.
Ah, if this is a garden of tomorrow, I really need to find a new hobby.
So not everything was silly, or at least not in a bad way. I really loved this garden with disco balls appearing to float on a pond. Not what I would put in my own garden, but undeniably cool.
And I liked this children’s garden, which you entered by stepping through a wardrobe. No lion or witch, unfortunately.
I forget where we saw these shoes turned into planters, but I have real difficulty throwing away my old shoes and you better believe that next spring they are all gonna be stuffed with potting mix and have plants growing out of them.
This garden created around a rice patty was intriguing, I thought.
Also, I may have liked the landscaping between the display gardens better than the display gardens themselves. Judy remarked that I repeated this observation more than necessary.
Especially as there were plenty of bees and butterflies. Anybody know what kind of butterfly that is?
What’s the silliest garden you’ve ever seen? Or do you think I’m just being juvenile and narrow minded?