I was watching the smoke eddying up from the grass smother, and thinking that although reams are written about how to garden, very little is said about the why of it. Here’s a man who made a stab at it.
Francis Bacon was not only Lord Chancellor of England, but in 1625 wrote his essay ‘Of Gardens. ‘God Almighty first planted a garden,’ he wrote, and ‘indeed, it is the purest of human pleasures; it is the greatest refreshment to the spirits of man; without which buildings and palaces are but gross handy-works…’
….the purest of human pleasures? What? Better than shopping, sex or celebrity gossip? … But how true that is about buildings and palaces being gross handy-works if they don’t have gardens. There was a fashion, once, for designing gardens out of town planning.
But you can’t suppress it: There’s something fundamental going on, and it’s not anything that we (which is to say the media) spend a lot of time analysing, although most other human obsessions are placed under the microscope on a weekly basis….
I like Bacon. After his brilliant philosophical beginning, he immediately gets sidetracked into garden design. He has no time for knot gardens: ‘As for the making of knots,or figures, with divers coloured earths, that they may lie under the windows of the house on that side which the Garden stands, they be but toys; you may see as good sights many times in tarts.’
Every time I see a recreation of a renaissance garden, with all the loving care for authenticity that has gone into it, I think of Bacon and his dismissive comment about patterns in pastry. For which reason, you won’t catch me making a knot garden.
He doesn’t like ponds either. ‘Pools mar all, and make the Garden unwholesome, and full of flies and frogs.’ Sorry, Francis, I like my pond, although I take your point about the frogs.
Fountains, on the other hand, are the bees’ knees. ‘Fountains I intend to be of two natures; the one that sprinkleth or spouteth water: the other a fair receipt of water, of some thirty or forty foot square, but without fish, or slime, or mud.’…..And here Bacon the essayist loses track of reality…..thirty or forty foot square, but free of mud or slime (or fish)? Dream on.
…..but in the end Bacon does not answer the question, more’s the pity. Why this urge to go out in the mud and plant stuff? By the end of his essay, he’s stopped thinking about such things, and like all garden designers (or garden architects, as he would say), is justifying his outrageous bill to his clients:
‘…and in this I have spared for no cost: but it is nothing for great princes….’