There are no photographs heading this post, because there are NO PHOTOGRAPHS. The whole point of this post is that there aren’t any.
Some years ago I was interviewing a garden design colleague, a well-known one, who was complaining bitterly about how he was increasingly finding that clients would not let him have ‘his’ gardens photographed for publication. Its understandable that they might not want their names or locations used, and that for security reasons they do not want the houses featured, but he was obviously very annoyed that his work could not be published. A ban on publication makes the work of a garden or landscape designer invisible. They cannot use it to promote their work or ideas or to further the art more generally. Garden and landscape design progresses through publication. Pictures go in books and magazines – we look at them, talk about them, and other designers and private gardeners emulate or react to what they see. The whole process of ongoing creativity in our world is based on this constant visual dialogue. Without pictures gardening and landscaping would grind to a halt.
Interesting discussion after a Vista event at the Garden Museum the other night. Again the subject of gardens being made which are invisible. And the behaviour of the kleptocratic financial elite who are making them (it is mostly them, most of the overpaid brainless ‘celebs’ gracing the pages of Hello magazine only want very traditional gardens if they want anything more than an outdoor paved space to put a barbecue in). It was pointed out, by Tim Richardson I think, that in the great era of garden making in the 18th century, visitors to the new gardens being made by the (greedy and ruthless ‘Nabobs’) were welcome. Not all visitors of course, but anyone of the right social class. Rousham even used to have a public gate and little public toilet apparently. In the 20th century garden opening for the public was re-negotiated, either for charity, or for income diversification. We, the general public who paid our seven and sixpence or whatever got to see gardens. The current generation of extremely wealthy clients who are building enormous gardens seem to want to shut everybody out, and even (according to a landscape architect in this discussion) to close public footpaths running across their properties.
Meanwhile in the rest of Europe, gardens seem to be opening up. Slowly but surely. The idea of opening your garden to the general public (the great unwashed as they used to be known) was anathema to French or German garden owners. That is all now changing, with an increasing number of regionally-based garden open day movements developing. These countries of course do not have our particularly greedy financier class, never having adopted the catastrophic Anglo-American model of neo-liberal economics.
A witticism I came up with once was that “the rich are only excusable if they have taste”. Which is a way of saying that patronage of the arts has been a staple of cultural history over the centuries – the wealthy paying artists to paint, design, compose. Often they did not even understand what the artists were producing, but they saw it as in their gift to fund art. Art was a way of saying to the world that you were not just successful (and usually ruthless) but you were cultured and you wanted to leave something to future generations. You see this at work in the US in the way that the arts and increasingly, high quality public gardens, are funded by wealthy patrons. Those who wish to close off their gardens to any kind of public gaze are not actually doing their long-term reputations any good. ‘Let history judge’ as Russian historian Roy Medvedev said.
All rather depressing. There are plenty of decent people in the finance industry. But as we now know all too well, there are many who are just plain greedy. Their greed now seems to be beyond material avarice but a desire to shut out the rest of us too. Maybe after the revolution, when they have all been sent off to the salt mines, we can turn some of them into rest homes for the workers. To the barricades, Citizens!
And don’t forget the unique soap opera for gardeners – Dig, Plant and Bitch. Recently described by a colleague as ‘Jilly Cooper meets Geoff Hamilton’. (don’t know how to translate for American readers!)