Friday, 22 November 2013

Enriching the garden with sculpture

Graceful Pond Ornament
      I've referred to the D.O.G.S. - my walking group - before and, if anyone's interested, it may be worth having a look at this post to make things a bit clearer. It's worth explaining something of the platoon hierarchy: right at the top is The Mighty Leader (Harry), then comes Fred as Number Two, a position gained by brown nosing, followed by me (the chronicler) as Number 3 and finally Charlie (the scientist and bird expert), as Number 4. We also have a newer member, Baahir, but he wasn't on the expedition I'm going to tell you about, so we'll leave him until a later blog.

      I've already been threatened with a court action on the basis of 'defamation of sartorial inelegance' by someone who thinks he is Fred, so I'd just like to point out that all these characters are fictitious. Not.

      As a departure from our usual hike, we had decided to take in a bit of culture by visiting the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, near Wakefield.  So it was that we found ourselves wandering out into this oasis of creativity and already being educated by Charlie. He was informing us that the cafe chips were not to be touched with a barge pole. His position of fourth in charge means that his powers of leadership can only be exercised when the first three in charge are not present and, as there were only four of us, this area of jurisdiction was somewhat limited. However, we all looked up to him when he expounded on his greatest area of expertise - chips.

      Charlie is prone to cheap weekend breaks and, on one of these he visited Gippsland, in Australia. I was excited on hearing of this, because Gippsland is the home of the Giant Gippsland Worm, which can reach a length of ten feet. I imagine Australian fishermen using them creatively: the worm is stuck on a hook and is trained to wrap itself round a passing fish and squeeze the life out of it in the same way anacondas do pigs. At the same time, I see more skillful Aussies using  the worm to lasso fish which stick their heads out of the water for a look round. This is all fantasy, of course - Australians are not that sophisticated. Crocodile Dundee illustrated this when he did it with a stick of dynamite.  Even so, it is true that the big worms exist. Anyway, we wandered around and I became more and more aware of what Philistines we are when it comes to art: 'Seventy One Steps' by David Nash is amazing. It conspires to look exactly like, er, seventy one steps. This was good but the unanimous conclusion was that his work with Crosby, Stills and Young was more impressive.

      Some sculptures by Joan Miro (actually a Spanish bloke) provided more cultural fulfilment. Charlie however loudly interpreted one piece as an up-market letterbox. It turned out to actually be Joan's interpretation of 'a woman, with the emphasis on female genitalia', and almost led to Charlie's demotion on the grounds of 'militaristic flippancy' - a term invented for the occasion by The Mighty Leader. The only thing that saved him was the fact that he was already on the bottom rung.
Charlie's letterbox
      The works of Henry Moore, scattered all over the park like a plane crash, led to more intellectual discussion between the four connoisseurs. This mainly featured the value of scrap metal and what a Martian would think, should he be mistakenly beamed down in the Sculpture Park. 

      Eventually this long  day drew to a close, as all good things do, and, full to the gills with culture and relief at having avoided the chips, we made our way back home. The route had been suggested by Charlie and was the cause of any hint of popularity he had dropping through the floor. There was even talk of a court martial, because we found ourselves in the mother and father of all traffic jams. Proceeding at a speed of approximately ten miles a fortnight, we made our way down the M62. At one memorable and stationary point, trapped in a solid wall of vehicles, the Mighty Leader gave us the cheering news that we were running out of petrol. Not to be outdone,  Fred helpfully added to the claustrophobic nightmare by turning a whiter shade of pale and informing us that he felt ill. My first reaction as a non-combatant was to do a runner. Apart from anything else, I urgently needed to go for a pee. However, instead of the sweet relief this promised, it seemed I was to spend the rest of my days with my legs crossed sitting next to a dead man. The close presence of an eighteen ton Tesco waggon on one side inhibited the opening of the door , while an equally close blood donor vehicle emulated the effect on the other side. 

      As escape was impossible, I exercised my full quota of medical expertise by producing a bottle of water so that Fred could take one of his tablets. I then contented myself by trying to work out why blood doning required such a big waggon. The conclusion I came to was that Tony Hancock may have been right when he said that a pint was a full arm.

      Amazingly, we arrived home in time for Christmas, all swearing inwardly that there was no way we were going out with those daft buggers again. However, the soothing airbrush of time ironed out any wrinkles in the relationship and, before long, we inevitably embarked on the next cock-up.
Drawing the eye
      Still on the theme of sculptures, they, together with other ornaments, can be used to enrich the garden. The classic function is that of leading you to explore - the need to see what's 'over there'. A relatively uninteresting area can take on life by the strategic positioning of the right subject. And here scale comes to the fore, as it does in all aspects of the garden: too small and it can look fussy, too large and it'll take over rather than complement - Nelson's Column may be a bit much for your thirty foot plot.
Good use of a dead tree
      Humour is another aspect which can be introduced by a careful choice of ornamentation. The garden is sometimes taken too seriously. At its best it is a place of contemplation and peace but this shouldn't be confused with serious, heavy minded and dull. Laughter is the best medicine and a smile is heading in the right direction.

      It is worth remembering that the garden is an artistic expression of your own taste and it pays to remember that, as in most things, snobbery can come into it:

      "My dear, how ghastly. He's got heathers there. They went out in the seventies", or, "gnomes. Look, there's a gnome over there, ugh!" and "Forsythia. How dull - everyone has one". This latter comment reflects the outlook of the classic gardening snob. All her plants are 'special', which means few people have got them. The fact is that these plants are often 'special' because they haven't got much going for them, while the popular ones have earned that status by virtue of their contribution. Gardening is as much about the art of display as it is about growing the plants. A subject which looks good by itself can have far greater impact if displayed with another which enriches by contrast. While a person can have a good selection of plants, individuals displayed without reference to their neighbours will constitute a nursery rather than a garden. I've mentioned before about the gnome my wife bought for a friend of ours. It was a farting one and ideal for giving our gardening snob the vapours. Like that fish that sings a song about the river, it is set off by someone walking nearby.

      "Oh, my dear. How positively vulgar. I must go and lie down". 

      That got rid of the bugger.

      There is a lot of enthusiasm for carved ornamentation now: a squirrel or owl unexpectedly encountered, etched into a dead tree trunk, can enliven a stroll round a garden. The ephemeral nature of such wooden ornaments - the fact that they'll eventually return to the earth - maybe subconsciously reflects that of the garden itself - always changing and evolving. Along the same lines, the roots of a long-gone mammoth can be used as a rockery substitute. The stumpery or rootery, once popular in Victorian gardens, seems to be making a bit of a come-back and deservedly so, in my opinion. They can be planted with a variety of subjects, ferns is a favourite, but mosses, alpines and even bulbs also work well. 
The start of a stumpery
      At the end of the day, the garden is about you expressing yourself, getting your quota of creative stimulation. It doesn't matter if you like gnomes or something else seen as unfashionable by the elite - sod them and do your own thing. 
Boring gate transformed into a feature

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