a landscape lover's blog

garden tales from a Brit at home and abroad

Sex and death in the garden

Fashion dictates that gardens should offer year round interest. In particular, winter needs to be forced to play its part with evergreen shrubs, coloured bark, late-flowering perennials, quirkily-shaped stems, early bulbs. All must be colourful and bright and perky.

But increasingly I am inclined towards gardens that reflect the reality of nature, in its disorder, decay and death. Such places help us grasp the reproductive purpose and ready mortality of plants. In the end, perhaps, they remind us of our own mortality. The iconic essay “Systems, Signs, Sensibilities” by Catherine Howett makes the case for such an approach on ecological grounds, arguing that we need to celebrate the beauty of natural cycles and processes in designed landscapes, rather than continuing to create bland ornamental images.

Certainly I am not much interested in lurid forced flowers and shiny alien evergreens at this time of year. January feels wan and cold to me; it is bleak, lifeless, the colour of straw and trodden snow.

Gilles Clément garden

Gilles Clément gardenIt feels suitably like mid-winter in the garden at the musée du Quai Branly in the 7th. Designed by Gilles Clément, the undulating garden is apparently meant to be experienced as a contemplative journey. At this time of year (these photos are from last February) it is full of ghostly miscanthus stems, oaks with their fine tawny leaves still attached, bare soil, twiggy shrubs. The contrast between the pale wintry plants and the bravura coloured forms of Jean Nouvel’s architecture is striking.

Gilles Clément gardenThe parc de Bercy in the 12th is not one of my favourite landscapes, but the eastern end at the moment also has a charmingly quiet, slightly desolate, January feel about it. Frost has turned some exotic pink camellia flowers into a pleasing brown mush. You can also see tatty, straw-coloured miscanthus, brown buddleia seedheads, little clusters of snowberries amid rotting autumn leaves, and signs of damage by snow and wind.



We know Spring will come, in all its brazen colour and exuberance. For now, I’m savouring the quieter charms of slumbering January.

9 comments on “Sex and death in the garden

  1. Pingback: Garden Blogs of the Month: January 2011 « Jean's Garden

  2. Jean
    January 6, 2011

    As you can tell from the trackback, I very much appreciated the issues raised in this post. I just recently discovered your blog on Blotanical and am enjoying it very much. I do a “Blog of the Month” feature on my blog, Jean’s Garden, where I review newly discovered garden blogs and recommend them to my readers. I just wanted to let you know that yours is one of four blogs I have highlighted this month. The post reviewing your blog just went up and your blog will be featured on my sidebar throughout the month of January. Cheers!

    • landscapelover
      January 6, 2011

      Jean, thanks very much for calling by, and for designating this as one of your blogs of the month! I shall hasten over to your site straight away.

  3. Hi, a most thougt-inspiring post and I do appreciate your comment on savouring the quieter charms of slumbering January….I have discovered your post through Jean and would like to return…

  4. Ginny
    January 7, 2011

    I feel the same way – that the winter garden is beautiful in it’s own way as part of the cycle of life. One reason that I love living in North Carolina is that we experience all four seasons here. The changing seasons in the garden heighten my wonder – and oh, the joy of Spring after the gray and cold of winter!

  5. I took a little flak for making a similar comment in a recent post on keeping the garden going in fall. I said that planting for year round bloom is a landscape design goal not often worth achieving. And that some of my favorite gardens have their season of interest and then fade into the background. So glad to find a kindred spirit. Carolyn

  6. mysisterdalesgarden
    January 10, 2011

    Every day I find a new garden blog—today I found yours. I’m drawn to photos of flowers and garden tips. When my sister passed away from Lung Cancer I started a memorial garden in her honor. That garden has grown into a magical, peaceful place. What started with a Peach Tree has now developed into a tropical showcase. I have taken over 5000 pictures of the flowers, fruit, trees and vegetables. I post them daily on my website. Please read the comments from people who have been touched by the garden’s beauty and the message. http://www.mysisterdalesgarden.com you will find the most recent photos and comments in photo gallery 1. If you like the site and would like to share it with your readers I would be thrilled. I’m trying to make a difference one flower at a time.

    See you in the garden,

  7. Pingback: Simple winter pleasures at musée Albert Kahn « Landscape Lover's Blog

  8. Kerry Hand
    February 15, 2011

    So great to find such a blog. Now I am going to spend this (southern hemisphere winter) learning to love the bleakness. I am needing to make some decisions on the next phase in the development of this property. Thanks for the ideas – it will sure help my thinking.

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This entry was posted on January 6, 2011 by in Gardens, Paris, Parks and tagged , , , , .

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