It’s beautiful…. but what is it for?


This is an example of the classic Tuscan Villa garden, Villa Gameraia.  Back in the late 1800’s, a romanian princess named Jeanna Ghyka bought the property and installed these parterres you see above.  Where the pools are now there probably would have been things like grass, roses, or cabbages (somewhere in Wikipedia it actually says there was nothing but roses and cabbages planted here.  Now the thing about Princess Jeanna was she didn’t consider herself very attractive….and apparently neither did her husband, the prince something something.


This is not Princess Jeanne.  It is a close resemblance based upon the multitude of images I found online.  Trust no one.  Especially me when it comes to describing Princess Jeanne’s appearance.

She did however have a ‘companion’, an American woman by the name of Miss Blood.  Yes, Miss Blood.  I’m not making that one up.  You get the impression that strange things happened in the villa?

Actually strange things did.  See, Princess Jeanne was so timid she used to do all her wanderings around town wearing a dark veil so people couldn’t see her, and she would in fact venture out at nights into her garden to swim in those lovely pools you see in the first picture.  So for Jeanne and her companion, the gardens were a place they could retreat to and be themselves.

Most of us don’t have the square footage of the cash to create these kinds of parterres in our own yards.  The trick I think is to pull elements of these spaces and incorporate them into our own.  In considering garden plans for the back yard, I want to do a few things.

  1. The Importance of the Spiritual:  The space has to foster a sense of retreat from the world outside.  I’m lucky in that the entire yard is surrounded by tall trees that form a kind of hedge.  I’m not sure if there’s going to be trimming needed, but the back of the garden has four tall spruces with hedges between them.  This section of space commands something contemplative.
  2. The Use of Water:  Water in pools, water in the sounds of falling, water in the sense of what it and how it reflects both light and what surrounds it, what lives in it both plant and animal, and how the space reacts to the inclusion of a pool.  I’m considering the size and scope of the pool in terms of the rest of the garden and what makes sense is surely not as massive as Jeanne’s pools, but a simple square or rectangle deep enough for lilies, a few water plants, and to act as a reservoir for the rest of the garden.
  3. Choice of Plants:  The difficult part of planning at this stage is not being able to see what the trees look like in full leaf, or how much space they take up.  The little round tree that lives in the middle of the yard might have to be moved or removed.  I think I can create a parterre effect without hedges in how I plant the beds, creating angled “L” shape beds to square the garden around the pond, just not sure where to put the pond again.

Tonight I think the best thing to do after finishing the post is to check out plant species that are good for zone 3, do some more research on creating ponds, water lilies, and start making lists.  I have a book full of graph paper.  I also have a lot of plants that I can more than likely dig up and bring over to the house!  Hollyhocks, day lilies, orientals, my little gas plant, hens and chicks, the delphinium; enough space to also include vegetables, herbs, and I’d love to have an oak tree.

The garden, even before the digging begins, is an exercise in patience and self awareness. It is a secret, sacred expression of one’s union with nature, an attempt to both tame and be tamed by it.  It needs to include statues, rocks, sounds, light, and appropriate places to observe scenes.

Of course, there’s always the obvious alternative to open spaces, that being just cram it full with all kinds of stuff other than grass……


Geoff Stonebanks did this on chalk.  Chalk.  Nuff freaking said.

It’s beautiful…. but what is it for?

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