Texting the Garden

– Posted in: Miscellaneous

yup, you've just arrived, welcome to Arcadia

At a time when the garden is looking rubbish, ‘cos its November and however much we bang on about grasses and seedheads, the garden always does look rubbish now except for when the sun shines, which it has done a little bit lately. Good time to think about garden stuff that doesn’t involve green things.

Like Text

Which we are not very good at using in gardens.

Unlike the Chinese, who would not consider a garden complete without text. Even the ‘keep off the grass’ signs are poetic.

Little Sparta in Scotland is the most famous text garden. In theory very inspiring.

"The present order is the disorder of the future" (St Just)

In practice, I rapidly tire of the fact that (a) I do not have a degree in Classics and so cannot understand all the Latin, (b) Hamilton Finlay’s puns are terrible (c) he has a rather fascistic side (see above – Louis Antoine de Saint-Just was a French revolutionary of the “a la guillotine” variety). Actually Little Sparta in engrossing, in a wonderful setting and actually quite fun.  It is a good place to start exploring the idea of the text-based garden.

We’d like to do a lot more texting our garden, but it is a trifle expensive. We have a very good local letter carver, but at £7.50 a letter have only been able to afford one so far. It was Jo’s project – a great addition to our meadow.

"Time present and time past. Are both perhaps present in time future, And time future contained in time past". TS Eliot

Actually what started off this musing about texting the garden was a trip to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Lots of wonderful Henry Moores, Isamu Noguchi etc, Andy Goldsworthy (our most inspiring environmental artist, whose work has a lot to teach gardeners, just Google Image him and be blown away. And some of this sort of thing. Which quite frankly I could live without.

yeh, great addition to the landscape, if this wasn't 'art' it would never have got planning permssion. Its see-through so it doesn't even function as a public toilet.

What I really loved though, and what got me going on this blog was a special exhibition in a greenhouse by the poet and artist Alec Finlay. I think they speak for themselves. If I think I get snowed in this winter, I might have a go at doing some myself.



Noel Kingsbury

Noel Kingsbury

Noel Kingsbury is a gardener and writer based in the west of England. Author of over 20 books, including four collaborations with Dutch designer Piet Oudolf, he is passionate about wild-style planting and bringing nature into the garden.

Noel Kingsbury

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13 comments… add one

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Angela (Cottage Magpie) November 16, 2011, 2:50 am

Oh, those tags at the end are just lovely. I don’t know if I have the patience to do them for every variety of plant I have… but maybe just one for the whole garden. Thank you for the inspiration!


DAY November 16, 2011, 6:35 am

A dash of whimsey always cheers the soul. After all. what’s a garden for?

veratrine November 16, 2011, 9:59 am

This is the funniest gardening post I’ve read in a long time–so funny I had to carry the ipad into the tv room to share it with my husband. Thanks!

Benjamin Vogt November 16, 2011, 10:14 am

Shoot, I was on a garden tour this summer and printed up large posters with lines from my published poems on them, and placed a few throughout in places that the lines seemed to echo. It’s another way to know the plants and garden. I enjoyed those last plant labels you posted very much.

Susan in the Pink Hat November 16, 2011, 10:43 am

Personally, I find words to be intrusive if used too much in the garden. Give people something to read and they stop looking. Just go to your average museum and watch visitors. They will walk through, being careful to read the explanatory tags next to each painting, but will never actually stop and take time to look at the paintings themselves. One or two word based features per garden, please.

Kathy Fitzgerald November 16, 2011, 10:45 am

Like veratrine, I had to share the not-a-toilet “art” work with my husband, who is a painter and has definite opinions about the fallacies of the “no bad art” aesthetic. Thanks for the laugh and for sparking ideas for bon-mots in the garden.

Awnings November 16, 2011, 11:08 am

That’s great! I’ve never really thought about using text in the garden. I like the one for Golden Rod 🙂

Noel Kingsbury November 16, 2011, 11:13 am

I know what you mean, Little Spartland does get a bit much very quickly indeed. And word can often seem ‘naff’ to us, like trite quotations you sometimes see in older gardens. But we so need to re-engage with the word.

Noel Kingsbury November 16, 2011, 11:13 am

One good thing about the recession might be that it will reduce the amount of bad art produced. Well it might!

Helen at Toronto Gardens November 16, 2011, 11:51 pm

Delightful. That’s the word.

James Golden November 20, 2011, 10:55 pm

Sea kale works as poetry. A quick turn and emotion floods in. The others are interesting word play.

Gaz November 24, 2011, 3:05 pm

What great fun. I do like the interesting plant tags. Will have to think up some ideas myself!

wellywoman November 30, 2011, 9:26 am

I’ve just been to the YSP and I loved the mesostic poems. It made me want to make some for my own garden too.

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