• gerard van weyenbergh

The art of garden design, fine art

In the long list of human activities that we qualify as artistic, there is one too often overlooked, and that, for a long time, few dared to designate as such: the art of gardens.

And yet, this art is very old. It begins at least with the beginnings of a sedentary lifestyle, ten thousand years ago, near the Mesopotamian rivers. The garden is the place where a man produces his food. There has always been a link between the art of the garden and that of food.

We find mention of it in the epic of Gilgamesh, in the Bible and in Homer. We know almost everything about the Semiramis gardens and the Garden of Eden. We have traces of an Egyptian expedition to Somalia, fifteen centuries before our era, to go and look for rare plants. Then the Greeks, the Romans, the Chinese, did wonders. Christian convents, Japanese monasteries, and Arab palaces then competed in innovations in the organization of their gardens.

Then came the Italian, French and English gardens.

Some made of harmony and mastery of nature, others abandon and glorify the wild world.

Consequently were invented hydraulics, terraces, fountains, boxwood embroidery, flowerbeds, topiaries, basins, lawns, and many other techniques. With them came innumerable wonders: Tivoli [in Italy], Chenonceau, Vaux-le-Vicomte, Versailles, Stourhead Gardens, Stowe Landscape Gardens [the latter two in England]. And so many others.

Today, the art of gardens has become a very popular activity and practiced by millions of people around the world. Magnificent exhibitions (such as those which the Château de Chaumont-sur-Loire organizes every year) show the latest trends in the art of gardening.

Landscaping has become a great profession, requiring artistic skill and agricultural learning: the landscaper is the most credible of environmentalists, the best placed to understand and explain to the world the art of beauty and good, in food as in the safeguard of nature.

Garden art will soon be essential to the future of humanity because this is where biological diversity is preserved and conserved. This is where love of nature is learned. This is also where this is learned: no one is really the owner of his garden, he is only the tenant, and the one who must maintain it. The garden is the place where we understand that all civilization disappears if we do not teach the following generations to maintain and defend it.

It is also there that humanity learns the difference between wild nature, which can be hostile to it, and controlled nature, which can help it surpass itself and which truly constitutes a work of art.

Dizzying question: should we consider nature in itself as a work of art, and let it live its life, by aligning itself with its requirements? Or should we dominate it, control it, put it at the service of humanity, and make it a place of expression of the creative impulses of humans? Is art unique to man or that of nature? This question is at the heart of the debates that have opposed and still oppose landscapers around the world. It obviously refers to our relationship with the world. It is also at the heart of today's debates on responses to climate challenges: should we return to the state of nature, or trust technical progress?

True art is undoubtedly at the meeting point between these two conceptions. It is neither total savagery nor deadly artifact. Both of them, taken to the extreme, is hell. Here as elsewhere, life is a compromise. Civilization is harmony. And art a passing.

To my longtime friend Chris Vyncke, hoping she can fast take care of her so beautiful gardens.

Le journal des arts