I'm still thinking about the Hortus Palatinus. One thing I love about old gardens is that they were designed to mean, not just to be. It's one of the reasons that gardening was historically considered an intellectual pursuit; a labor of the mind rather than of the flesh.
We've lost more than just the ability to decipher the language of the Hortus Palatinus.
We seem unable to speak the language of meaning in the garden at all anymore.
And even if we did, would anyone understand? When you hear a modern gardener talk about meaning, they are usually speaking of a deeply personal expression; unlikely to be deciphered by a garden visitor or understood in the same way by anyone but them. One exception is the language of memorial, which we still speak. Is that enough? Should there, could there, be a new garden language?
It occurs to me that the symbology inherent in historic gardens was an expression of the importance of symbols in the larger culture, and that in turn was largely a result of illiteracy. Symbols were essential for communication. Might we come full circle in an age where visual imagery is replacing print, and young people feel more connected to the simple language of the graffiti tag, whose forms could easily become a parterre?
It should be remembered as well that the number of plants available to work with in the garden was a tiny fraction of those we have today. If Salomon de Caus had made a garden that was simply about his choice and arrangement of plant varieties, it wouldn't have been very big. Or very interesting. The increase in our plant vocabulary has led to a reduction of our other vocabularies, to a neglect of other purposes, other ideals in the garden.
I rarely see a modern garden that means. I wish I did.
(graffiti via writinginfaith)