I am back in London with friends, garden friends who take me nice places. Last visit we went to Runnymede, and I've been meaning to post about it since the China trip, actually, when I saw the rockwork garden floors of the sort that inspired Geoffrey Jellicoe's pathway in which 60,000 granite setts surge like a crowd toward the memorial stone.
Runnymede is, of course, a much wider landscape than the small section devoted to the memory of John F. Kennedy. But the memorial garden has often been in my thoughts as one of the most emotional landscapes I have visited, and not just because of its attachment to a slain American president of whom I have no first-hand memory.
It does its job as a landscape extraordinarily well, leading both foot and eye in a gentle manner that only suggests a response, but elicits a greater one than gardens that are far more imposing in their purpose.
Jellicoe did indeed conceive the memorial as a journey, a procession, a pilgrim's progress, that starts in an unmowed meadow and leads through a stile gate, up a hill under heavy tree cover, to a glade at the top where the white memorial stone floats wraith-like under a single tree, an American scarlet oak that is distinctively different from the many English oaks in the wider park. It turns blood-red in autumn.
From here, Jacob's ladder steps go to the crest of the hill where two platforms (one for a king, one for a queen) look out over the valley that birthed the Magna Carta.
But though the view is lovely this part of the monument (the platforms) is I think less effective, simply because it lacks the bumpy, organic granite setts that provide the essential texture in what is basically a modernist landscape. Jellicoe insisted that the setts be laid in a random, flowing pattern in which each block appears to have an individual character, likening them to people at a football match to help his masons understand what to do. Without them, the memorial would still be a masterful layout of space, but soulless. Power to the people.