a room without a ceiling

September 20, 2011

Around the Serpentine Gallery are clusters of catalpa trees – a preferable way of planting these exotics as against the usual single specimen method. They form the subtle markers within which the annual temporary pavilion sits. This year  a low black box spreads across the space. Curvy paths encourage further investigation . . . .

. . into an inner skin of a corridor that flows around the 4 sides. Densely painted hessian covers all the vertical surfaces – strangely tactile. The atmosphere is monastic – visitors talk in whispers – at least they did during my visit. The architect was keen to implant a sense of quietness.

The hortus conclusus or the enclosed garden in the centre contrasts with the simple built form exceptionally well especially, in late summer, when the planting has reached maximum height. The perfume of the Actaea racemosa ‘James Compton’ floats around the enclosed area. The light glares down – a sense exacerbated by the matt black surfaces. I didn’t want to look up at all! Friends had criticised the tables and chairs ringing the space but, on my visit, these were almost empty and insignificant whereas the friends had been subjected to occupants holding meetings by phone and internet. Ah, the necessities of modern life!

The structure and enclosed planting were rather magical. Molinia ‘Transparent’ softly exploded at intervals with Aconitum wilsonii ‘Barkers’, Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Alba’, Aster mac. ‘Twilight’  and the Monarda ‘Jacob Cline’ also in full throttle. Dramatic but self composed at the same time.

My most favourite book on Hortus Conclusus is The Enclosed Garden by Rob Aben and Saskia de Wit. I refer to this book more than any other now – rationale, theory, history + contemporary ideas and precedents. Marvellous! Just a couple of illustrations showing the deconstructed model and 13 C Patio de la Acequia Granada:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 
And Eternity in an hour. William Blake  from"Auguries of Innocence"
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