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chapter one

PLAZ METAXU AND ITS ARRIÈRE-

PAYS1

PLAZ METAXU AND ITS ARRIÈRE-

PAYS

‘Like Poussin, I would like to put reason in the grass and tears in the sky.’ ‘Quelle déesse, quel dieu s’est rendu à l’espace pour que nous sentions mieux la clarté de sa face.’

I HAD LITTLE PRACTICAL EXPERIENCE OF gardening when I  arrived at Coombe House in 1992 beyond some experiments in the garden of a cottage my parents had owned in Hampshire and the small patio of my own house in Richmond. But already while I was at the Courtauld Institute (in the early 1970s, studying the history of art) I  became a keen visitor of gardens, after being introduced to Hidcote Manor one weekend, when I had the garden almost to myself (unimaginable today)! Over the next 20 years, I visited gardens whenever I could, both in the UK and elsewhere, especially in Italy. I also read widely about gardens, both practical books on planting and how gardens were made, and books on the history and culture of gardens, whether European, Islamic or from the Far East. There was hardly a kind – or period – of garden I did not enjoy (which remains true today) but I was drawn increasingly to gardens like Rousham, St Paul’s Walden Bury and Studley Royal, which moved me the most, and were close enough to revisit relatively frequently. Italian and Japanese gardens also continued to haunt me (although I  have never been to Japan!). Garden scholars like John Dixon Hunt helped me to link my love of gardens to my other studies. Architecture and sculpture had become as important to me as painting. And meanwhile, over decades, I was trying to educate myself in literature, psychology, myths, ‘wisdom teachings’, philosophy and goodness knows what else! Even vicariously (i.e., when I did not have a garden of my own to cultivate) gardens mysteriously helped me to assimilate and sift some of these infl uences. I needed their healing and patient companionship. Once the opportunity arose to make a garden of my own, the need to work something worthwhile out between the play of meanings and feelings and spaces that had been gestating inside me for such a long time came into sharper focus.

So I came to Coombe House to make a garden, but without any professional qualifi cations. The garden never loomed in my mind as a professional exercise, but as a vocational necessity. It was something I felt I had to do, and I knew I wanted the garden to be as inclusive as possible of all the cultural stimuli I had tried to absorb. Of course, the site itself came fi rst, and next the context of other gardens, and images from the history of art.

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