The Garden as a work of Art (N.M. Rubió i Tudurí most famous article)

The garden as a work of art

By Nicolau Maria Rubio i Tudurí
(Traslated version to English)
Gardening does not always reach, neither does it wish to reach the height of works of art. In the same way that industrial painting does not form part of the art of painting, neither does the planting of hedges as a guide for traffic form part of the art of gardening.
The same could be said of those who decorate their rooms with unselected conventional paintings of vintagers, fishermen or gypsies: they do not arrive at serving the art of painting. Neither does the person who relies on an industrial horticulturist to distribute around his land a few trees, hedges, lawns and flowers, as appear in some of the most prestigious magazines.
Even at the highest gardening levels, the work of art is absent, both purposely and in fact. The world is full —although not so much so in this country— of leisure gardens, gardens for recreation, restful lawns for workers next to factories, social gardens, all extremely worthy and to which we owe veneration; but they are far from the true characteristics of art.
These characteristics will appear however, in those gardens where the gardener is inspired with is creation, in the same way as the true artist. The notion “picture-work of art” is perhaps indefinable; however it is precise. Would not he who confuses an artist’s work of art with a vulgar picture be condemned to occupy a very low level in intelligent society? Well the same occurs with garden works of art and those who enjoy them.
The attitude of the individual towards gardens will in fact represent something very important in his position regarding the philosophy of art and even the history of culture. Forgive me if I insinuate that in my opinion, reducing gardening to a simple decorative trade or lesser art, shows a coarsening of spirit, a lack of refinement of the soul, one of those uncivilized reminiscences, in any case foreign to the Latin temperament, which we should not allow to infiltrate either our mentality or our sensitivity.
The art of gardening can be compared with Music, Architecture, Poetry, and of course, with Painting and Sculpture; in fact it can rise above them, and I should like to say a few words about this.
1 know it is dangerous to try to put into words the meaning and form of garden works of art.
Each artistic activity has its own means of expression, and words should be reserved for literary or poetic expression. To describe the atmosphere, the environment of a garden, is akin to somewhat ridiculing a work of art. Fawning and tasteless remarks have nothing to do with it. However, let us say then that the gardener has to create the garden’s soul, making it come to life; he has to make the Muses inhabit it, let Apollo walk amongst the trees, and the archangels-birds of this new paradise - sing in its branches. There must be a silent but divine music in the garden; words of the purest poetry must be written in its air; nature must be sculptured in the garden in the form of plants and trees; here architecture must come alive, be full of spring and flower; and in the garden he has to achieve the master model, incomparable, whispering, perfumed, pulsating, of the greatest landscape painting.
To achieve this, and much more than we are capable of expressing, and to do so with purity and humility, intelligence and emotion; this is more or less, the art of gardening.
As opposed to works of art made up of inert materials, a garden is made up of living things, plants. The artistic gardener, on creating his garden, must “live it” in accordance with the needs of the vegetable life in it. He must collaborate with it, and not submit it to the preconceived inspirations of the artist. If he tries to do this it could be that the plants grow badly; perhaps they would “protest” by their attitude, and then the work of art would frustrated. The gardener’s activity must tie a knot between the existences, plant and human. The garden must be vegetal and human at the same time.
It should not be forgotten that the human spirit was created in close contact with splendid nature, similar to a garden, in Paradise. Speaking in Existentialist terms, there was a deep, temporary contact between the existence of man and the “experience” of the primordial garden. Speaking in Platonic terms, man received the notion, the idea of a garden, the essence of it, at the very moment of the Creation of the human spirit.
So deeply-rooted is the emotion of Eden in human experience that it stands above Architecture without doubt a “post-creational” phenomenon!, and also of course Sculpture and Painting, representational arts which correspond to more developed times. Only instinctive poetry and pre-rational music can compete with the antiquity and the deep-rootedness of the garden, in the spirit or existence of man.
Whoever creates a garden must handle the plants he uses humanely, because the vegetal-human agreement, the basis of a garden, is principally the work of man. It is he who must get to know the life of the plants. They “do” something to adapt to human gardening; undoubtedly they “know” something also about our way of life. They “humanize”, especially in our Latin gardens. However it would be foolish to ask more of them. We cannot expect them to be the “artists of the garden”. The artist is and must be the gardening man, working with a live material which must continue to live.
All this means that the art of gardening must be carried out with the utmost simplicity. Our dialogue with plants must be totally natural. Artificial affectation is an enemy and the hodgepodge of decorations and complications only manages to cover over the lack of ideas and emotion that affect the attempt of a garden. A certain economy of means livens the imagination of the creator, produces spiritual cleanliness in the work and gives the garden a springtime air that belongs to it and that I would dare to call “evangelical”.
Many “expensive” or “nouveau riche” gardens are precisely that because someone has prevented them from being treated like a work of art. There has not even existed the genuine intention of creating poetically. They have been conceived without conceiving; work has been done in them in an ignoble, uninspired fashion, as if to the rhythm of uncouth music; without looking at the sky even once; handing it over to the science of the local contractor, or to the inane comments in a book, which, if it really wished to teach something, would have pointed out that only by planting gardens can one learn the art of gardening.
An artist-gardener, given complete freedom to plant a garden in the normal fashion of a work of art, can achieve results which are superior, not only from the aesthetic point of view, but spending a reasonably low amount of money; more than when third parties constantly call his attention to this or that detail seen in a recent publication, now change this plant-which is one of the colours the artist’s palette for another one which a friend or relation of the owner has wanted to recommend.
It is illicit or bad taste to ask a creative gardener to carry out his job defectively, on the pretext of saving money. However much is planted it must be able to live and prosper. The earth must therefore be worked properly and receive the necessary fertilizers; the plants must be those which creation asks for, without the sordid search in the dark corners of fourth class nurseries. Neither is a painter asked to economize using bad quality canvas and cheap colours, which will deteriorate quickly.
Now another opposite point of view. The plantation of developed plants, and therefore expensive ones, hopes to achieve the effect of a garden immediately. It is not as easy as that to precipitate a work of nature. A garden planted with fully grown plants suffers a sort of ugliness when the plants do not adapt; these plants have spent their first years in certain conditions and have then been changed to a new place and new surroundings which cause variation in their growth which no sensitive eye can ignore.
Whoever uses grown plants deprives himself of the truly gardening pleasure of seeing them grow. This pleasure is thoroughly experienced by those who plant a garden with young plants. This garden will later appear to have grown naturally with a constant harmony amongst the plants, giving it a serene beauty typical of a garden work of art.
The cost of course is lower than that involved in the use of grown plants, if we follow the wisdom of mother nature and plant the garden with young plants.
Some think it is possible to ask an artist-gardener for a general sketch of a project and that then they can carry it out following what we could call home-made methods.
It is doubtful that a true creator of garden works of art would be pleased to give an outline of the composition and leave the final carrying out to others. Going back to the comparison with Painting, we could say that a master of this art would not be likely to draw the lines of a portrait and then abandon it to the brush of a bungler.
Gardening belongs to that category of the Fine Arts which does not produce its perfect work all at once, without the need to repeat anything. In this gardening combines with the Theatre and Music the works of which do not “exist” on their own, it is man who must repeat his artistic activity if he wishes to reproduce them.
To help a garden to exist is to preserve it. “Preservation” is often a word which frightens the owner of our work of art. However it must be well preserved, in the same way that concerts must be given with the appropriate dignity. There must be few people who, when taking out a season ticket for the opera, request the empresario to present worse musicians, in exchange for a reduction in the price of the seats.
Therefore the value of their gardens should not be reduced in this way.
The garden will have to be preserved, respecting the characteristics given it by the creator. The preserver will therefore have to make an effort not to spoil the deep feeling and expressive form of the work. It would be a sin to place sculptures or other things which do not harmonize with the inheritance of the artist, or plant hedges and trees where the artist had not foreseen them. This does not mean that preservation of the garden has to lead to its stagnation. A garden is a living work of art, subject to evolution and no true artist-gardener would forget to plan for and encourage life and action, the ml of permanent Creation, without which our garden* Art cannot exist.

Extract from the Book “Nicolau M. RUBIÓ I TUDURÍ (1891-1981) EL JARDÍ OBRA D’ART” Fundació Caixa de Pensions, 1985, Barcelona