Friday, April 4, 2014

In defense of the Getty!

Well I thought I'd finished on the Garden at the Getty but a detailed comment  on my blog of 22 March, More on the Garden at the Getty, set me thinking. And even though I may disagree, I appreciate the comment.  Anonymous says that he finds 'Irwin's garden slightly disturbing and disrespectful of real garden design.' That's a strange comment bearing in mind the huge range of beautifully grown plants arranged with a great deal of thought and artistry. He says 'it offers the wrong lessons to a gardening public', but this isn't a demonstration garden any more than a gourmet restaurant attempts to promote home cooking - this is horticultural theatre! It is indeed an unexpected style of garden set against such stark modern architecture but maybe it is because of it's unexpected detail and true artistry, that it is so unique and undoubtedly popular with the visitors. The Getty is a centre of excellence which extends to its gardens.

Planting detail at the Getty

Anonymous goes on to compare with the garden at Norton Simon and the Huntington both of which I agree are superb but very different gardens. He comments on sustainability which of course is a current buzz theme. Putting an appropriate landscape in the correct environment is entirely right and I myself find the rather pathetic spots of highly irrigated seasonal bedding here in Palm Springs totally wrong. Sustainable plantings of desert plants are so much more suitable. Having said that, environmentally correct planting schemes often only  use a narrow palette of entirely 'appropriate' plants, ignoring a huge range of wonderful opportunities. Irwin and his team did not limit themselves when designing and developing this garden but used every 'paint in the paintbox'! Yes this is expensive and ephemeral horticulture but it is superbly executed. I recently had the opportunity to see a festival of chalk art; extensive and creative pictures, executed on the blacktop surface of a car park - here today and gone tomorrow but still fun and art. There is nothing wrong with ephemeral in the right context.

A corner of planting at Great Dixter

Back in the UK we have gardens like 'Sissinghurst Castle' created by Vita Sackville West and Great Dixter, home of the late Christopher Lloyd. These are very similar to the Getty, full of a huge range of wonderful plants, arranged with great artistry. These are  appreciated by thousands of visitors each year who admire the artistry and horticultural skills demonstrated in these plantings. 

I guess I'm also waving the flag for horticulturalists and artists, rather than landscape architects of whom I have a poor opinion. I recall once hearing that as part of their training, landscape architects are taught a palette of thirty plants. I guess if that is still so, then they would be unable to appreciate the Garden at the Getty. And I welcome being proved wrong!


  1. I read the comment by Mr or Ms Anonymous, and though I understand their concern , there is always room for a garden as art, and the Getty is an art institution, and your statement about garden theater is apt. People garden for many reasons. Some gardeners love to create designs and vignettes that change from year to year--I have dug out many mature shrubs in the last 6 months just because I desire something new . I don't have deep pockets at all, but I budget my entertainment funds to support my garden habits. I am always conscious of my environment-I don't spray and only fertilize containers. My garden changes constantly because I am a collector, and staging the collections is what gives me pleasure.

  2. Many thanks for your comment - you've summed it up perfectly! I guess your garden is your own Getty!