Is The Garden an Art Form?

Liz Sketch

Last summer I went to a talk by the writer Rory Stuart about his book: What Are Gardens For? He brought up the question: ‘Is the garden an art form? He suggested that if our gardens are to be considered as art then they should be open to criticism like any other art form. He said that there is a lack of any real critical assessment of gardens amongst garden writers and garden visitors. Anne Wareham in her book:  ‘The Bad-Tempered Gardener’ also thinks that  to be considered as works of art gardens should be open to honest criticism. She thinks we are all too nice about each other’s gardens.

These two  points caused a great deal of animated discussion in my group of gardening friends. We are still not all in agreement about the first point. i.e. whether the garden is an art form.

In his treatise ‘Aesthetics’ Hegel put art into five categories: Architecture, Sculpture, Painting, Music and Poetry. He said that gardening and dancing were imperfect arts and he didn’t seem to think them worth discussing. Well I don’t know what dance enthusiasts make of that but I certainly take issue with it. How could he so cavalierly reject The Alhambra, The Gardens of the Moghul, Versailles and Japanese gardens as imperfect art?  And nowadays, of course we have examples such as Sissinghurst, Giverney and  Ninfa to name but a few.

And what about your garden? And mine? Most of us are obsessive gardeners but are we artists?  I feel that your garden is a picture created by you and even if it doesn’t appeal visually to me it is still a form of art because you selected those colours and shapes and placed them in a form that you thought pleasing. Just because you are working with living material rather than paint or marble doesn’t mean that it isn’t art. You have created it. A flower by itself, however lovely cannot be called art because it is a natural thing. But once you have placed it in your garden with other plants and composed a picture which you find aesthetically pleasing then of course that is art.  It is multi-dimensional, not just spatially but it also has the added dimensions of scent, time, weather and the seasons. I have read that some people maintain that because gardens are inherently unstable and are subject to change and deterioration then they cannot be called art. The idea that art, once made must remain static and unchanging is, I think a poor argument.

Not all gardens are art though. They don’t all aspire to be. Many gardeners are more interested in amassing a collection of plants like a stamp collection and make no attempt to arrange them artistically. Some people (usually men) arrange all their plants in neat rows and dedicate hours to lawn care. I don’t think you could call their gardens art. But most gardeners try to create beautiful pictures with their plants.  Of course, we can’t all produce masterpieces, anymore than any other kind of artist can.

If we allow some gardens to be art we have to let in the conceptual gardens which have crept into Chelsea and Hampton Court. These are the ones which are supposed to mean something and make us think.  They often have few plants and lots of hard surfaces. I suppose we have to be tolerant of these installations even if we don’t like them, if we want gardens to be accepted as an art form.  But I do resent the suggestion once made by Cleve West that conceptual gardens are more like real art because they don’t rely so much on living material and so can focus on a feeling or a theme. Now that begs the question of what art is and what its function is and we are getting into deep water. We can’t get into the semantics here as to whether a line of bricks or an unmade bed are art. But perhaps we can accept the definition that art is the expression of human creative skill and imagination. And a gardener who works hard to create a beautiful picture using colour, shape, texture and form is surely conforming to this definition.

Now on to the second point; if a gardener displays his garden as  an art form should it be open to criticism like any other form of art? In theory I suppose it should. But  gardeners are kindly people and  we can generally find something to admire in a fellow gardener’s garden, even if it is not to our taste. Most of us would be reluctant to criticize someone else’s beloved garden because to do so would be hurtful and unkind.  And who are we to criticize someone else’s work because it doesn’t fit in with our idea of aesthetic perfection?

I would be very glad to hear other bloggers’ opinions. There are artists  and  extremely talented photographers whose blogs I read and who read mine. Come on now tell me what you think. Is the garden an art form?

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68 Responses to Is The Garden an Art Form?

  1. mrsdaffodil says:

    Your post is very well written and I’ve enjoyed reading it. Personally, I don’t much care whether my garden or anyone else’s is art or not art. The importance of gardens and gardening is not diminished for me, no matter how that question is decided. I sometimes wonder if there is a feminist issue here–those gardens with few plants and hard surfaces are certainly more “masculine” than gardens full of roses and peonies. For the most part, botanical “art” is dismissed as mere decoration, no matter how skilled the artist.

    I agree that gardeners are a kindly lot. They damn with faint praise, or use the technique of distraction. While thinking that most of your garden is supremely ugly, they will compliment you on the one part they can truthfully say they like. Well, my mother (and maybe yours, too) always told me, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”.

    Critique is most useful in the context of a course, where students have chosen to open themselves up to criticism in order to improve their art. I don’t think it’s fair to criticize the efforts of gardeners who believe themselves safe in their own garden havens, have nothing to sell and do not enter any competitions.

  2. Annette says:

    This is a marvellous post and it puts my own feelings into perfect words (me being a non-native speaker). You know how much this topic moves me. I think some gardeners just love gardening for the sake of it without striving for a work of art; they’re mad about plants, feeling the soil, being in touch with nature…I have mixed emotions about conceptual gardens as they convey an idea alright but mostly have nothing at all to do with my idea of gardens. I also think it’s difficult to answer the “Wareham Question” because gardens are such a personal thing, but if you open to the public you have to be prepared for criticism. I also think that competition is a big part of the business. It may boil down to that, that some like their creations being acknowledged as art and others don’t bother and just want to get on with it. As for myself, I put a lot of thought into the creation of a garden -it’s not a coincidence- and I humbly hope that one can see it. Hegel lived a long time ago and wasn’t a gardener, as far as I know. Ask Goethe instead! PS: Thanks for that, Chloris, great, thought provoking stuff!

    • Chloris says:

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment Annette. I know this is a subject that interests you and I was interested to hear what you would have to say. I suppose it doesn’t really matter whether other people think my garden is art or not. What matters is that it is art to me and yours is art to you. We are both trying to create something beautiful.
      Having said it doesn’t matter what people think, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to hear anyone criticize it. If they don’t like it I would prefer it if they kept quiet because I have given it my all and I love it.

      • Annette says:

        The main thing is that the garden is right for myself (and you!), and as we’re all so different it’s no point listening to all the things others would do differently…unless you feel insecure and feel you need support. That’s often the case with my clients and then the designer steps in and hopefully creates a place people can identify with. Tricky business at times…especially as people seem to loose individuality these days and aim for other people’s creations which can never be theirs.

    • Chloris says:

      I don’t know what Goethe thought about gardening.
      Have you read Mit Goethe im Garten? Is it worth reading?

      • Annette says:

        I haven’t but his name is very strongly connected with the history of garden art (garden making was considered an art then) in Germany. He was very passionate about it and couldn’t be without his garden. Initially he was fascinated by the English landscape garden. In his own plot he skillfully combined ornamental and useful plants. I should think as a creator of gardens he probably had a different view than Hegel.

      • Chloris says:

        Thank you Annette, maybe I will have a look at that book..I have to admit I didn’t know Goethe was so keen on the garden.

  3. Chloris says:

    Thank you for your comment Mrs. Daffodil.I was hoping that you would have something to say and I was looking forward to hearing your opinion as you are an artist yourself. I agree with you entirely about what you say about criticism.
    I know the importance of what we do is not diminished whether it is considered to be art or not. But I have no talent for painting with paints as you do. I like to think that I am creating pictures with plants though. I like to think that what I do is art.

    • mrsdaffodil says:

      If Julia Child could title her book “Mastering The Art of French Cooking,” I’m sure that what you do can also be called art. Believe me, painting a picture does not automatically make it art, either.

  4. Excellent post! Gardening is an art form a type of art for all to enjoy but as all art forms, we all have different tastes. Many factors create a garden and we have to use all our senses to appreciate all that it has to offer.

  5. Chloris says:

    Thank you for your comment and I quite agree with you. I suppose the whole question of aesthetics comes down to personal taste in the end.

  6. Pauline says:

    Thought provoking post! Being an artist as well as a gardener, we created our garden for us to enjoy, if other people like it, then so much the better. Painting with plants is a lot harder than with paints as the plants grow, multiply, they are changing all the time.
    With the “Wareham” question as to whether gardens should be open to criticism, I feel that people who are always open and keep the money charged to fund their garden or their pockets are in a different league from the people who open their gardens occasionally in aid of charity. So much work is involved, I know, we used to open for the “Yellow Book”, so I would have been very hurt if someone criticised it after having put in so much effort. No matter what I think of a garden, there is always something to praise when I visit, I feel there is no need to be rude by criticising.

  7. Chloris says:

    Thank you for your thoughts on the subject Pauline. If you are an artist who gardens you cannot help creating a garden which is a work of art and I have seen pictures of your garden so I know this is true in your case.
    You are right about garden visiting there is nearly always something to admire and being critical is unnecessary and unkind.

  8. pbmgarden says:

    Difficult question to answer but interesting to consider. I certainly think it can reach the level of art form, though my personal garden is not conceived that way.

  9. Robbie says:

    Oh my goodness I could write a book to address this question! I was a trained dancer before I started my family + I trained other dancers, so to exclude dance as an art form-well, don’t get me started. I actually think gardens + dance are moving art! If you have seen the dance company Pilobolus than they can be seen as moving sculptures at times.It is the medium the artist chooses to “express” their artistic abilities…well, should we argue the difference between craft + art. Hegel is an ignorant man-sorry, but that is how I see him when discussing this subject.

    I like your definition best:

    “But perhaps we can accept the definition that art is the expression of human creative skill and imagination. And a gardener who works hard to create a beautiful picture using colour, shape, texture and form is surely conforming to this definition.”

    I studied classical ballet + modern dance + then taught choreography to college students, I taught “movement qualities” defined by Laban- percussive, sustained, swinging, vibratory, suspending, + collapsing. If you look at visual art there are textures etc….you are correct there is the craftsman of the garden (the people that put the plants in a row maintain a neat garden + sense of ‘order” not really an artistic expression, but then you have the “artistic gardener” they use color, shapes, texture, height, movement, timing, contrast, mixing elements, placement, etc…to express themselves or to evoke a feeling at times…( long sigh) ….to critique a garden is fine with me, but it does not make it art because some one likes it or not…it is what the artist wants to express..sometimes it has no meaning or reason to evoke anything just something they need to create….
    I also feel we need both types of gardens, craftman types( masculine maybe ) + artistic( ones that use design elements,….we need them all…+ does making a living as an artist make you an artist OR is it the need to express…well, that is another debate-lol…GREAT POST!!

    • Chloris says:

      Thank you very much for this thoughtful and interesting comment Robbie. You have made some really good points. I didn’t realise that you had been a dancer so you will disagree with Hegel on both points.It is great to have a dancer’s point of view I am so delighted that people are entering into this debate and giving it some thought.

      • Robbie says:

        Chloris-thank you for putting the debate out there it has been on my mind often as I garden-are we artists?
        Oh my, I sure did put a mouth full out there-lol I read your post before I was closing down for the evening. It just hit a sore “spot” , but in a good way:-) I enjoy your blog with all your garden knowledge, lovely photos + your posts are always enlightening:-)

      • Chloris says:

        Thank you for your kind comments about my blog Robbie, I enjoy yours too. It was great that you took the time to give your opinions on this subject. I was hoping for a lively debate.

  10. Kris P says:

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that not all gardens are art, which presupposes that some are. The argument that gardening isn’t art because the material is subject to deterioration could be applied as well to architecture and even the fine art of painting as, in time, everything is subject to deterioration. I think gardening, like music, dancing and other forms of expression, means different things to different people. A lot of people hate rap music, while others find meaning in it. Many people hate graffiti but some people raise it to the level of art. Engineering constructions (and couldn’t gardening also be described as a form of engineering?) are frequently viewed as art, even (God help us) cars may be viewed as art. My personal view is, if it transcends the individual materials and creates feeling or an idea, it’s art. Should it be subject to criticism? If by criticism, we mean analysis against some acknowledged form of criteria, sure; however, a uniform standard for that evaluation is no more likely to be found for gardens than it is for the fine arts. One can evaluate a garden, like a painting, from a range of different, equally valid perspectives and find it good or bad but one should always keep in mind that individual judgments are, by definition, biased in their own peculiar ways. Generally speaking, I think forms of personal expression, gardens included, should command respect, if not necessarily appreciation.

  11. Chloris says:

    Oh Kris, thank you for taking the time to write this thoughtful and well- expressed comment. I agree with all your points. It is really good to have debates like this from time to time; it is one of the great benefits of blogging to be able to talk to people all round the world on subjects that interest you.

  12. Holleygarden says:

    You did a great job expressing your opinion. I do think gardening is an art form. Now, some of us are still at the stage of trying to stay in the lines with a crayon, and painting things the wrong color. But some people have real artistic talent and have created masterpieces. So, yes, I do think gardening is art. It’s just that most of us wouldn’t want our gardens criticized, just as I wouldn’t want my stick drawings to be compared to Monet! But I do think that a little constructive criticism can be helpful, just as those with more art talent can help those that are learning, and yet I wouldn’t criticize a child’s drawing, so criticism must be made at the right time to the garden/artist. But you make a great point that the *style* shouldn’t be criticized – whether your garden is the style of Picasso or the style of one of the Old Masters. And we are all in a different place in our works of art. For me, I am still putting in the outline. It’s a long way from a true work of art, but it’s posts like this that make me realize how much more my garden can be.

    • Chloris says:

      Thank you so much for for your comment, Holley. I love the analogy of some of us trying to stay in the lines with our crayon and getting the colour wrong. Of course this is true but even when that is the case we are still struggling to express ourselves and paint lovely pictures. Sometimes we pull it off. I am sure all of stand in our gardens sometimes and think ‘Wow! I did it! Just for a day or a week it is perfection. If this were not the case we wouldn’t be doing it.

  13. Again a well written and interesting post. All I would add is that if something is considered “art” does that mean it is somehow better than something not considered “art”? I don’t think this is necessarily so. Anything and everything is open to criticism, be it your haircut, your new frock, your etchings or your garden. This is not always a negative thing, in fact criticism can be helpful and productive. I don’t think we should worry too much about titles, just enjoy and be thankful that we can.

    • Chloris says:

      You are right Gill , titles don’t matter. Most of the time I just get on with the garden and don’t bother thinking what it is that I am doing and why I do it. But now and again it is nice to hear how other gardeners feel about what they are creating. The post has created some thoughtful and interesting responses .

      • I was always dreadful at art at school and when I went to hort college dreaded the design part of the course. Not because I didn’t have ideas and the wish to create beautiful spaces but because I couldn’t draw and felt embarrassed by this handicap. I was lucky to have a patient tutor who made me feel comfortable enough to find my own way.

  14. I really enjoyed reading your well thought out post (and the comments) looking to answer a question that has been posed on many different types of art. I have written on art before myself and I had one reader write in that “everything one creates is art”. I explained how art for art’s sake used to convey the idea that the only aim of a work of art is the self-expression of the individual artist who creates it, is not something I necessarily believe. It takes something away from those that really do it well and have years of training or experience. Not every garden is art, like not every built structure is good architecture. Some things are anti-art too. Because opinion is subjective, it is almost the same asking, “what is beauty”. We all see it differently across history and culture. Beauty can be found in the process of making. There are many gardens though time I would say are examples of true art, but I also say that on natural landscapes as well. Nature is pretty amazing in the scenes she creates, scenes great masters of photography and art have painted on canvas or put to film. Gardens in general art? Certainly not the majority of them, they are just gardens. They might please the owner, but there is nothing that elevates them to art.

  15. Chloris says:

    Thank you for this interesting and informative comment, Donna. It is great to hear different peoples’ opinions on this. I don’t know whether I agree that a natural landscape is art though, however beautiful it may be. My definition of art is that it is man-made, I feel art is what people do, not nature. Wonderful photos like yours that capture nature so beautifully- to me that is art.

  16. Sue. says:

    Interesting, Art and Gardening. I think a lot of gardeners have very little sense of colour. That is why Gertrude Jykell was a master and her gardens would be described as Art. I notice that Newby Hall is about to dig up their long herbaceous border and do something different. When I saw it last summer it struck me rather a repetition of the same plants.

  17. Chloris says:

    You are right, of course some gardeners appear to be colour blind. The garden is not always art but I think at best it can be. That is what a lot of us strive for.

  18. Beth says:

    Great post! Philosophy of gardens is an area that clearly needs more public discussion, and many gardeners seem up to the task. My own thoughts:

  19. Chloris says:

    Hello Beth, thank you for joining in with the discussion. In fact you have done more than that you have taken up the subject and run with it. Your post is very interesting and thoughtful, I enjoyed reading it. Nice to find your blog too.

    • Beth says:

      Chloris, thanks for your kind welcome. As a fairly new gardener, of course I don’t consider myself to be an artist, but I like to think that time and effort on my part might, in fact, produce something “artistic”. But I would be more than happy with just something “beautiful”. Thanks again for the thought- and discussion-provoking post!

  20. Flighty says:

    An interesting post and good comments, particularly Donna’s of Garden Walk Garden Talk.
    I don’t have a garden, and don’t think that many people would consider an allotment to be art form!
    If I did have a garden it would be a very informal, and which I wouldn’t consider to be art form. Having said that I can see the validity of stating that a garden is an art form by some people about some gardens. .
    I suppose that at the end of the day it’s such a wide-ranging subject that it’s not surprising that opinions on it are many and varied. xx

  21. Chloris says:

    Have you come across the artist: Chris Cyprus, Flighty? He paints nothing but allotments and his paintings are wonderful, I absolutely love them. He obviously thinks allotments are art or at least something he can make art out of. Do check him out and tell me what you think.

    • Flighty says:

      I have seen his paintings in the past but couldn’t remember his name so thanks for that. I’ve bookmarked his website and will enjoy looking at his wonderful paintings again.
      I suppose that allotment art is considered different to garden art given the contrast between vegetables and flowers. xx

      • Another artist who seems to find beauty in allotments is Tessa Newcomb. Her book ‘the Adorable plot’ is her paintings of English allotments in Suffolk. I do not however consider most allotments to be art but I can find some beautiful. You should take a look Flighty you may love them.
        And so it is with gardens: some are charming, some beautiful, some clever, and some are created by artists. To me a good example of an artistic garden is the garden at Great Dixter by the late sir Christopher Lloyd. His eye for colour, shape, form and texture are truely artistic and worthy of protecting for future generations. Another garden which is considered to be art is the late Derek Jarmans garden in Dungeness. His eye was to see beauty in the harsh pebble landscape and to create a garden from what most would consider to be debris from the sea.
        This is a great post Chloris and has got us all thinking. D.

      • Chloris says:

        Of course I should have mentioned Tessa Newcomb as she is from Suffolk. I love these pictures of allotments. Thank you for your contributions to the discussion Doris.

  22. Anna says:

    An most interesting and thought provoking post Chloris. The first question that comes to my mind is what is the definition of “art”. My dictionary comes up with several definitions 🙂

    • Chloris says:

      And a good question it is too. I think it is one that has been debated for centuries. It probably needs a thesis rather than a blog. I think art must be man made and a creative and imaginative response to people’s experience of life. I don’t believe art needs to be good to be considered art. But what do I know I’m just a gardener?
      But it is great to get so much debate about it.

  23. Cathy says:

    Whew …. what a fascinating post and fascinating comments, Chloris. It seemed ironic that you posted it at the same time that I was referring to some of my quirky garden objects as debatable ‘art’. But what is in a word, eh? To me, how can someone class Architecture, Sculpture, Painting, Music and Poetry as art but specifically exclude dance and gardening and not even mention literature? As I write, the thought comes to me that perhaps ‘art’ is something that is satisfactorily pleasing to the senses – of which we have 5, so should that include food as art form and perfume perhaps, and does fabric and fashion come into into the equation? As for Nature, some landscapes are more pleasing to the eye, surely? But we all experience things differently, have different ‘tastes’ in all the above, so perhaps it boils down to whether we can accept this – that although we may not find something aesthetically pleasing to the senses others may do so and we should not dismiss them or the subject in question because of this (and vice versa of course). If this is the case then a discussion on these differences is not a criticism. Please excuse me rambling on your blog instead of rambling in my aesthetically-pleasing-to-me- but-still-getting-there garden, Chloris!

  24. Chloris says:

    Thank you for your comment Cathy. It came just as I was thinking about Anna’s comment where she wonders what is the definition of art? It is interesting to hear your assessment of what art is. Of course some landscapes are more pleasing to the eye than others but I don’t believe that makes them art .I think art is always man made. And should we include fashion, fabric, perfume? Oh dear, I don’t know. My head hurts.
    One thing is certain though. Magnolia Man is definitely art.

  25. Pingback: The Garden as Art | Croft Garden

  26. Pingback: The Garden as Art | Croft Garden

  27. croftgarden says:

    This was an inspiring post and as you invited views, I’ve put my rather verbose response in a separate post:

  28. Chloris says:

    Thank you Christine. I am delighted that you have taken up the subject and written your thoughts on it. I have read your post and it is really interesting and thought provoking. I think it is great to have this sort of a discussion. A lot of people have joined in, so clearly we are not alone in finding the subject worth considering. The question of criticism perhaps deserves a post to itself; I would love to know if gardeners generally think garden writing is too sycophantic.

  29. Julie says:

    Gardens no matter how noble are certainly an art form, but I think there is a balance to be struck between the desire for perfection, such as the Chelsea show gardens and the opportunity any garden has, private or public to sustain as much wildlife as possible. Its a unique art form that can make a real difference to the world we all live in. I cannot think of any other form of art that lifts my spirits to such giddy heights.

    • Chloris says:

      I agree with you there. As gardeners we are all moved by a really good garden and always striving to make are own as beautiful as possible. For most of us that is why we do it. I don’t think the perfection of a Chelsea garden is as satisfying as the best private garden. I think that it lacks soul like the garden of a famous gardener once he or she is dead.
      And of course you are right about the importance of wild life; the birds, bees and butterflies etc. give life to what we have created.

  30. I found this post and the subsequent comments very stimulating. Honestly I am not really sure if I would consider gardens an art or a craft. Is there a clear distinction? A gardener tries to direct living material to realize a picture in his or her mind, the living material may or may not cooperate. Inanimate materials are not always cooperative, either. I do not think that saying that gardening is art does anything to make conceptual gardens better as gardens. There is pretentious art and there are pretentious gardens, defining them as art doesn’t make them better or worse.

    • Chloris says:

      I think the art versus craft argument is a tricky one. After all the great Renaissance artists were considered to be craftsman at the time.
      I agree that saying something is art doesn’t make it good art. But wouldn’t you agree that the best, most beautiful gardens are works of art?

      • I guess for me the most beautiful gardens are simply very beautiful. They may be art, I would not argue that they are not. But let’s say they are art, does that change how we see or appreciate them? Is it a question of the degree to which we value such beauty and take it seriously?

  31. Now you’ve given me something to think about Chloris. As a newbie gardener, I’ve been far too busy learning about plants and how they grow to give it much thought.
    One thing I do know though is that if gardens are considered art – then my choice of art in the garden and art in the home is at entirely opposite ends of the scale. I like gardens busy, full of different textures and colours yet if I was choosing a piece of art for the house, it would be stark and minimalist. I sometimes just don’t ‘get’ the whole show garden thing, perhaps that’s my just untrained eye and often find myself looking past the hardscaping and just enjoying the plants.
    Is it just a case of each to their own?

  32. Chloris says:

    Hello Angie, I like busy gardens full of texture and colour too. I am bored by endless box hedges and topiary. And I hate conceptual gardens full of hard landscape and ‘meaning’. Like you I love plants but I want my plants to look good together. I want them to make a pleasing picture. I hope we can call that ‘art’.

  33. Your post was very thought provoking and has caused quite a stir! It touched a nerve with me too as I had the temerity to criticise the great Mary Keen following a visit to her garden last year. It seems to me that it is very much about expectation. If a garden is heralded as something special and ‘good’ then you are faced with the choice of going along with other’s feelings because you are unsure of your own, or to comment from the heart and say what you really think. This can be hurtful and even unfair. However, if you create a garden for the public to see, put it on show and charge money to see it (even for charity) there are going to be those who either don’t like it or, more likely, don’t understand it. Mary Keen opened her garden as per the NGS Yellow Book schedule which had been printed months before but due to the dreadful winter it was not as expected on opening day. This was a shame but a waste of time and money for the visitors. I said this on my blog and incurred her wrath! Yes, I do think gardens should be criticised. If taken positively it should make for better gardens and gardeners.

  34. Chloris says:

    I used to open my garden for the NGS and I was a County Organiser too for a while and most garden owners make an enormous effort to make sure their garden is looking its best on the big day. I agree with you that if you open to the public you have a responsibility to make sure it is worth seeing. If you are a garden writer you have an extra responslbilty. If someone is opening a badly maintained or uninteresting garden then I agree we should say something. But if it is just that aesthetically it doesn’t please us I don’t think we should. Most passionate gardeners love their gardens and criticism isn’t going to make them change anything. It would just make them reluctant to open. Thank you for joining in the debate. I’m going to keep an eye on your blog now.

  35. Christina says:

    Great post Liz. I will come back again to read all the comments (the garden calls again this morning! I think many gardens are Art, we shouldn’t allow fashion in the art world to prescribe what is art and what not. There was a time when tapestry was more valuable actually and perceptually than a painting; when embroidery was more valued than sculpture. As you say some peoples’ gardens are collections of plants and that isn’t necessarily art but if you view anything that is creative as art then a garden certainly is. As to criticism I think this depends on the context, if a friend shows you her garden and asks your opinion, then yes I think honest criticism is good, if she doesn’t ask, then it may depend on how ‘good’ your friendship is or if it is just a matter of taste (taste is of course another can of worms). Gardens that are open to the public certainly must endure any criticism given.

  36. Christina says:

    Opps, forgot to say that the Renaissance concept of Art and Nature or art versus nature came to call the garden the third nature where the garden is the perfect balance between true nature and that which is man-made (art).

  37. Chloris says:

    Great! A brilliant point about Renaissance ideas about art and the garden. I knew you would have something interesting to contribute. Thank you.

  38. Alain says:

    What an interesting post. One would have to set half a day aside to “digest” all these interesting comments.
    I would say that gardening is an art, especially given the fact that nowadays an art object, like an installation, is often not permanent. Many painters or sculptors have a very personal style (you recognize a painting by Modigliani or a sculpture by Henry Moore) and I think the same is true for many garden designers.
    As for criticism, if you are asked for candid comments, you should be able to point out what you think does not work as well. A teacher could certainly explain to students why one garden is more successful than an other. In fact, the majority of people do not criticize. It all depends on the critic. The opinion of a person who spent a lifetime visiting and assessing gardens will have a lot more weight and will be much more useful than the opinion of a person who says he/she does not like this or that. I agree with the majority of the comments that there is no need to be hurtful.
    As for conceptual gardens, I must admit that I cannot relate to them. Comparing them to traditional gardens is like comparing classical western and Chinese musics. They both are music but that is about it. I suppose I have not taken enough interest in conceptual gardens to pass judgement!
    Thank you for initiating such a stimulating discussion.

  39. Chloris says:

    Thank you for your interesting comment Alain. I can’t relate to conceptual gardens either but then I can’t relate to quite a lot of modern art.
    I have really enjoyed reading so many different perspectives on this question. It is obviously a subject that interests many gardeners. We clearly don’t just spend all our time grubbing in the soil. Sometimes we stop and think.

  40. Definitely food for thought here! Gardening is a very personal thing and I am a great believer in no right or wrong in garden displays – it is what you, the gardener likes. After all, don’t they say beauty is in the eye of the beholder? What I like in a garden may not be what another likes (and vice versa) but that doesn’t make it any less attractive or important. Art? Definitely! Works of art follow that same precedent – that what one person likes, may not appeal to another. Look at the completely different styles of, for example, Turner and Picasso, but both are art. Most gardeners arrange their plants to create what is a pleasing picture to them, so making it art. It is a creative work. As for should they be open to criticism? Well, maybe if you follow that argument through, gardens should. As long as it’s not mine!! Ha,ha!

  41. akismet-cc86e69a13119f6a42f5deab97c402e6 says:

    I have been brought here backwards, as it were, following a trail led by this topic. You may be interested to read the post that started me –

    Too late I would like to point out that criticism is not just about saying what is bad – it is a whole skill in itself and offers real illumination. Anyone who wants to make the best garden they can must respect, want and need criticism. Yes, it’s painful, but it pays. (see

    This is a great post and discussion – so glad to have found it and you! Xx

    • Chloris says:

      Thank you very much for your comment which has in turn led me to the great thinkinggardens blog. I am delighted to have found it. Just the sort of thing I like.

  42. Spy Garden says:

    I consider my garden to be art! I wrote on the topic here

  43. Pingback: How to pick the best gardening supplies - Green Cottage

  44. Robin Dabank says:

    A garden to me on any form is art no matter any others opinion, the world we live in and the people that surrounds it are so busy with all the “What If”s.
    Instead they tend to forget to see the beauty that can come in any shape or form an appreciate it just as it is. One random act of kindness can make the biggest difference in the world. There is beauty in all we see and kindness which seems to be getting rarer to come by cost no coin or even kill you to share with one another is becoming extinct. My greatest garden I keep in me and each person helps me grow it from the sweetest to the meanest and share it through the smallest acts of kindness I can. Every smile I see shine on another’s face grows from my kindness is another flower in my Robin’s Secret Garden and mean ppl are the weeds and weather that day I have tears of joy or tears of sadness, everyday I choose to tend to my Robin’s Secret Garden because I live everyday and will only die once. “I go with blind eye’s, see with my heart and my cupith will always run over”.
    Thank you

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