The Gardens of the World series promises to make learning a joy; while your eyes feast on natural beauty and grace (the featured gardens and hostess Audrey Hepburn), your mind is treated to an eloquent narrative duet between Hepburn and (offscreen) Michael York, whose vibrant voices are interspersed with strains of romantic classical melodies by the likes of Vivaldi, Ravel, and Debussy. The text offers an enticing blend of art history, horticulture, landscape design, and poetry.
The program synopsis states:
"Each of the programs in the series explores a different garden theme which, in turn, is designed to illustrate broader concepts of historical, cultural, environmental or aesthetic importance. Rather than promoting definitive conclusions, it hopes to allow the viewer an opportunity to breathe in the beauty of its subject, and to open the doors of inspiration, fulfillment and enchantment possible in a garden."
This series will not only give you inspiration and wisdom for working your own garden, but will also affect your perspective: it will make you heady with a realization (or reminder) of the profound connection that is possible between humans and nature via the medium of a garden.
The DVD features eight individual half-hour programs with different themes, plus extra footage of Hepburn and the crew on location in England and Holland, as well as the complete musical tracks for pieces used in the programs.
- Roses and Rose Gardens explains the history and variety of this well-loved genus and shows examples of how roses can be used in garden design.
- Formal gardens takes us to Italy, Spain, and Egypt in a brief survey of formal gardens through history. Avoiding the usual explanation of the formal garden as a reaction against the uncontrolled wildness of nature, the narrative presents a gentler view: "Balance, symmetry, and the careful manipulation of space reflected man's desire to imitate the divine order of the natural world. ... The effect, though entirely artificial, is not unnatural."
- Flower gardens explores the astounding (though ever-changing) variety of flowers and people's enduring passion for them. "Individual breeds of flowers go in and out of fashion like hemlines. Some actually disappear. The gardeners who remember something they saw in their grandmother's garden as a child risk being disappointed when they try to acquire it." Monet's garden in Giverny is among the featured gardens.
- Japanese Gardens affected me most powerfully, perhaps because the subject was tight enough to allow deeper exploration within half an hour. The narrative's elegant phrasing sets the mood: "In Japanese gardens, new ideas are layered over old, but the old are never discarded; they remain like ancestors, lingering with a muted presence that enriches the new." The program explores the moss-draped mature forest gardens as well as dry gardens (those made without plants, only rocks and gravel), tea gardens, stroll gardens, and hill-and-pond gardens. The cinematography is powerful too; in one scene, we focus through overhanging leaves on a still, shaded pond with stepping stones, then Hepburn, clad in a red jacket, steps meditatively into view and crosses the stones.
- Tulips and Spring Bulbs delves into the fascinating history of the tulip, including the three-year period called Tulip Mania in which "individuals sold their businesses, livestock and clothing, even their homes, to finance the purchase of a single bulb." We're treated to views of Dutch tulip fields, beds of blooming bulbs, and famous flower paintings by Dutch and Flemish artists. Designers effuse about how bulbs can enrich any garden planting. A Persian poet offers this advice:
"If of thy mortal goods thou art bereft,
And from thy slender store two loaves alone to thee are left,
Sell one, and with the dole
Buy hyacinths to feed thy soul."
- Tropical Gardens gives us "Nature's drama in the tropics -- at once bigger than life, wilder than the imagination," but the array of exotic plants -- ginger, heliconia, cannonball trees, staghorn ferns, orchids, and more -- comes with this reminder: "The principles for creating a beautiful garden, in harmony with its climate and culture, are the same the world over, the variant of ingredients at once unique and universal: plant color, texture, form."
- Country Gardens should have been named Cottage and Kitchen Gardens, for it focuses on these two styles -- rampant jumbles of flowers and herbs, strict rows of vegetables, even grazing sheep. Renowned garden designer Ryan Gainey appears briefly in his Georgia garden, and the even-more-famous English designer John Brookes gives a short talk on traditional cottage garden flowers and design. This segment previews the urban focus of the next with a gentle nod to sustainability issues: "The country garden is a reminder that every natural landscape contains a quality of life worth preserving and nurturing."
- Public Gardens and Trees begins with George Washington's Mount Vernon garden, then proceeds to Paris for an extensive tour of several public gardens and a history of the urban renewal (by "greening") of that great city. Trees are praised for providing "the leafy magic that makes urban dwelling tolerable." In a poignant closing, Hepburn reads from Anne Frank's diary that "the best remedy for those who are unhappy is to go outside..."
Hepburn, who received an Emmy for the series, says in one of the interviews: "I'm not a garden expert, but I'm a garden lover... I think that's what life is all about, actually -- about children and flowers."
Says the director of the series, "Our mission is to show beautiful things... to people who have forgotten about them, because today's life is often full of harried excitement and stress..." If it's been too long since you've relaxed and enjoyed beautiful things, let Gardens of the World reintroduce you to a natural antidote to stress -- the garden.
Note: Be sure that you are ordering the entire series, as several of the individual half-hour shows are offered at nearly the price of the series.