Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Friday, February 24, 2012

Gardens, Films, Fantasies...

What is it about gardens that appeals to so many of us? (Even those, like me, who seem to have the black thumb of death when it comes to plants.) Why is it that if you put a model in a haute couture ballgown and place her in between some Versailles-style hedges, it immediately lifts the fashion shoot to a whole new level of Grace Coddington-style sophistication? Why is it that whenever Karl Lagerfeld tosses some formal French parterres into his fashion shows, the collections receive so much more media coverage? (Witness the incredible amount of column inches given to his spring/summer 2011 show, which was inspired by the gardens of Last Year at Marienbad.) And why is it that whenever a film director introduces a horticultural element to a movie, it immediately attracts a legion of garden-loving fans?

There's no doubt about it. Gardens give a mise-en-scène character, beauty, charm and mystery. And so here, in Part One of a special post that merges three of my favourite things – flowers, fashion and films – is a look at some of the most beautiful botanical-enhanced movie scenes we've seen over the last few years.

I'm still not certain what this film is all about. None of the characters have names. Some of them don't seem to know what they're doing there. It's all a bit enigmatic. But who cares when the gardens are so beautiful? Just turn the sound down and gaze at those perfectly clipped topiary trees.  {Top image is also from Last Year in Marienbad)

The spectacular kitchen garden in this film (remember Meryl Streep flirting with Alec Baldwin over a couple of plump, blush-ripe tomatoes?) caused a LOT of complaints, particularly among gardeners. For a start, the beds featured warm and cool-season crops together. And then there was the issue of plant envy. Lots of people felt that it made ordinary gardeners feel utterly inadequate. I mean, where were the weeds? The butterflies? The straggly bits? The film's production designer eventually admitted that the vegetables were grown in a greenhouse for two months before the garden scene was shot, and "any plant that looked a little scrubby was not used". Scrubby plants? The horror! Can someone please tell me how I get my garden paths that neat?  {Photo credit:  Melinda Sue Gordon, Universal Studios}

Frances Mayes' villa at Bramasole in Tuscany Italy, was pure property porn. The enchanting house. The idyllic garden. The whole luscious Italian-ness of it all. No wonder people still trek here to see it year after year. It's locavore love. As Dean Martin said "That's amore".

Normally Russell Crowe is a superb actor but he was terrible in this film. Terrible. It didn't matter, because the dilapidated garden and the decaying vineyard that his character inherited more than made up for it.  Russ coulda worn a burlap bag and wandered around bumping into cypress trees and it wouldn't have mattered because the setting was so spectacular.

This film was a big hit in 1992. And no wonder. Just look at that garden. One reviewer summed the story up beautifully: “The enticement of an enchanting Italian holiday captivates the hearts of two British housewives on a drizzly London afternoon in 1922, and fills their imaginations with wisteria and sunshine. By the time they arrive at their Mediterranean villa...the gardens, sea, cinnamon and pasta are just the beginning of the transformation they discover.” Wisteria and sunshine. Two words to bring joy the heart of any gardener. Add in Italy and you can see why everyone wanted to rush off to do their own Enchanted April.

Director Ang Lee knows the power of a good bit of garden porn. Remember how he sent Kate Winslet rushing out into the topiary garden in a moment of romantic despair? Yes Ang, we know there's nothing like a yew to cheer a girl up. Mind you, most Jane Austen adaptations are filled with shrubberies, woods, a hedge or two, and smattering of clipped topiary. It keeps the characters on their toes, you see. All that hopping about the hornbeam adds to the action.

The garden that Julia Roberts (Anna) and Hugh Grant (William) snuck into for a spontaneous pash behind the petunias is actually a private garden called Rosmead Gardens, in Rosmead Road, Notting Hill, W11. I always envied those Londoners who had the keys to these private gardens. Obviously a lot more goes on behind those walls that the rest of us realise!

Remember this film? Remember Andie McDowell (Bronte) fighting to keep her New York apartment, simply because it had a luscious rooftop garden? Remember the indoor atrium with the sprinkler system and the hand-tiled pool? I would have married Gérard Depardieu for that apartment too. Then again, I always had a soft spot for Mr Depardieu. He can tend to my herbaceous borders any day.

I was watching the Mandrakes-in-the-greenhouse scene from Harry Potter on TV tonight, and I realised I was more enthralled with those enormous conservatories that the storyline. The aerial shots were amazing.

Frances Hodges Burnett's classic novel has been adapted to the big and small screens more times that my garden has grown weeds, but it's still a great story. There are few things more irresistible than a hidden door to a secret walled garden. {All scenes from the movies indicated.}


  1. I am with you on every single one Janelle...just adored Enchanted of those films you could watch over and over again and even better on a rainy day. I am off to bed now...and I know what I will be dreaming about...gardens, films and fantasies... :)

    Best wishes for a lovely weekend!

    Jeanne xx

  2. What wonderful choices, can't wait to see what other films you select.
    I'm in a state of shock that Enchanted April came out in 1992, where did those 2 decades go?
    Happy weekend!

  3. Oh Janelle, what a feat for the eyes you have here! So many of my faves but I can't go past the original 'The Secret Garden' which I watched numerous times. *Sigh". J x

  4. Lovely gardens - all of them such beauties but my favourite too, is The Secret Garden... Just adore any kind of walled garden. x

  5. Janelle ... me too! I love gardens and get completely carried away as if I was the heroine in the movie or book! My favourite gardens are those of Versailles and also those Vaux le Vicompte which is just north of Paris. Absolutely stunning and the work of the great Andre le Notre ..... in fact Louis 14th poached le Notre to begin work at Versailles after he saw what had been done at Vaux in 1666. I also didn't realize but apparantly much of the film "Marie Antoinette" was filmed at Vaux! Have a lovely Sunday
    best wishes

  6. sorry about the typo ... "Vicomte" is the correct spelling!

  7. I watched Last Year in Marienbad last year, I did not have a clue as to what was going on, but it was utterly beautiful to look at.

  8. The Meryl garden was so FAKE!!!! But lovely. I think about the Greencard garden all the time.

  9. Enchanted April is one of my all time favorite movies. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have an Italian Holiday like that!


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