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I’ve been a bit preoccupied with Very Modern Gardens lately (just for something I’m writing).

By this I mean what’s rather meaninglessly called Conceptual Gardens by the RHS. What exactly does “conceptual” mean anyway? Aren’t all gardens conceptual – it’s just that sometimes the concept is more usually Gertrude Jekyll than Mondrian…?

Anyway – I’ve always really enjoyed the Conceptual Gardens section at Hampton Court. They’re not only fabulous works of art: they also really challenge what you think you’re seeing and how you think you see it. Did anyone see Forest2 by Ivan Tucker? All those silver birch trees surrounded by mirrors. And the wonderful experience of looking through the holes in the sides only to see your own disembodied face staring back at you, floating somewhere in the air among the trees. And as for Ecstasy in a Very Black Box… This really challenged, with no plants but a load of baby lettuce but probably the best evocation of what it must feel like to be a manic depressive that I’ve ever seen.

So – I’m thinking about all these gardens which are thoughtful and thought-provoking, based on skeletons or what it’s like to be a parent or autumn or, in one case, the Electric Sheep screensaver, and I’m wondering what exactly it’s all meant to be about. I love it as art: much as I love going to Tate Modern and having all my ideas about the way things are turned upside down.

But the middle-aged lady in me says, would you have it in your back garden? I think it’s rather revealing that the champion of avant-gardening, Tim Richardson, recently confessed to Gardens Illustrated magazine that his own garden was full of hardy geraniums. Constance Spry roses and kids’ bikes. I wonder, if Tony Smith offered to come along and paint the whole thing black and put multi-coloured shards of glass in it, whether he’d take him up on it?

I suspect I’m just missing the point here. But I kind of wonder, sometimes, whether there is a point. It may be art – but is it gardening?

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