A New Face in the Garden


Once the grotto nymph’s view of the lake at Clumber Park

In general, and unless you a a nephew of a pope, banker to Louis XIV, a Medici princeling, or the Duchess of Northumberland, water features in the garden are naff.  Even the grottos of 18th century gentry, however rich, are mostly risible.  Marble river gods, muscular, handsomely bearded, recline with improbably elegance amongst uncomfortable rockwork, endlessly puking the source of some small stream, whilst what they have as a more probable stream’s origin is modestly swathed in animal skin.  In other grottos, nymphs simper, elegant and no doubt very cold, around some urn or vase which does the spouting for them.  How daft.

Yet we all want it.  Water that is…  Of course, how else would we have waterlilies, or ranks of those purple irises that look so good against the gold leaf of Japanese screens, but in the garden last, it seems, only five minutes in flower.  How else would we have the pleasure of primulas, rogersias, carp, hungry herons, mosquitoes, duckweed, and the rest?  But why can’t we leave it at that?

But no, we can’t.  We want to believe that we can capture at least a part of the magic of the Trevi fountain or the Villa Lante with a pond pump and some hosepipe that cost scarcely more that a couple of bottles of wine.  We can’t.

But I confess…  The fish gasped a bit in the uppermost pool here.  I bought a pump.  Only for oxygenation you understand.  Well, the sound of plashing water was quite nice too, especially on the stone seat right next to the pool’s edge.  But the plashing was generated by a black plastic nozzle the emerged above the water, sinister, a submarine.  It had to go.  But go where?  At that moment, ‘naff’ began.

A simple spigot perhaps, emerging from the vegetation.  Nah…  Then an antique tap emerging from an old piece of stone.  But I couldn’t find the taps I’d salvaged from the laundry quarters of a house I owned long ago.  Then a ceramic dish on the poolside, spouting its contents prettily….  But we’d see the input nozzle.  Oh dear.  So what?  A face.  Like that sea god in concrete, cast by a man in a garage just off London’s Columbia Road?  Nope, we need something freshwater.  No seaweed and crabs.  Then a copy after the antique, or that one in a courtyard in Amalfi.  Gorgeous, but deep naff in a humble yard like ours.  Garden centres?  Well, in them a whole universe of naff suddenly opened up: weird modernist pieces complete with water, music, and LED lights that changed colour ‘to suit your mood’.  Pyramids of concrete otters.  Japanese lanterns in scarlet plastic, should you fancy a bordello garden.  Endless wimpish nymphs, casts of scaled-down Davids, Green Men  faces (some not bad) in fibreglass.  And so it went on.

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About david stuart

garden writer and journalist, and occasionally a designer, with a garden in the Scottish borders, and his pal's gardens in Edinburgh, London, and Lincolnshire. They keep both of us very, very busy. Books I've written listed on my website, and dozens of articles and garden and plant pictures. Currently working on several new projects. One of these was to return to painting - see the blog - and which is proving exciting! www.david-stuart.co.uk
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