Imagine the excitement in the Writer in the Garden household this weekend: There’s a film about proper gardening. Even Tim Richardson says it’s ‘squarely and actually about gardens and garden design’. Do we need to book? I think we should book. I’m worried it’ll be full….
Hmmm… we didn’t need to book. Sadly the cinema wasn’t full, not even in Tunbridge Wells, but nevertheless I loved this film. I think you will too – if you’re reading this website at least. There’s a phrase from the great writer and teacher, John Gardner (good name for this post!) to describe how in our fiction writing, we need to allow the reader to enter the ‘fictional dream’ – so the writer takes a step back and allows the story to come to the forefront. And that’s what happened in this film for me, so while I was watching I didn’t care about details. Although if anything I could do with a few more bits about gardening – the scene with Monsieur de la Quintinie whispering to his pears was delicious! And then La Barra interrupting the King in the enclosed fruit garden made me want to be there too.
Although when I got back, I wanted to look up a few facts.
And not just for the excuse of gazing at pictures of moody Matthius Schoenaerts as Andre Le Notre…
… who actually was an old man when Versailles was created, and looked more like this..
And of course the garden designer Sabine de Barra was fictional. Ho hum. Although maybe she’ll encourage more interest in women gardeners in history, such as the fascinating Thomasin Tunstall.
And of course Versailles is Versailles… and the soaring computer-generated image of the gardens at the end made the heart soar too. And long to go back.
This is a poem I found by Rita Dove, The Great Palaces of Versailles. Click the link for the whole poem, but here’s an extract below. Funnily enough, this wasn’t in the film…
Beulah had read in the library
how French ladies at court would tuck
their fans in a sleeve
and walk in the gardens for air. Swaying
among lilies, lifting shy layers of silk,
they dropped excrement as daintily
as handkerchieves. Against all rules
she had saved the lining from a botched coat
to face last year’s gray skirt. She knows
whenever she lifts a knee
she flashes crimson. That seems legitimate;
but in the book she had read
how the cavaliere amused themselves
wearing powder and perfume and spraying
yellow borders knee-high on the stucco
of the Orangerie.