A Garden of Delights

Grand Canal Versailles 2012. iPhone 4S photograph, shot with Hipstamatic app, cropped in Snapseed. Copyright Nettie Edwards @lumilyon 2012

In February 2012, I visited the Palace of Versailles in France, hoping to discover for myself the haunting mystery contained in my favourite book of photographs: Deborah Turbeville’s Unseen Versailles. What I found was a gilded tourist destination with a gift shop full of overpriced trinkets. Disenchanted, I wandered out onto the elevated parterre that overlooks the Palace’s gardens and park. The audacious Grand Canal, sweeping 1500 metres into the distance, took my breath away. Next morning, I got up at 4.30, determined to arrive at the park whilst the mist was still hanging over the water and clinging to the sculpted trees: just the atmosphere for the photographs I wanted.

Returning home with a new-found interest in garden photography, I wondered if I might find an inspiring historical garden near Cheltenham, where I live and easily accessible by public transport. Painswick Rococo Garden came to mind. I’d been making occasional visits there since 1989, witnessing its emergence from overgrown jungle to what it is today: the foremost example of English Rococo period garden design. The gardens at Versailles and Painswick have both been described as Rococo in spirit and yet they could not be more different. Versailles was laid-out geometrically: the pleasure ground of a monarch. Painswick is a much smaller, middle-class garden, dedicated to pleasure, but also to domesticity. Its layout is a jumble of ideas: a bit of this and a bit of that, tumbling down a steep, grassy slope, rather like one of Fragonard’s lace-clad ladies, loosing her satin slipper along the way. At its center is an ornamental Kitchen Garden, around which lies a network of paths leading to follies, gazebos and woodland dells: locations explicitly designed for amorous liaisons. Unlike their Victorian descendants, the down-to-earth Georgian bourgeoisie didn’t hide their fruit and veg inside high-walled gardens: they clearly regarded their five-a-day as both nourishing and sensual.

Painswick House and garden as depicted by Thomas Robbins in 1748. Photograph courtesy of Painswick Rococo Gardens

Painswick House and garden as depicted by Thomas Robbins in 1748

The voluptuous generosity of Painswick’s plentiful kitchen garden drew me in, as both an allotment gardener, because I’m always interested (and rather envious) to see how things are grown by people who really know what they’re doing, and as a photographer. I’d been reading about Anthotypes: photographs printed with the juices extracted from fruits and vegetables. I wondered: what if I were to follow the gardening year at Painswick, transforming photographs taken with my mobile phone into Anthotypes, using the plants grown here?

Versailles Grand Canal: sweet pea anthotype copyright Nettie Edwards @lumilyon 2014

The produce grown in the Rococo Garden is destined for its restaurant. Cookery is a sensual art that’s implicitly generous and ephemeral. We invest time in the preparation of food with the express wish that it be consumed. Furthermore, in the kitchen at Painswick, recipes are seasonal and may be enjoyed for a limited period only. So it’s appropriate that I’m making Anthotypes here. It takes a considerable commitment of time to prepare the ingredients for an Anthotype and “develop” it in the sun (fine weather permitting) and as there is no known way to fix the resulting ghostly image, it will exist for a limited time only, before the sun that created it, consumes it. Every day, millions of images are uploaded from mobile phones to the internet, and many of them depict the food we’re eating. One of my friends has commented that these days, when asked about a memorable restaurant meal, people are more likely to pull out a photo on their phone, than describe how the food tasted and smelt. It could be said that as a mobile Photographer, I’m a fast food addict who is about to join the Slow Food movement. I have no idea what kind of photographer I’ll be by the end of this year. Perhaps I’ll no longer be a photographer: maybe I’ll take up full-time gardening instead, regarding photography as something that I nurtured and enjoyed in just one season of my life: something to be savoured and then returned, with gratitude, to the Universe. If I am to explore the art of  Anthotypes, I must embrace the art of letting go.

Looking towards Eagle House, from the Kitchen Garden, Painswick Rococo Garden May 2014. iPhone 4S photograph, shot with Hipstamatic app, processed with Snapseed. Copyright Nettie Edwards @lumilyon 2014


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