Brenda  Brown


Gardens are about time.  
A cliché's banality can mask intricate truths.

Not all gardens are about time, but many are, and any garden implicates time.  And as gardens have a unique capacity to reveal time, so time, in various ways, reveals gardens.   This book centers on that reciprocity.

Time and gardens are both rooted in our apprehension of natural phenomena and processes, phenomena and processes we affect but rarely completely control. Yet time and garden are also human abstractions, human inventions culturally and geographically varied in expression and experience.  Diverse and multifarious entwinements overlay fundamental commonalties.  

Human experience brings time and garden together and, while many different voices of experience are contained herein, of course my own dominates.  Like many others I came to gardens as I approached middle-age.  Earlier I was educated and worked as an artist.  I made post-minimalist sculptures that centered on water's simultaneous temporal and non-temporal aspects and did drawings that portrayed the varieties of water's experience and representation.  Perhaps I was originally drawn to gardens because they flesh out the polarities and variations my sculptures more starkly and diagrammatically suggested, and, as my drawings dealt with water's varied aspects, so here I deal with the varieties of time and gardens' meshing.  

I have been intrigued, captivated and at times nonplused by gardens' simultaneous art and artlessness, conservatism and radicalism, dynamism and stasis.  Gardens are a beloved if at times bewildering adopted country for me, something of the immigrant who, in writing of his new land strains and tests that country's language.  The mother tongue is never completely forgotten.  It is not to be ignored; it makes itself heard in assumptions, idioms, and comparisons - however curious.

Gardens have the potential, like all good art, to focus our attention.  But as not all gardens are about time, so not all gardens are art.  Indeed of all art forms maybe gardens most blur distinctions between art and non-art, and those distinctions further shift and blur with place and time and people.  While I am not concerned here with what makes some gardens art and others not, I begin with the assumption that art and writings about art, in particular as pertaining to time, can shed light on gardens. This even though the garden may be most illumined by its differences, by that which is inapplicable and incomparable to another art form or work more than by that which is applicable and closely comparable.  Certainly my reason for taking this tack is in part personal.  But if one of the tasks of Aesthetics is to investigate and articulate that which is integral and unique to an art form, a complimentary one is to examine the how and why of the arts similarities and differences.  Moreover, this first assumption dovetails with three others: that examining time and gardens in this way might in turn reflect and illumine time's relation to other arts; that Art is in large part a cultural discourse that transcends any one medium; and that to consciously make a garden that is about time is to make a work of art.

Despite my long preoccupation with time I do not like certain of its aspects- or thinking about them.  I fret over time . . . about how and what it seems to render - simultaneously - possible and impossible.  However, considered more broadly, it attracts me.  If time is an illusion surely it is a fundamental one.  As has been written "Time is a conception to measure eternity".  

To consider time is to also consider timelessness, that which is held as well as that which is unholdable, that which is measured and which is immeasurable.  Gardens are concrete as well as abstract expressions of our graspings and our grasping's limitations. They are small, temporary, definable, sometimes bold, human constructs in a field of indefinable, vibrant, gargantuan and fragile Nature.  They are stored, distilled, static, visual images and muscular, sensorial, kinesthetic unfoldment in the here and now.

Gardens ground time.  In gardens time is manifest, palpable, essential but playful. Uniquely, gardens allow us to glimpse time's density along with its flutterings, to catch human breath and human dance, to discern Nature's palpitations as well as its running up and sending down.

To conceive of gardens without thinking of time is to deny basic truths.  To think about gardens together with time is to almost touch time.
previous 2.JPG
next 2.JPG