Thursday, May 31, 2007

Beguiled By Grottoes

I have a new fascination. Set off by this book I am reading about Beatrix Potter. The author is describing Beatrix's family estate gardens in Scotland. She goes into great detail and then adds - 'and the best part was a grotto.' A landscape design professor of mine (from England, mind you) had the same take when he mentioned 'grotto.' As if it could be the best part of any garden. Yes, but what exactly IS a grotto?

At first glance, they can look like an rock altar/porch, a simple enclave or an artificial mountain. Sometimes underground or half-underground. Lots of stone, mosaics, running water, shade.

Sometimes they are religious in nature. Some were created to attract fairies and water nymphs. Others were built as a haven to go to during hot summers. Some of them had baths and fountains. With roots in Italian gardens and seaside villages of the 1500's, they were incorporated into the landscapes of France and England in the 1600's and beyond.

One of my landscape design text books described them as "sanctuaries for poets" and "places to contemplate the universe." It adds, "The subterranean location creates a cool place to sit or find shelter from the wind."

And then, the book continues, "Natural materials such as stone suggest the permanence and continuance of the greater universe." Holy Toledo. The gardening-is-larger-than-life philosophy. Dig it.

Why am I so intrigued by the grotto? Is it the cave-thing? The dark, mossy-thing? The mysterious spot that you happen upon while wandering around some estate-thing? The water and rock elements?

Grottoes are just a little spooky with a dash of enchanting. Right up my alley.

Naturally (and irrationally - of course), I now want one.


*These photos are from a wonderful site - The Pulham Garden Legacy - dedicated to the landscape design work of the 19th and 20th century English gardener James Pulham. The book I quoted is Planting the Landscape by Nancy A. Leszczynski.


Pam/Digging said...

Maybe grottoes appeal to the child in each of us, who wants a hiding place that is protected and mysterious but not too isolated?

Tracey said...

Absolutely! Well said, Pam.

swampkris said...

looks like a good way to hide from the heat of another oppressive Virginia summer. I'd stay in there with the moss and salamanders till the end of September if I could.

Tracey said...

Lordy, Kris. What a visual. I love it.