OH NATUREL

Planting seeds in the garden of earthly delights

Ever since Eve tempted Adam – or so he said, the wimp, blaming the wife – nature in general and gardens in particular have been the settings for hot, moist, steamy, liquid sex.

Makes sense when you think about it – all that flora and fauna, those birds and bees, pistils and stamens and other good things you learned in school and soon forgot.

The celebrated – from kings and conquerors to artists and writers – remembered. Nebuchadnezzar II was said to have built the Hanging Gardens of Babylon to soothe his wife, Amytis of Media, who pined for the lush terraces of her homeland. Heads of state have often used horticultural imagery to woo their wives. Napoleon wrote Josephine letters expressing how he longed to romp in her garden. I don’t think he was talking about the rose garden at Malmaison, their home outside Paris.

Napoleon’s snappy come-on is reminiscent of the sentiment in Thomas Mann’s “Joseph” novels, in which Potiphar’s cougar of a wife yearns for hunky, virginal Joseph to water her field. Right.

Literature, which likes to speak of love in bloom and virgins deflowered, has always known what to do with and in a garden – be it the “Roman de la Rose,” the medieval French poem in which a young man courts his beloved in a secret walled garden, or John Berendt’s nonfiction novel “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” in which Savannah’s ripe greenery becomes a metaphor for all kinds of funky stuff.

Recently, movies and television have picked up the spade to plumb one of the favorite female fantasies – the gardener who transforms the woman’s space and then her uptight (sex) life. Witness the beguiling Simon Baker – now starring in CBS’ “The Mentalist” – in the charming “Something New,’’ persuading a stunning, high-powered financial exec (Sanaa Lathan) to let down her bougainvillea. And aren’t we thrilled that brittle but glamorous pathologist Megan Hunt (Dana Delaney) now has a gorgeous, super-understanding landscape architect-boyfriend, Aiden Wells (Jamie Bamber), to till her, ah, troubled soul in ABC’s “Body of Proof”?

Like Ken Doll, Nancy Drew’s boyfriend, Ned Nickerson, and Hello Kitty’s beau, Dear Daniel, Aiden gives all and expects nothing. In other words, he’s completely fictitious.

With all that tilling and watering, it’s no wonder that people are sometimes au naturel in nature – at least in art. All those frolicking gods and goddesses at Roman villas, French palaces and even the great American estates like Kykuit in Pocantico Hills. Not to mention put-upon biblical heroines like Susannah and Bathsheba, who look mighty fetching being spied upon in their garden baths.

Still, nudity can come as something of a shock in nature, as it does still in Édouard Manet’s “Le déjeuner sur l’herbe” (“The Luncheon on the Grass”), an 1862-63 oil on canvas that casually juxtaposes a nude woman and two fully clothed men picnicking in a grove while a woman in a diaphanous chemise bathes in a background stream. That’s Manet’s brother, Gustave, and brother-in-law, Ferdinand Leenhoff, as the men, with the nude woman a composite of the artist’s wife, Suzanne Leenhoff, and favorite model, Victorine Meurent.

The way the strap slips from the backdrop woman’s chemise and the fruit and bread tumble from a basket in the foreground suggests that more things are being loosened than lunch.

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