“Paradise Found: Gardens of Enchantment” by Clive Nichols (teNeues Publishing Group, 176 pages, 154 color photographs, $55) weaves its magic in a most unusual way. Nichols’ luscious photos — which capture 19 public and private gardens, mostly in England with two in France and one in Italy — are not accompanied by the traditional text. You won’t be learning about their history or how much mulch to use.
Rather the photographs are paired with literary works from the likes of John Milton, Lewis Carroll, Emily Dickinson and Christina Rossetti that serve as complements to the meditation that is the photos.
“The inner life, where dwells the perception of beauty, saw them now for the first time,” Harriet Myrtle writes in “The Water Lily,” an excerpt from which accompanies scenes of Les Confines, a 20-acre site in Provence where a long, terraced, bisque-stucco villa opens onto cypresses, potted cactuses and, yes, water lilies.
“Paradise Found” is about awakening that inner life with a stroll through these pages, which chart the effects of light, architecture, geography, history and the seasons on the formal garden.
Les Confines in the South of France is a very different place from England’s Cerney House Gardens, with its 40 acres of blossoming trees, plum-colored tulips and playful animal statuary in Gloucestershire. And Cerney House in turn is very different from Cliveden in Buckinghamshire, where royals and Astors once strode amid geometric designs and neoclassical fountains of exultant water nymphs and putti.
No distance is as great as time, though, as Tennessee Williams observed in “The Glass Menagerie.” At Herefordshire’s 1,000-acre Hampton Court Castle and Gardens— built by Sir Rowland Lenthall, an in-law of Henry IV, and not to be confused with Hampton Court Palace — winter freezes a sunflower in curling, dried up, colorless old age, like a botanical Miss Havisham.
At intimate (1.5-acre) Pettifers Gardens in Oxfordshire, an icy snow caresses still-green tendrils to the accompaniment of Dickinson’s hypnotic, chilling poem “It Sifts From Leaden Sieves.” The “it” is falling snow, which
“…ruffles wrists of posts,
As ankles of a queen, —
Then stills its artisans like ghosts
Denying they have been.”
Read it aloud, in a whisper. Then read again and shudder.
In winter. For now, it’s spring. Time for gardening, whose glory, the poet Alfred Austin wrote, is “hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just on the body, but the soul.”