New accessible path to the Middle Oconee River at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, Athens

In late February, 2021, Mike and I visited the new accessible path to an overlook viewing the Middle Oconee River.

Paved pathways through the State Botanical Garden of Georgia’s many display gardens are accessible, even the hillside Shade Garden, built before the ADA Act. A new pedestrian entrance with an elevator provides access from the main parking area, plus an overlook to the Visitor Center, new Center for Art and Nature Porcelain and Decorative Arts Museum, and the lower entry plaza that unites both. A visitor can borrow a scooter or wheelchair while the visitor center is open to discover the buildings and gardens.

But this new path brings accessibility into natural areas and the river that forms one boundary of the 313-acre botanical garden. The path led us from a small parking lot into an open area flanked by tall trees, through grassy lowlands with some standing water (there had been rain earlier that week, but the raised walk was dry), and to an overlook with a view of the Middle Oconee River.

Mike’s scooter comes apart and fits into our trunk – so useful for garden visits and discovering new places. He had spent time in town on the scooter before coming, so it only had enough battery life left to get to the overlook and back from the small parking lot below the Shade Garden, quite a distance.  I heartily suggest discovering this feature from the small parking lot at one end of this new trail. I would then move the car to accessible parking near the main pedestrian entrance to enjoy the display gardens and buildings.

Both Mike and I have worked at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia; I recently retired after 16 years there. So as we walked this path we understood how much work had been done over the years to reclaim some of this area from invasive privet and create this lowland habitat. There is still a lot of privet in the area, as can be seen from the network of over five miles of unpaved nature trails that connect to the overlook and small parking lot, but the botanical garden is doing an admirable job reducing privet and other invasives from natural areas. Invasive plants are a very formidable adversary.

One of the most charming features of the small overlook is the number of people who come off the trails here or pass by during their trail runs. Whether you only catch their eye or chat a bit, there is a moment of warmth and friendliness.

 

Thank you for reading. Please take a moment to subscribe to my free, weekly Love Notes From the Garden:  short, informative and often humorous emails. Subscription link is on my home page. 

A tree is often so much more than a tree.

Let me tell you about a tree with a rich history – in my life too. When I was in third grade (1969) I excitedly told my father about Ginkgo biloba, a tree that was discovered in China that nobody knew existed. It was a beautiful tree with a unique leaf and was proof that there were still many things in this world to be discovered and understood. Well, my dad and I enjoyed being fellow plant geeks and before I knew it we had a Ginkgo planted in our back yard. Whenever I visit my family I stay in that childhood home with that 50 year old Ginkgo tree. Now that house is being sold, but I live with another plant geek. We have leaves from sentimental Gingko trees pressed into our sidewalk, including leaves from my beloved childhood tree. We have Gingkos in the ground and in containers. We have Gingko leaves pressed into books and in artwork decorating our walls, and I have sentimental Gingko jewelry.

There are several messages woven into this story:
– Adults have the power to encourage curiosity and a love of nature and gardening.
– A tree you plant can outlive you and bring memories to those you love and beauty, shade and habitat to people and creatures you will never see.
– Yes, this is the same Ginkgo biloba sold in health food stores. Doesn’t that make you wonder about conservation of native plants and habitats in our region? Could the cure for Alzheimer’s or cancer be in a plant that is found in only one small area?
– Gingkos are really cool trees. They are slow growers, but stately and often used as street trees. You will want a male plant or sterile cultivar to avoid messy, stinky fruit. And this is the time of year that this tree drops its leaves. Just because this tree is historic and dignified doesn’t mean it’s not playful. A few leaves start to drop and then – Whoosh! – in one day every leaf falls from this tree, leaving the most amazing carpet of golden leaves.

Gardening in Dry Shade 

Note: This is my Love Note From the Garden sent to subscribers on Feb. 14, 2021.

I am helping a friend expand her garden to create a plaza for outdoor parties. Her garden is almost exclusively shaded by deciduous trees in Zone 7. My first instinct in creating her plant list is to look at gardens: what is doing well in her garden (and saving on her budget by dividing proven perennials), the garden in my mother’s house a few miles down the road, and my own Zone 8 garden

No matter how drought tolerant, new plants need supplemental water through the first year and during extended dry spells. Also, every plant gets a ceremonial “Welcome to my Garden” spritz of deer spray when planted. If not, a deer may pull the plant out to taste test.

There are many wonderful shade plants. Among the toughest and most delightful in my garden are:

Epimedium ‘Pink Champagne’ (Zones 5-8, evergreen, 18” T x 30” W, deer resistant) –This should be by a bench or path, to appreciate the small, elegant blooms close-up.

Ajuga reptans ‘Burgundy Glow’

Ajuga (Bugleweed, Zones 3-10, under 6”) – So many cultivars are available of this low, evergreen groundcover. Since they thrive in my shade garden, I have a collection.

Sarcoccoa hookeriana var. humilis (Himalayan Sweet Box, evergreen, 12” T x 36”W, deer resistant) – I just shared some of this evergreen weedchoking groundcover with friends. Other Sweet Box species available mature into 3’-5’ evergreen shrubs. These Boxwood relatives have tiny fragrant winter blooms and spread by stolons.

Ruscus ‘Elizabeth Lawrence’ (Butcher’s Broom, Zones 7-9, evergreen, 2’ T x W, deer resistant) – This tiny shrub was originally found in Elizabeth Lawrence’s garden. My plant was given to me by Sam Jones at Piccadilly Farms, Bishop, GA, over a decade ago and is covered with red berries and painfully sharp leaves. I have a three-foot tall Ruscus too, which is tough as nails and painful when touched. I love them, but sometimes love hurts.

Danae racemosa (Poet’s Laurel, Zones 7-9, evergreen,3’ T x 4’ W) – OK, if Ruscus is too tough for you, consider the elegant, soft Poet’s Laurel, three feet tall with red berries and bright green foliage. Mine is growing in a never-saw-a-ray-of-sunshine deep shade. Flower arrangers love the arching branches. Probably the least drought-tolerant on this list, but a mature plant is tough.

Carex oshimensis Evercolor ‘Everillo’

Carex oshimensis Evercolor ‘Everillo’ (Japanese Sedge, Zones 5-9, 16”H x 16”T) – There are many golden Carexes, but this one grabs attention in my garden, adding a bright gold, fine textured, grassy foliage.

Daffodils – Great to mix with the plants that sleep through the winter to bring more color into the garden

About time for a native plant, don’t you think? Here are a few:

Spigelia marilandica  (Indian Pink, Zones 6-9, winter dormancy, 14” T x 14” W, U.S. NATIVE) – I add a couple of these each year to my shade garden and will water them  because they are among my very favorites. So I don’t test them as much as the others. This long-lived perennial offers lots of blooms in a vivid Pop Art red/yellow combo that hummingbirds and butterflies love.

Aquilegia canadensis (Columbine, Zones 3b-8 , winter dormancy, up to 3’,U.S. NATIVE) – These may look delicate, but they are tough. They also have a way of reseeding and filling in gaps in the garden. I think it is charming, showing me that nature often does what she darn well pleases.

Hydrangea quercifolia (Oakleaf Hydrangea, Zones 5-9, winter dormancy, large shrub of various sizes, U.S. NATIVE) – The quintessential four-season shrub, offering peeling, sculptura;, bare branches in winter and dramatic bloom clusters and huge green leaves that turn red in fall.

Bearded Iris – Whaaat? Those are full sun plants. Of course, the iris under the dense, very dry shade of my red maple never blooms. But it does add a fun, upright sword-leaf texture contrast.

Avoid English ivy, Arum and Vinca; these are terribly invasive, and you will regret planting them! A plant can be too tough.

Here a couple resources to discover more dry shade plants:

The Missouri Botanical Garden’s website is a wealth of information, including their article on ProblemSolver Plants for Dry Shade.

Fine Gardening Magazine offers this free 1-1/2 hour webinar on Truly Tough Plants for Dry Shade, with three experts discussing why they like each plant and showing numerous photos in garden settings. All three live in the Northeast but list growing zones for each plant. Just make sure you know your growing zone and are ready to take notes before you start watching.

Notes:

None of these links are affiliate links. I’m just leading you to more information.

Have you subscribed to Love Notes From the Garden? Click on the link on this page and you could be getting weekly emails like this.

Dividing Solomon’s Seal

It all started with an email from Plant Delights Nursery, Inc. in Raleigh, N.C., listing Tony Avent’s favorite plants. One of the plants highlighted was Gigantic Hybrid Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum x hybridum ‘Giganteum’.) Honestly, I am not sure if this 30” high plant is the plant I bought when I visited this nursery in 2009 or if my plant is the 36” high Polygonatum infundiflorum ‘Lemon Seoul’. Both are dramatic, deer-resistant shade plants around hip to waist high. Mine now covers a 3’x4’ area under the pecan tree. Of course, Solomon’s Seal is dormant in January, so that area looks like brown mulch now.

That email also linked to a video that showed how to divide Solomon’s Seal. Easy-peasy. If you plant a root piece with a bud, foliage will emerge next year; if you plant a piece of the root without a bud, give it until next year to see foliage. It took an hour to run outside with a shovel and some labeled plant tags (I am better about labeling my plants now, but still blame the years with plant-tag-flinging, free-range, but so endearing chickens for losing precious information.) Soon I had four of these very handy containers planted and set on the tailgate of my little red truck for friends to pick up.

Many gardeners grow the easier-to-find Variegated Solomon’s Seal, about half the height but with white splashes on the green leaves that brighten a shade garden. I also have a petite Solomon’s Seal that is about 3” tall in my garden and Plant Delights offers one that is 60” tall. Plant Delights also offers this 22-minute video that talks about different Solomon’s Seals. Warning: may cause one to become a collector.

Love Note From the Garden – Christmas Fern

This is the text from a recent Love Note From the Garden. See the original note at: https://mailchi.mp/6a7bea9a315d/christmas-fern

A fern that is native, deer resistant and evergreen – who wouldn’t want one (or a bunch) in their shade garden?

Yep, that’s me – Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) – native to the Eastern United States, thriving in dry to medium moisture in shade. Just don’t plant me in poorly drained sites, because that will rot my roots and kill me. Hey, I even look a bit tough, with leathery evergreen leaves.

If you already have a large Christmas fern, you could divide it into several plants and create a mass planting when the new growth just starts to show.

Creating a one to two foot tall clump, I would look great at the base of native azaleas, or as an evergreen backdrop to colorful coral bells. Tall daffodils can be planted among ferns, popping up as I rejuvenate myself with new spring foliage.

You know what else I can do? Stabilize a shady slope. You see, in winter my evergreen fronds lay a bit flat, holding leaves into place to create a blanket that fights erosion and eventually breaks down to create more soil  I’m sure you can think of a spot in your garden for me.

Love,
Christmas Fern

Garden events, talks and webinars can be found on my garden events calendar: https://tinyurl.com/garden-events.

Hope you enjoyed this Love Note! Feel free to share this email with a friend who would enjoy it and tell them that they can subscribe for free at conniecottingham.com. Hop over to Instagram for more garden photos and follow Love Notes From the Garden on Facebook.

Upcoming online talks feature garden celebrities and new garden books

I am so excited – feels like I just opened a stack of Christmas presents! While researching garden events this morning, I found a treasure trove of virtual events and ended up registering for six webinars (many with garden celebrities), plus three 2020 coffee table gardening books – all for under $100. Half of the events are free.

 

This afternoon I will be speaking as part of the Georgia Master Gardener Annual meeting. After that, I am all in for learning from others at this conference and these webinars. You can find all of these and more are on my website calendar (tinyurl.com/garden-events), but I am sharing direct links for you below.

 

First, there are three free webinars in the next three days:

 

Saturday, November 14, 11 a.m.              The Charleston to Charleston Literary Festival

Nature’s Cure

Monty Don, Britain’s treasured horticulturist, author, and broadcaster, and Sue Stuart–Smith, prominent psychiatrist and psychotherapist, reflect on the life-affirming capacity of gardening and nature to soothe troubled minds in our disturbing world. Part of The Charleston to Charleston Literary Festival.

 

Sunday, November 15, 2 p.m.

Rebirth

OK, this one is not gardening, but looks interesting: Is it possible that the arts could not only survive, but emerge from the COVID crisis and recent social unrest stronger than before? Cultural leaders from the US and UK re-imagine the future of their art forms.

 

Monday, November 16, 7 p.m.

Jared Barnes: Perennials that are huge both in size and in personality

The world is getting smaller! With more globalization, more efficient technology, and more people, small is now the big thing. Gardening is following the trend as breeders and plant companies select miniature models of plants and pixies for the patio. But, in an ever-shrinking world, we horticulturists shouldn’t forget the friendly giants of the landscape. Jared Barnes will share perennials that are huge both in size and in personality and show how to incorporate them into gardens both big and small. This free event is a partnership with the Georgia Perennial Plant Association and the Atlanta History Center.

 

Second, The Garden Conservancy has a Fall 2020 Literary Series that is amazing; we have watched two episodes already. Not only did I just sign up for all three remaining talks, but I am going for the opportunity to get the corresponding book mailed to me a week ahead at an amazing price.

 

Note from GC: Webinars will be presented via Zoom. Links will be sent to registered attendees on the morning of each webinar. If you cannot join us for the live webinar, we still encourage you to register! A link to a recording of the webinar will be emailed to registrants in the days following the session.

 

November 19, 2 p.m.     $40 for the book and talk, $15 for just the Zoom talk

Larry Lederman, Garden Portraits: Experiences of Natural Beauty

Garden Portraits: Experiences of Natural Beauty, a painterly collection of sixteen magnificent and diverse landscapes, is the sixth botanical photography book from Larry Lederman, the photographer of the New York Botanical Garden.

 

December 3, 2 p.m.        $28 for the book and talk, $15 for just the Zoom talk

Dan Hinkley, Windcliff: A Story of People, Plants, and Gardens

Windcliff: A Story of People, Plants, and Gardens follows the course of Dan Hinkley’s plant-obsessed life as he developed his latest garden on a high bluff overlooking Puget Sound in Indianola, WA. As he reflects on his property, he also reflects upon the principles of good horticulture gathered from over five decades of gardening.

 

December 17, 2 p.m.     $28 for the book and talk, $15 for just the Zoom talk

Renny Reynolds, Chasing Eden: Design Inspiration from the Gardens at Hortulus Farm

Chasing Eden: Design Inspiration from the Gardens at Hortulus Farm (Timber Press, January 2020) is a lavishly illustrated roadmap to creating a personal Eden. Together with his late partner, Jack Staub, Renny Reynolds created Hortulus Farm Garden and nursery, a 100-acre 18th-century farmstead and nursery in the rolling hills of Bucks County, PA. Hortulus Farm is not only a model of classical gardening and design teners, but also a showcase of how traditions can successfully be broken.

 

You can also stream their summer series of speakers for free.  Thank you, Garden Conservancy!

 

Third, GardenComm is selling tickets for an on-demand play that you can stream anytime Dec. 3-6.

 

Betrothal is a 35-minute comedy about two iris growers who meet at a competition under a tent during a rainstorm. Natalie and Joe Carmolli will perform in the play by Lanford Wilson, which will be videoed by Adriana Robinson of Spring Meadow Nursery. Pat Stone, publisher of GreenPrints, will entertain with a musical introduction.

 

I hope this inspires you. My geeky little heart was racing as I found more and more ways to see gardens and learn about gardening. It felt like presents were dropping from the internet cloud.

 

OK, my registrations are in, all is on my calendar. Alexa, add popcorn to my shopping list.

Every door prize at this virtual garden conference is a winner – and many are worth more than the registration fee.

This week I wrote the descriptions for over a dozen door prizes offered as part of the virtual 2020 Georgia Master Gardener Association Conference. This conference includes home garden tours led by Allan Armitage, Mike Dirr and Coach Vince Dooley, plus six live garden talks. Click here for registration and more information about the conference  Anyone can attend. Please share with your gardening friends. This conference would be especially interesting to Southeastern U.S. gardeners.

Back to the door prizes… It seemed rather dry to just add promo copy to the descriptions, so I decided to share why I wanted to win each prize (except the books – they are great, but already in our library!), and link to more information and purchase opportunities (because we can each win only one at best.)

 

Herbaceous Perennial Plants, 4th Edition, by Allan Armitage (signed!)

Value:                 $80

More info/buy: http://www.allanarmitage.net/shop

One thousand plus pages of information about perennials, hot off the press with current and tried-and-true varieties and cultivars, at your fingertips. Beware though – you will find yourself looking up a particular plant then lost in the engaging text for a while. Here is a recent review I wrote about this book.

 

Gardening with Grains, by Brie Arthur (signed!), plus two seed packets

Value:                 $36

More info/buy: https://www.briegrows.com/shop

Perfect timing! Grains are cool-season… hmmm…  crops? ornamentals? BOTH! Learn more with her new book and two packets of wheat seeds – Soft White and Bronze Chief.

 

The Foodscape Revolution, by Brie Arthur (signed!), plus two seed packets

Value:                 $34

More info/buy: https://www.briegrows.com/shop

Brie is such an energetic and inspiring speaker that you want to know more about Foodscaping – and you will with her first book. Two packets of Brie’s Soft White wheat seeds will get you out into the garden to plant.

Donated by Brie Arthur.

 

Seven Steps to an Organic Garden, by Mike Cunningham

Value:                 $15

More info/buy: https://tinyurl.com/yyqj54yg (book),  https://countrygardensfarm.com/

Mike and Judy Cunningham, “The Teaching Farmers”, and their family run a 150-acre farm and CSA with vegetables that are Certified Naturally Grown. Taking a class at their Newnan Farm to learn about cooking, gardening or food preservation is on my bucket list, so I watch their Facebook page to find out when the classes will start again post-COVID.

 

Hydrangeas for American Gardens, by Michael A. Dirr (signed!)

Value:                 $45

More info/buy:  https://tinyurl.com/y3k3797v

Hydrangeas are signature Southern plants. A Hydrangea collection can include sun and shade plants, native and exotic plants, blooms from spring to fall, plus amazing fall color and winter bark. With this book you can learn more about the hydrangeas in your garden and make plans to expand your collection.

Donated by Mike Dirr.

 

Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, by Michael Dirr (signed!)

Value:                 $82

More info/buy: https://tinyurl.com/y3k3797v

Who knows more about woody plants than Mike Dirr? A virtual tour of his garden and his signed iconic reference on your shelf – Score!

Donated by Mike Dirr.

 

Dooley’s Playbook: The 34 Most Memorable Plays in Georgia Football History, by Vince Dooley (signed!)

Value:                 $35

More info/buy: https://tinyurl.com/y23pfpdl

Southerners love football and Georgia fans love Vince Dooley. Vince will be touring us through his home garden as part of this virtual conference. Did you know he is quite the gardener, with a hydrangea named for him? You want this SIGNED book because, although it is his most recent of many books, it is already sold out.

Donated by Vince Dooley.

 

Field Guide to the Wildflowers of Georgia, by Linda Chafin

Value:                 $33

More info/buy: https://tinyurl.com/y4cjkytr

Field Guide to the Wildflowers of Georgia and Surrounding States is the first field guide devoted exclusively to Georgia’s wildflowers, while also including many plants found in neighboring states. This is a great reference to identify plants or learn more about native plants to add to your landscape.

 

Clematis Abilene

Value:                 $29

More info/buy: https://www.brushwoodnursery.com/

Clematis Abilene has rich, pink two-tone blooms. The flowers are up to 6 inches across and very full at maturity, but the plant remains compact and suited to smaller spaces and container culture.

Brushwood Nursery is known nationwide for their Clematis and consistently in the Top 5 in their category at The Garden Watchdog.

Donated by Dan Long, Brushwood Nursery.

 

Antique Glass Garden Art

Value:                 $50

These hand-crafted flowers are created from antique glassware, each one a unique design. The winner will have a glass flower shipped to them with instructions on purchasing a metal support locally to install it at just the right height for their garden.

Donated by Carol Martinese.

 

45-Minute Online Landscape Consultation

Value:                 $80

More info/buy: https://clifrbroc.wixsite.com/mysite

 

Cliff Brock was the curator of the State Botanical Garden of Georgia’s flower garden before spending a year in Oregon and then returning to Newnan, GA. Cliff knows plants so very well and, like many gardeners, has many talents. He is also a composer and pianist, as well as a writer and photographer (check out his blog here.) A 45-minute virtual consultation, offering design ideas and giving plant maintenance advice – well, that would be amazing.

Donated by Cliff Brock.

 

Encore Azaleas Gift Certificate

Value:                 $40

More info:          https://www.encoreazalea.com/gardening/article/encore-azalea-brochure, www.facebook.com/EncoreAzalea

Encore® Azaleas are the bestselling multi-season blooming azalea in the world with over 30 varieties. Won’t it be fun to add a few to your garden?

Donated by Flowerwood Nursery.

 

Southern Living Plant Collection Gift Certificate

Value:                 $40

More info:          https://southernlivingplants.com/about-us/brochure/, www.facebook.com/SouthernLivingPlantCollection

The Southern Living Plant Collection by Flowerwood Nursery includes over 60 varieties of trees, shrubs, bulbs, annuals, perennials, and ornamental grasses. You will have fun with this gift certificate!

Donated by Flowerwood Nursery.

BOOK REVIEW – Herbaceous Perennial Plants

This summer Allan Armitage released the 4th edition of “Herbaceous Perennial Plants: A Treatise on their Identification, Culture, and Garden Attributes”.

As a garden writer and Master Gardener I am excited about this new edition, a 1,000+ page treatise. I do a lot of internet searches.  I also turn to books. Armitage’s writing tells stories and includes friendly growing advice. He gives personality to the plants. This gets personal: instead of providing only facts, it makes me want to bring these endearing or exciting plants into my garden. And when a plant from a garden center or plant sale performs well in my garden, relaxing with this book (yes, one can definitely curl up with this hefty reference book) introduces me to the plant’s relatives and begi ns the quest for a plant collection.

When I write about perennials, “Herbaceous Perennial Plants” is the first book I turn to, to the point that I can twist in my office chair and lay my hands on a copy as a reflex action. This new edition arrives twelve years after the last edition, 31 years after the first edition, and 23 years after the American Horticulture Society named it one of “75 Great American Garden Books in the last 75 Years”.  It not only contains numerous new species and cultivars, but updated information resulting from years of growing the now go-to varieties that fill garden centers. It also discusses changing nomenclature and invasive plants.

Herbaceous Perennial Plants

A Treatise on their Identification, Culture, and Garden Attributes

by Allan Armitage

1090 pages. Stipes Publishing, $79.80 softbound, $89.80 hardbound.

Available at allanarmitage.net and booksellers.

The Earth in Her Hands

July is hot, isn’t it? On hot summer days, it is best to garden in the early mornings, when the air is cooler and there are more shadows. In the afternoon, we often choose to stay indoors.
May I recommend pouring yourself a cup or glass of tea (Did you grow that mint?) and spend some time with inspiring women. Imagine sitting in a conservatory full of orchids and talking about gardening with a few lovely women. Well, here is an invitation to spend about 40 minutes in a conversation between Jennifer Jewell, author of The Earth in Her Hands, and writer Jamaica Kincaid. Their environment is beautiful, their voices soothing, their conversation inspiring.
The Earth in Her Hands: 75 Extraordinary Women Working in the World of Plants includes a profile of Jamaica Kincaid. This book is easy to pick up and read for a few minutes at a time.

Jennifer Jewell is also the host of Cultivating Place, an NPR podcast that blends society, history and gardening. Her calming voice can keep you company and keep you informed as you are weeding, crafting, running errands or organizing a closet.

I have started reading books with my morning coffee instead of looking at a computer screen right off. I often start my reading learning about one or two women, then switching to a chapter or two of another book. I love books that profile inspiring women. If you do too, look also at She and In the Company of Women (which includes women from my town of Athens, GA). These books are too heavy for a hammock, but great for a rocker on the screened-in porch.

In case the links do not work for you:
Video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wFttRtK__wc
Enjoy!

Pretty good movie but – oh my! – that iconic garden!

 Note: This is an edited reprint of a newspaper article I wrote in Nov. 2006, shortly after this movie was released. 

Landscape history can be seen on the big screen

My husband and I went to see “Marie Antoinette” last weekend. The movie had exquisite costumes and an engaging story but also was rich in period landscapes – or at least one landscape: Versailles. I have not been to Versailles, but I have read quite a bit about the iconic gardens. I thought I’d share some of the trivia that makes watching this movie (and these beautiful gardens) more interesting. Most of the garden scenes are in the last part of the movie.

In 1661, France’s financial secretary held a lavish celebration at his chateau and gardens at Vaux-le-Vicomte. Among the guests enjoying feasts, a play, fireworks and music was 23-year-old King Louis XIV. At this time, gardens were seen as pleasure grounds and places to entertain guests. One garden historian also said this was when “garden design in France discovered a style of its own.” This formal French garden design consisted of strong geometry, elaborate parterres of pruned hedges, broad walkways, statues, elaborate fountains and woodlands. The story goes that Louis was furious that an ostentatious finance minister upstaged him with a chateau and gardens better than anything he had. Records state that the minister was arrested within three weeks and stayed imprisoned for the rest of his life.

The king then had the designer of the gardens, Andre LeNotre, start work on transforming the grounds of his modest hunting lodge at Versailles into the elaborate gardens shown in “Marie Antoinette”. This project took six years to design and the remaining five decades of LeNotre’s life to fine-tune.

One of LeNotre’s interests was hydraulics. It may seem the fountains are just turned each morning, but remember the electric pump had not been invented. First, waterwheels and pumps brought water uphill from the River Seine to aqueducts, then into tanks and reservoirs miles away. Water was released, run through pipes by gravity, then constricted into smaller pipes to create pressure. The shape of the spout determined the direction and effects of water displays. Thirty-two of Versailles’ pools include hydraulic effects. When the King was coming down the road, fountain guards would whistle so servants could release the water and get the fountains running. The French, who lived in relatively flat terrain, had to work hard to create great fountains. Nobody could have them run all day, every day. So the fountains were also designed as great sculptural elements that looked good even when the water wasn’t running.

When the fountains did run, Louis XIV wanted drama. The Neptune fountain has 58 spouts. Much of the water ended up in a cross-shaped canal, one mile long and two-thirds of a mile wide. To the visitor it appeared endless, a symbol of the immense power of Louis XIV.

Louis XIV was so involved in the gardens that he wrote a guidebook on how they should be viewed. And viewed they were: From 3,000 to 10,000 people may have been in Versailles on any day. Although photos of Versailles usually show one huge chateau behind dramatic gardens, it actually was a city in itself, with quarters for guests, staff and horses, plus areas to raise food to feed everyone. Hunts would take place in the surrounding woods of the 15,000-acre estate.

After Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette are crowned in the film (after 59 years of Louis XV’s reign), they walk outside, where wooden ships fire cannons in a mock battle. No, the French Royal Navy has not sailed in to help celebrate; these ships are in the canal for the sole purpose of creating amusing mock battles. A 1710 illustration in one of my books shows four sailing ships. Talk about a pricey water feature.

Note: When I watched this again in 2020, I remembered this sketch that I had seen in the Richard Russell Library on the UGA Campus. Marie Antoinette wears this or a similar headpiece in the movie. 

Another scene shows Louis XVI with an elephant. The Menagerie was started in one of the earliest stages of Versailles’ redevelopment, perhaps as early as 1662. It was a working farm that provided butter, etc., designed to also serve as a place to view country life and animals. At first it contained mainly farm animals, with some fish and exotic birds. A central plaza was lined with gates into several animal enclosures. When the Grand Canal was created a few years later, boat rides to the Menagerie became popular with guests. Exotic animals, such as an elephant and rhinoceros, were added in the early 18th century.

In the 1780s Louis XVI did build a “little” getaway for Marie Antoinette, a bucolic lakeside village in a Normandy style that previewed a future landscape style mimicking romantic country scenes.

It’s hard to imagine the magnitude of these gardens and life under the reign of people who ruled nations in their early 20s. We have a better supply of food, indoor plumbing, air conditioning, lots more books and much more comfortable clothing. I think I’d rather stay in this century.