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Beyond Te Papa: Mirrors and Torrents, Water in Historic Gardens

Sunday 24 February 2019, 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm

$15.00 – $25.00

In association with The Arts Society Wellington we bring you the first of our 2 collaborations of 2019 looking at historic gardens from around Europe.

Water features have been a key ingredient of garden layouts since the earliest records. Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli features two canals of immense size, bristling with symbolism in addition to their visual impact. The jardin de plaisir of mediaeval queens was typically focused on a gurgling fountain dividing the little space up into four regions of paradise, just like the courtyard gardens of Moorish Spain with their brimming pools of silent, reflective refreshment. The 17th century was fascinated by technology, turning water into elaborate jets and surprise mechanisms, even generating music. The English landscape garden of the 18th century favoured serpentine lakes below the windows of the house, serenely mirror-like, held in place by ingenious earthworks. Enthusiasts for the Picturesque at the start of the 19th century preferred the thrill of foaming cascades and rattling streams. Victorian industrial progress revived Baroque design ideas, but now magnificently powered by great coal-fired engines in subterranean chambers. Designers continue to devise clever (or disastrous) schemes to make use of the visual and aural qualities of water in the garden: though beset with practical difficulties, the ideal of glittering movement is powerfully appealing to the human mind. This lecture reviews the progress of water through the historic garden in Britain and continental Europe.

Suggestions for background reading:

  • David Jacques: Georgian Gardens Batsford 1983
  • Geoffrey Jellicoe et alia: The Oxford Companion to Gardens Oxford UP 1986 et seq.
  • Monique Mosser et alia: The History of Garden Design Thames & Hudson 1991
  • Judith Chatfield: A Tour of Italian Gardens Ward Lock 1988
  • Torsten Olaf Enger et alia: Garden Architecture in Europe Taschen 1992

Steven Desmond (FCIHort FLS) is a chartered horticulturist specialising in the historic gardens of Britain and Europe. Beginning as a professional gardener, he then taught for 15 years in colleges of horticulture in the north of England. He now divides his time between advisory work, lecturing for the University of Oxford  and to societies, writing for Country Life, and leading specialist tours of historic houses and gardens in Britain, Ireland, France, Germany and Italy. He has completed three lecture tours of Australia for ADFAS.


Beyond Te Papa events are designed to share knowledge from our external relationships that either are recommended through museum staff or are related to museum content.

Image: Versailles gilded latona fountain playing, 2016, Steven Desmond

Includes free parking


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Sunday 24 February 2019
4:00 pm - 5:00 pm
$15.00 – $25.00
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Soundings Theatre, Level 2 Te Papa
55 Cable Street
Wellington, 6011 New Zealand
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Friends of Te Papa
Wellington Decorative of Fine Arts Society