A new leaf Posted on August 18, 2009

Regular readers will have seen my rather shell-shocked reports of two burglaries that have left the garden bereft of some of its principal non-plant ornaments. The second and more serious raid was three weeks ago now, on the very night I went down with flu, but I’m still obsessing, above all about my folly in leaving an ideal barrow where thieves could use it. (They stole it too). Take my advice: lock up your barrows. Everything has a bright side, though, and the absence of long-familiar objects frees up some fossilized notions. I loved the armillary sphere on the front lawn of the house because it was as transparent as it was emphatic. It didn’t block the view; it seemed to focus it. Certainly without it the prospect looks rather inspid. So what shall we put in its place?

I have always loved Pope’s urn, the design done by William Kent for the poet’s Twickenham garden. It is essentially an egg with spiral fluting, two notional handles and an elegant lid. Urns certainly have funerary connotations (the word comes from the Latin urere, to burn) but Kent’s version seems more celebratory than gloomy.

We already have one in place (the thieves stole this in March, too, but we have replaced it; they’ll need a bulldozer to budge it this time). It is on the central axis of the house, beyond the duck pond, 150 yards away at the end of the park, pale against dark holm oaks. We have just decided to install another where the armillary sphere stood, close up under the windows, a strong presence in the front yard, leading the eye to its brother urn in the distance.

The central focus in the walled garden, the stolen Flora’s place, still yearns for her. The brick-paved path now runs uninterrupted from the conservatory door to the kitchen garden, under the iron pergola that was Flora’s canopy. All the perspectives are subtly altered. We have tried a ghost-like wire-work vase there, but it needs a person of a certain size, and in motion, as Flora was, to catch your eye. Or perhaps it just needs me to concentrate on the flowers and forget such showy sentiment.

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