design principles derived from analyzing old Italian gardens. His book thus was intended to help contemporaries create beautiful and lasting gardens of their own. More than this, he wanted to articulate the emotions these old gardens evoke, emotions based on the psychology of sensory percep- tion. His book is therefore an analytical essay describing the ingredients that constitute “garden magic.” He hoped that it would be influential in the manner of Francis Bacon’s 1625 essay “On Gardens.”
This was no small ambi- tion. Although some will find Sitwell’s prose too fervid, its sonorities, arresting insights, and obvious passion for the subject make it eminently readable today. British garden writers often have demon- strated a bent toward the polemical, and Sitwell is no exception. In the eighteenth century, there were fiery debates initiated by the theo- rists of the Picturesque who challenged Humphrey Repton’s professed continu- ance of Capability Brown’s landscape style. Closer to Sitwell’s time, the feud between William Robinson and Reginald Blomfield over the respective merits of the preeminently horticultural
garden versus the essentially architectural garden was still raging. Sitwell was anti- Brown and also anti- Picturesque and definitely on the side of Blomfield’s argu- ment for a return to an older, more formal garden style that had been enthusiastically swept away by eighteenth- century Augustan aristocrats and nineteenth-century Victorian garden-makers and their followers on the Conti- nent. However, he was not, like some previous polemi- cists, vitriolic.
In a time when only a few well-chosen black-and-white photographs were interleaved among the pages of a book and color-illustrated coffee- table volumes did not exist, Sitwell used words to paint landscape pictures and describe the sensory impact of gardens on the human mind. Like his contempo- raries, Edith Wharton and Henry James, who also used their formidable descriptive powers to analyze the visual components of the Italian landscape and its effects upon the foreign viewer, Sitwell is a prose stylist. His three favorite gardens are the Villa d’Este in Tivoli, the Villa Lante in Bagnaia, and the Giusti Garden in Verona, and his descriptions of them are literary tours de force. In addition to describing the composite characteristics by which these gardens achieve, in his opinion, a state of total
perfection, he analyzes the successful elements of many others up and down the Italian peninsula.
With Sitwell as our guide in the Giusti Garden, we pass from bright sunshine to cool shade and toil up a steep slope, resting at each level ter- race to gaze at the increasing- ly broad views of garden, city, and distant landscape. This verbal tour is marked by a keen sensibility born of deeply experienced sensory observation mixed with liter- ary allusion. He can also encapsulate the essence of “garden magic” in a single vivid sentence. At Caprarola, for instance, he finds worth admiring only the upper garden of the Barchetto “in the giant guard of sylvan divinities, playing, quarreling, laughing the long centuries away, which rise from the wall of the topmost terrace against the blue distance of an immeasurable amphithe- atre walled in by far-off hills.” Although we may not praise it with the same extravagant emotion, Cardinal Odorado Farnese’s woodland retreat touches in us a responsive chord, and we, too, find our- selves awed by the mysterious synthesis of art and nature in a timeless work of landscape design.
Sitwell did not, as Wharton had done in Italian Villas and their Gardens published
five years earlier, simply describe with able pen a series of Italian gardens and the mood produced by leap- ing fountains, purling cas- cades, still pools, sentinel cypresses, moss-and-lichen- covered stone, and hoary sculptures of mythological deities. Instead, he drew upon his voluminous reading in the then new field of psy- chology to discern the rela- tionship between Mind and Landscape. Like his mentors, Spencer and James, he is in a proto-Jungian way attempting to probe the unconscious and understand the alchemy of perception. And, anticipating the philosophers of phenome- nology, he wants to grasp the nature of space and place in terms of memory and sensory awareness. He shows by his own example how gardens should be experienced with alertness to the messages received by reverie and active employment of all five senses.
The same gardens that were conceived in the Renaissance as encoded itin- eraries of humanism and statements of power have the ability to enchant and impress long after the fasci- nation with the recovered antique past and the authority wielded by the great princes of the Church and City-State have ceased to matter. This is so because they were still in the early twentieth century, when Sitwell wrote (and even more so now in our country- and-city-destroying automo-
bile age), green sanctuaries, realms of calm, places where, mind at rest, one can notice such sights as the undersides of light-struck leaves; discern the varied music of murmur- ing, splashing, and dripping water; feel the touch of cool stone surfaces; smell the scent of sun-warmed hedges of box, resinous pine, and flowering lime trees; and savor food eaten outdoors. (Food is perhaps enjoyed more mindfully in nature, the primary source of all human nourishment, and the plea- sure of outdoor dining in villa gardens on summer evenings was not lost on the ancient Roman consul Lucculus at Frascati or on Cardinal Gambara at Villa Lante and Cardinal d’Este at his villa in Tivoli.)
In Sitwell’s admittedly romantic view, it is the ability of these gardens to conjure in us personal, collective, and fictional memory that make them so much more psycho- logically potent than later gar- dens from which the essential spirit as well as the represen- tations of the old mythologi- cal, symbolical gods have vanished.
The mute past, especially if it extends over many cen- turies, is a source of mystery that feeds the imagination. Time, then, is a sixth sense as
well as a fourth dimension. Sitwell likens a true garden to an opera by Wagner in which several arts are employed in dramatic unity and the setting is one of a distant, myth-and- magic-impregnated primor- dial time. Beyond its ability to stimulate deep unconscious forces of hidden memory, “time is a wayward traveler,” and in the garden it may pause and confer a sense of immortality on the attentive soul and receptive mind because, as Sitwell explains:
In contemplation of the recurring miracle of spring and of that eternal stream of life which is ever flowing before our eyes, we may find that it stands for something more – one of the three things the Greek philosopher thought it lawful to pray for, hope to the dying; for along the thread of time and con- sciousness the individual is never severed from the race.
Discovering a poetics of gardens is difficult, particular- ly in those gardens that have become tourist destinations or public parks, but it is still possible today. In our fast- paced, gregarious, sports- minded culture the pleasures of the garden aesthete will seem laughable to some. Why shouldn’t the contemplative garden stroller be forced to bow before the popular desire