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Mirrors and Torrents: Water in Historic Gardens

Mirrors and Torrents: Water in Historic Gardens

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  • Sun 24 Feb ’19, 4:00pm – 5:00pm


Soundings Theatre, Te Papa, 55 Cable Street, Wellington


All Ages Licensed

Ticket Information:

  • Public: $25.00
  • Members (Friends of Te Papa & WeDFAS): $15.00

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.

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.

This event is presented in association with Wellington Decorative of Fine Arts Society. Doorsales will also be available outside the theatre from 3pm on the day.

Feature image: Detail from: Versailles gilded latona fountain playing, 2016, Steven Desmond

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