The Hanging Gardens of Moscow
London has the Chelsea Flower Show, and now Moscow, not to be outdone, has just had it’s annual Garden Week, an exhibition dedicated to the art of landscape design and of creating a garden.
There are no other similar events in Russia, and this is the first Russian exhibition which presents gardens as finished projects. Not very many gardens were being presented, but each one of them was very different, and they were all of a very high quality.
The theme for this year’s Garden Week was “Classics and Avant-Garde.” The organisers do not mention it, but the site of the exhibition itself is rich with gardening history. The building that now houses the All-Russia Museum of Decorative, Applied and Folk Arts was formerly the estate of the Counts Ostermann.
The Streshnev family were the first owners of this estate, dating back to the 1660s, and the house used to be called “The Streshnevs Vegetable Garden”. By 1739 the estate had passed to Vasily I. Streshnev (1707-1782) and the first stone buildings were added, transforming the manor-house into one of the best in Moscow, with a typical Russian estate layout.
Ivan A. Ostermann (1725-1811), Vasily Streshnev’s nephew, and the first Count Ostermann, who inherited the estate in 1782, immediately started its reconstruction. It resulted in the present appearance of the house. The courtyard was embellished with two decorative ponds, and a beautiful garden laid out in the Romantic English style on the other side of the palace was very popular with guests of Count Ostermann.
The decorative ponds have disappeared and all that remains today of the garden and park are the trees; but they added their own historical canopy to the show gardens, which were laid out in only ten days before the opening of the exhibition. More by coincidence we think than by design, the centerpieces of the two central gardens were two ornamental ponds.
We visited first The Haven, created by Robin Templar-Williams. What we liked most about this garden was the way in which it worked both as a garden for a townhouse and for a dacha. Also, it was a garden with a surprise around every corner. This was deliberate, as Robin himself explained: “A garden has to work inside and outside. The Haven is one garden, but with three spaces, two static, one dynamic. There is always something to lead you on. I designed the final section of the garden specifically for the kinetic sculpture designed by the young English sculptor Ivan Black. The circular wall, with its gaps, allows people to see into and out of the space, and also to draw them into it.” It was the talking point of the garden, and Black had many enquiries.
Next door was a garden designed by Julia Sizyuk and Julia Ovchinikova. It was similar in style to that of The Haven, in that there were very few flowers, and green was the predominant colour. What gave this garden its distinctive look were the glass globes bobbing in the pond, an idea which was taken perhaps too far with the addition of a machine blowing bubbles. But it was also a very static garden: you walked into it, looked around, and then walked out.
Almost every visitor to the exhibition, with a camera, was photographing “Semiramis’ Heritage”, a very dramatic garden designed by Elena Sidina. The idea here was clearly to reincarnate the legend of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and there was a wonderful lush quality to this corner space. There was a bright palette of flowers – irises, weigela, astilba, lonicera – and even the shrubs were chosen for their luminous colours.
And so to the Malevich garden, with its trees wrapped in coloured bandages, and its Suprematist Performances. This is not a garden about plants and flowers as such – which species look best and where – but about the “dynamics of colour perception.” The four creators of the garden told us that it “has nothing to do with nature”; which, if you think about it, fits well in Moscow.
The exhibition ran for only a very short time, and has now ended; but if you are in the market for a garden, here are the details of the landscape gardening companies we liked best:
- Harpak (responsible for The Haven), 25 Timiryazevskaya,
Moscow. Tel. (095) 977 5100
- Ivan Black (creator of the kinetic sculpture in The Haven):
- Europark (responsible for the garden created by Julia Sizyuk
and Julia Ovchinikova), tel. (095) 777 4855,
- Plant World (responsible for “Semiramis Heritage”),
10 Letinkovskaya Street, Building 4, Moscow.
Tel. (095) 235 7639, website: www.rastmir.ru
- OOO Kvadrat-M (responsible for the Malevich garden),
4a Chertanavo-Severnoe, Moscow. Tel. (095) 318 1472,