Throughout North American and Western Europe sit numerous cottages, cathedrals and every manner of building in between that is classified as Gothic; or as High Victorian Gothic, Gothic Revival, Neo-Gothic, or even Collegiate Gothic. Clearly, this style and its progenies have stirred the imagination. One could surely assume that attached to such a building somewhere would be a gothic garden.
I was so certain this was true . I was convinced the location of such a garden was only a temporary mystery. Yet, a diligent search produced not a one. With my hopes only slightly dashed, I decided to change my tactics and consider what might best define a gothic garden if such a thing existed.
Our pop gothic devotees would have me believe that gothic gardens are those abounding with bare limbs, gargoyles, bat houses, mysterious herbs, and fluorescent plants. This is a thoroughly modern interpretation; brimming with imagination to be sure, but still one that a lover of history such as myself must cast aside.
Delving deeper, I learned the Gothic began as an architectural movement against the constraint of the late 18th century's prevailing classical design. The gothic eye, scornful of classicism's long formal and flat surfaces, favored pinnacles, fretted surfaces and intricate broken shadows.
Ah… I was getting closer.
And then I found mention of ruins - the ultimate expression of the gothic mind. A ruin was apparently a thing of loveliness that symbolized chaos over order; its untidiness synonymous with liberty. It's presence in a garden created the "elegant disequilibrium of the spirit" that those of the Gothic Romantic movement so appreciated. As Michael Sadleir writes in The Northanger Novels: A Footnote to Jane Austen (1927):
A mouldering building is a parable of the victory of nature over man's handiwork. The ivy creeping over the broken tracery of a once sumptuous window and the glimpse of sky through the fallen roof of a once proud banqueting hall moved to melancholy pleasure minds which dwelt gladly on the impermanence of human life.
Here we have it! The sole criterion for a gothic garden is the presence of a ruin. Of course, I would long for a real ruin rather than a miniature reproduction of the Pantheon as one might find on the 18th century lawns of those returned from their Grand Tours. A mere painting of a ruin, as once could be chanced upon at the end of a walk at the once famous Vauxhall Gardens in England would not do either.
I am now both hopelessly intrigued and determined. Perseverance will soon find a true ruin in my garden, with creepers rioting over it and myself sitting pensively nearby, perhaps with a tear rolling down my cheek at the awful beauty of it all. I will, however, have to insist on at least black flower. A Black Bacarra Rose? A Black Devil Pansy or a Chocolate Cosmos? Ah… now where is that garden catalog?