Surrealist Garden

This garden is closed during Alert Level 2 to ensure we can keep visitors safe.

Step into a strange world where mysterious dreams have come to life...

In the 1920s and 30s many artists and writers became fascinated with the irrational, the incongruous and almost anything provocative. They were inspired by the work of Sigmund Freud, and sometimes sought to interpret the mysterious world of dreams and the subconscious mind. There wasn’t a surrealist garden movement, as there was in the other arts, but there have long been surrealist elements found in gardens and they’ve played an important role in the story of gardens.

Generally, surrealism in gardens has been manifested through: distortions of scale, surrealist sculptures, the inclusion of strange biomorphic shapes and incongruous elements or the use of materials behaving in an unexpected manner. Each of these features have been used in this garden. There’s a 1930s garden and passage way but everything in the garden itself is five times the normal scale. The lawns curve up at the corners like a sheet of paper and instead of a dozen white roses there are a dozen white noses.

The Chinese have traditionally been the masters of surrealist gardens. Their gardens often represented vast mythical, landscapes at a miniature scale. They usually featured strangely shaped, contorted Taihu rocks that have
been compared to clouds. (An example of a single Taihu rock can be seen in the Chinese Scholars’ Garden).

There has also been a tradition of carving topiary into strange surrealist shapes. The best-known examples of these are probably Packwood House and Levens Hall in Britain which are shown in the pictures in the passage into this garden.

The strange biomorphic shapes in this Surrealist Garden have become known as the trons. Their shapes were originally inspired by primitive pre-Cambrian life forms and the paintings of English artist, David Inshaw, but they’ve evolved into simpler forms. They’re intended to look slightly sinister and out of the corner of your eye you may even notice they’ve moved...