28 October 2011

Garden Centred


Domestic Landscape ∕ Nature ∕ Objects

This is the Rotating Earth Hydrosphere, which you can pick up for a mere 870 British Pounds, should you wish, though the price doesn’t include pump or resevoir so you’re going to have to stick it in the bath tub and wizz it round with your hands if you’re on a tight budget. Watch it go round and round. I’ve filmed a good 19 seconds or so of hydrospherical action, and if you want any more you’re just going to have to imagine it, or go out and buy one of the damned things. There’s a garden centre in Farnham Royal, England, which will be delighted to get rid of one.

On a recent trip to the UK, my Mum happened to mention that garden centres had mutated into fully-fledged recreational destinations, and were no longer the damp horticultural points-of-sale I remembered from my childhood. They had become places where, having stocked up on Catherine and Royal William rose bushes, you could eat a traditional Sunday roast in the restaurant, have your car washed by hand, and read the papers whilst the kids molest coi carp. Tapping into these suburban rituals, it sounded as though garden centres had subsumed the entire idea of a typical Sunday afternoon into a commercial venture.

A rock solid investment.

Hoping to back up Mother’s claims with some hard data, I briefly dredged through the internet where I came across a 2008 catering report entitled “More Than Tea & Cake” [PDF, 410KB], published by Britain’s Horticultural Trade Association. In it, the garden center coffee shop is specifically identified as “a place to meet and socialise” where customers “don’t have to eat, but ”¦ can be persuaded to do so”. This sounded promising, and hinted at subliminal architectural features design to coerce and stimulate.

So once at Farnham Royal, I was primed for an orgy of 24-hour cream teas and an acre of retail space, but the catering revolution had yet to penetrate this particular enclave, as had customers, judging by the empty car park.

Stones were on sale, some sorted geographically (Rutland Limestone, Cornish Slate), others sorted by generic aesthetic merits (Clear Green Drilled Glass Stone), hinting strongly at two opposing petrographic fractions amongst local gardeners: the authenticists and the artifists. Woe betide them that mix their stones.

But things really started getting interesting in the ornament section. Just what the hell those pieces of bent aluminium conduit were is anyone’e guess. Close inspection revealed few clues: they could just as well be some kind of fountain (I’m guessing the manufacturer might call this a “flanged cascader”, or something), or possibly a lighting feature. It is not to my taste, but the sign said it had won some award or other. That’s one trophy I do want to see.

The “Dubai Self Contained Water Feature, £317.17” looked more familar. As a seven year old I had watched it torture Princess Leia in Star Wars. Now is was a garden accessory, and probably had some kind of undocumented death-ray function for the neighbor’s cat. Seriously though, aren’t you happy that the price of LEDs has dropped so much that humanity can now pull off shit like this? And why “Dubai”? How many sci-fi desert–themed gardens can be found within Buckinghamshire?

Farnham Royal was pretty much the damp horticultural point-of-sale I remembered from my childhood. Long may it stay that way.