Gardens and Architecture, Getty Villa

Seeing the Villa Gardens in a Different Light

The East Garden at the Getty Villa at dusk

Magic hour in the East Garden at the Getty Villa

Long evenings and bright sun are taking the place of early dusks and sprinkling rains: spring is here. At the Getty Villa, the light is brilliant even at closing time for a final stroll around the gardens, framing the museum against a cerulean sky.

But is sunshine overrated? Garden historian Patrick Bowe, co-author of the book Gardens and Plants of the Getty Villa, says that to appreciate a garden, we have to experience it in all its moods—emerging ghostlike from a misty fog, lit aflame by an orange sunset, reflected in a fountain dancing with raindrops. Especially at the Villa:

Up to now, photographs of the Getty Villa gardens have always been photographs of the gardens in bright sunshine. And so people who’ve seen pictures of the gardens over decades have associated the garden with the time of the day when there’s bright sunshine…[But] a garden needs to be looked at in different times, and different times of the year. It’s a living composition, depending totally on the light of the moment, and so I think it needs to be experienced in different lights—and therefore different moods.

That’s why Bowe and his co-author, horticulturist Michael DeHart, chose unusual photographs of the Villa gardens for their book, with views from unusual vantage points and under different clouds and suns.

The Getty Villa Outer Peristyle at sunset

The Outer Peristyle at the Getty Villa in dense fog

The Getty Villa Museum building in fog

Hear more from Patrick in this video interview, where he reflects further on the garden as a living creation both horticulturally and historically. Happy spring!

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      I do not like crooked, twisted, blasted trees. I admire them much more if they are tall, straight, and flourishing. I do not like ruined, tattered cottages. I am not fond of nettles or thistles, or heath blossoms. I have more pleasure in a snug farm-house than a watch-tower—and a troop of tidy, happy villages please me better than the finest banditti in the world.”

      Marianne looked with amazement at Edward, with compassion at her sister. Elinor only laughed.

      —Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, published on October 30, 1811

      Wooded Landscape by Paulus Lieder and Landscape with a Bare Tree and a Ploughman by Leon Bonvin, The J. Paul Getty Museum; Fantastic Oak Tree in the Woods, Carl Wilhelm Kolbe the Elder, The Getty Research Institute

      10/30/14

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