“Great work so far, everyone, but the Midsummer Night’s Dream forest needs something else…more vines and creepers maybe? It needs to be very mysterious and beautiful, perhaps a little bit creepy…at the moment it’s looking a bit sparse. And I think we need to get the lighting technicians back in. Maybe some purple and pink, very soft lighting, and more dry ice…”
The curator dismissed the workforce from their weekly progress meeting, and looked down at her iPad. Everything was on schedule so far.
She rode a caddy over to the Elsinore garden, and nodded with satisfaction at the moody castle façade, the moat (complete with dry ice mist effects), the ivy (carefully bred and cultivated), the Ophelia wildflower garden with its little stream, the graveyard with artfully planted ‘weeds’ bursting through cracks in stones…she placed a virtual tick on her planning app next to ‘Elsinore’.
She then took the caddy over to the Island, where the maritime botanists had created a beautiful underwater garden of corals, seaweeds, and other exotic ocean flora, visible through a glass panel. Then, there was Caliban’s Cave, with berry bushes and a pumpkin patch at the entrance, and a breath-taking collection of bioluminescent plants illuminating the inside of the little grotto. The jungle was a fairly middle-of-the-road assemblage of tropical trees and plants, made a little more interesting by the light and sound effects and the rain machine, which would simulate a wild storm at an entirely randomised time during each visiting period. She was happy enough with this garden so she gave a tick of approval.
One of her favourite gardens was ‘Fair Verona’. The main area was a courtyard, simulating the scene with Juliet at her balcony, where the star floral displays were a selection of meticulously-arranged window boxes holding all manner of exquisitely colourful Mediterranean flowers – oleander, lavender, bougainvillea, jasmine, cyclamen, geranium, lunaria, and of course, sweet-smelling roses of every colour, shape and size – and of any other name. There was also a wall of red ivy, entangled with passion flowers, clematis and grapevines, and some small, potted orange, lemon and olive trees adorning the courtyard several balconies. The scents of this garden were magnificent – heady, sweet, spiced, warm…if the feeling of falling in love had aroma of its own, this would be it, the curator thought.
Of course, behind the courtyard and the balcony façade, there was a garden dedicated to the darker side of this immortal love story. The Apothecary’s Glasshouse – a circular, glass building, with a dusty path surrounded by a tangle of thorny rosebushes and bindweed – held an enormous selection of poisonous plants: hemlock, aconitum, hellebore, belladonna…naturally, the plants were sealed off from the walkway through the glasshouse by glass panels.
Satisfied with the arrangements, the curator ticked off ‘Fair Verona’, and scanned through the list for the next garden that she needed to examine. ‘Dunsinane’.
She frowned. This was the garden she’d had the most trouble with. It was very difficult to simulate the feel of the moody, rolling hills and vast, sweeping heathland in such a relatively small space. She was happy with the selection of plants: heathers, bracken, thistles, Scottish primrose – everything wild and unmaintained, having been allowed to grow with minimum interference from the horticultural workforce. The various props were well-made – they had imported large slabs of basalt and sandstone to create a craggy feel to the heavily landscaped garden, and they used a large amount of this to build the Witches’ Cavern, and also the foundations of the castle, though the rest was a façade as with the other buildings in the Shakespeare Garden, with a scaffolded frame covered with plywood and then carefully painted faux stone panels. Of course, the curator’s primary annoyance was the impossibility of recreating Burnam Wood with real oak trees. There was neither time nor space, and so they had been forced to use synthetic prop-trees and painted backgrounds, and though much time, skilled craft and planning had gone into the building of the non-botanic elements of the display, the curator couldn’t help but feel that these elements encroached on the natural wilderness feel of the Dunsinane garden.
The light was fading outside the huge Dome, and the curator knew it was time to go home. The Shakespeare Garden would only have a six-week run at the Dome – the world’s largest indoor, fully-climate-managed display garden – after which the next contender for the winner of the World Horticultural Show would have their run. The short time seemed especially fleeting considering the fact that these dream landscapes, themselves so transient, were based on such immortal works of literature.
(prompts: Shakespeare, ecology, technology)
by Rachel Norris