Cultivating one’s Garden

“We must simply cultivate our garden” said Candide in Voltaire’s signature novel. And it’s true; sometimes we seek the answer to life’s most complex questions in out of the way places, we travel halfway around the world in order to find ourselves only to realize the answer was in our own backyard the whole time…

And speaking of cultivating one’s garden, the Bruce Museum has an exciting exhibit coming up. Entitled “The Beckoning Path: The Woodland Garden Photographs of Theodore Nierenberg” it features photographs of Theodore Nierenberg’s meticulously sculpted gardens and his New York estate. A series of 46 photographs of these paths as well as intimate close-ups and scenic views taken over several decades and during all seasons will be on display from August 28 through November 7, 2010. Theodore D. Nierenberg was the founder of Dansk International Designs in New York and was among the first to manufacture modern Scandinavian tableware and cookware in America. This tableware became popular among postwar American families ready to embrace a new casualness at the dinner table. Soon, the pieces were ubiquitous in American homes.

Theodore Nierenberg had a preference for a very American style garden, but the history of garden styles all over the world is rich and varied…In the hot and arid climate of ancient Egypt rich people liked to rest in the shade of trees. They created gardens enclosed by walls with trees planted with trees in rows. Sometime the Egyptians planted alternating species. The Egyptians also grew a wide variety of flowers including roses, poppies, irises, daisies and cornflowers. Egyptians had a preference for gardens with rectangular ponds stocked with fish. And being fond of perfumed scents they grew various fragrant trees and shrubs.

The Egyptians believed that the gods liked gardens and so temples usually had gardens by them. In ancient Egypt gardens also had religious significance as different trees were associated with different gods. As well as being beautiful gardens were used to grow fruit and vegetables and to produce wine and olive oil.

When they conquered Egypt the Romans introduced eastern ideas about gardening. Wealthy Romans created gardens next to their palaces and villas. In the towns wealthy Romans built houses around a courtyard. The courtyard usually contained a colonnaded porch, a pool and a fountain as well as beds of flowers. The Romans mastered the art of topiary.

Theodore Nierenberg chose to spend the final days of his life cultivating his garden and documenting its progress. By focusing inward, he left an indelible mark on society. A lesson to us all: that rather than look far and wide for inspiration we should look towards our own backyards…


Victoria Baker of Greenwich is an opera singer. A winner of many prestigious competitions, she has performed and worked with distinguished artists across the world (notably at Lincoln Center). She teaches piano & voice privately in Greenwich. For questions that deserve answers, and may be in print, please call (203) 531-7499 or send email to [email protected]

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