What movies get wrong (and right) about gardening.

All things green.
Dec. 28 2007 7:32 AM

Gilding the Lily

What movies get wrong (and right) about gardening.

Atonement. Click image to expand.
Atonement

So there I was muttering, "Fraud, fraud," while watching Enchanted April.

It's a charming movie that sets very few viewers to grumbling. Oppressed women leave cold, rainy 1920s England and proceed to find happiness, peace, and sunshine in a rented castle on the Italian coast.

My complaint wasn't about the story line but about the fact that the movie's Portofino, Italy, hillside garden was bursting with flowers that wouldn't be blooming simultaneously. No garden in the real world would look like that—the blooms of high summer (roses, sunflowers, geraniums) right next to the flowers of April (daffodils, tulips, camellias). It's garden fraud.

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Obviously, a movie company's greens wrangler trucked in numerous pots of flowers from a greenhouse, where they'd been forced to bloom out of season.

In our unfilmed real lives, at this low-light, bare-branch time of year, we look for comfort in flowery movies, and it's pleasant to come in from the sleet to see some roses. Does it matter that a lot of movie gardens are shamelessly overdone and ridiculously tarted up? We are used to accepting artifice in other realms. The photographers from House Beautiful and Architectural Digest arrive with a designer who adds better lampshades and prettier pillows to the décor. Porn and fashion magazines airbrush away the imperfections of women's bodies.

Those ideals might be meant to dazzle and inspire. But sometimes perfection leads to despair—damn, my house/complexion/garden will never look that good.

Thankfully, the film world has made progress on the garden-fraud front with the English movie of the moment, Atonement, which serves up a true-to-season summer garden, with a meaningful sense of incipient decadence. The foxgloves have partially gone to seed, the wisteria is over, and the roses on the arbor are drooping. One quibble is that the enormous place appears to have only one gardener, our hero, Cambridge-educated Robbie, seen pushing a wheelbarrow full of lavender (not proper summer work for such a learned fellow, even if he is the housekeeper's son).

Has there ever been an authentic movie message about the work of gardening, wheelbarrows and pruners, hopes and dreams? Something that communicates that it's difficult but satisfying, and that even if it doesn't achieve perfection, it's yours.

There is at least one movie that is actually about gardening— Greenfingers—but unfortunately it depicts the process in a misleading way. (Not to mention it's probably the dumbest movie Helen Mirren was ever in; and certainly the sappiest one Clive Owen ever made.) In Greenfingers, British prison inmates find gratification (and time outside a cell) through creating a garden. The idea comes in part from a project run by the Horticultural Society of New York and the corrections department at Rikers Island.

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