hidden europe 9

Cultivating the soul

by Nicky Gardner


We refresh our wearied and wandering minds in two intriguing gardens. We visit a secret garden in Prague, and hidden europe reader Mervyn Benford reports on a humble Swedish postman who followed in Linnaeus' footsteps.

Europe bristles with remarkable gardens. The poetics of Renaissance rationalism are played out beautifully in the gardens of the fifteenth century Medici villas just north of the city of Florence. Although often now beset by crowds of visitors, it is, on a quiet day, still possible to understand what Cosimo di Giovanni de Medici meant when, in 1462, he wrote to a friend: "Yesterday I came to my villa in Careggi, not to cultivate my land but my soul." Pause, for a moment, and picture the geometric perspectives of the Tuscan villeggiatura, the jardins du plaisir and idealised landscapes of seventeenth century Parisian gardens, or the contrived picturesque gardens of eighteenth century England, for in all these vistas there is something very special. These are landscapes of the soul. Whether it be a Tuscan dawn in the gardens of the Villa Medicea La Petraia, a Parisian Sunday promenade in the Tuileries, or a frost-clad panorama at Chatsworth in England, these formal essays in idealised design are inspiring tableaux.

These are all grand gardens, and yet beyond them, and all across Europe, there are a million or more small gardens, some mere humble endeavours, others grand in concept but tucked away in hidden corners of our cities and our countryside. hidden europe has been in search of just two. Opposite, we step through a gate in a Prague street, and, on page 44, hidden europe reader Mervyn Benford extols a fine Swedish arboretum.

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As winter slipped slowly into spring in 1917, Lenin passed through Berlin on his journey back to Russia from Switzerland. His onward route from Berlin took him by train to Sassnitz, then on by ferry to Trelleborg in Sweden. These days it's still possible to follow the route taken by Lenin, using the occasional direct trains from Berlin to Sweden.