Nov 22, 2010

Genius Loci... there you are!

It is often said that the first, 
and most essential, 
principle in landscape architecture
is to "consult the genius of the place"
or the Genius Loci.
The Genius Loci originally literally meant 
"spirit of a place" in Roman times, 
but its use in modern architecture & landscape architecture 
comes from a gorgeous ode written 
in 1731 by the English poet Alexander Pope.
Did I say modern???
Well, all is relative, I guess...

Consult the genius of the place in all;
            That tells the waters or to rise, or fall;
            Or helps th' ambitious hill the heav'ns to scale,
            Or scoops in circling theatres the vale;
            Calls in the country, catches opening glades,
            Joins willing woods, and varies shades from shades,
            Now breaks, or now directs, th' intending lines;
            Paints as you plant, and, as you work, designs.
In this incredibly, achingly-beautiful property 
at Kew {Melbourne}, the garden, the house 
and the surrounding landscape are as one. 
Alexander Pope would be impressed.
Hard to tell where the garden ends and the bushland starts...
Just to simplify matters, 
Pope also helpfully penned 
an explanation of his poem, 
to make sure we fully get how to do things properly...

"The chief proof of it is to follow Nature, 
even in works of mere luxury and elegance. 
Instanced in architecture and gardening, 
where all must be adapted to the genius and use of the place, 
and the beauties not forced into it, but resulting from it.” 
I think that in the most beautiful, 
the most quiet, 
and the most "ahh"-inducing gardens, 
the Genius Loci has been found, met, chatted with 
and celebrated.
In this shady, cool garden in Deepdene {Melbourne},
full of wonderfully gnarled old trees,
the Genius Loci has been wittily personified with 
rusty iron columns, heavily planted, 
which reference the tree trunks. 
And wittily celebrated too, by encircling another old tree
with a starburst of sleepers. 
The overall effect?
A respect for the Genius Loci - or the old trees, in this case. 
Another garden, 
so another spirit of place...
This time, in the coastal town of Mornington, 
where old redgum sleepers have been bound with 
rope and placed ceremoniously amongst the bottlebrush trees.
Isn't it beautiful?
When a garden appears to effortlessly 
ground the architecture, 
it is a combination of repeating elements of scale, 
referencing colours & textures,
and adding a touch of wit. 
Nestled in the picturesque 
 Mornington Peninsula, at Portsea, 
this quiet garden 
by Sam Cox
exudes a sense of timelessness. 
Perhaps it is the discipline of only native plantings, 
or perhaps it is the wonderful reed-filtered swimming pool
{more billabong than pool}
or perhaps it is the fine eye for scale and proportion, 
but this garden has absolutely nailed the idea of 
the spirit of the place, or the Genius Loci.
Alexander Pope would be very happy 
to sit in any of these gardens, I reckon,  
and reflect on how his ideas are being used in 
modern landscape design, 
almost 300 years later. 

All images were taken by the author during the Garden Design Fest in Melbourne, last weekend.
Gardens shown:- Images 1-4: Redmond St, Kew by Mark Browning of Cycas Landscape Design; Images 5-8, Barnsbury Crt, Deepdene by Richard Bellemo of RB Landscapes; Images 9 & 10, John Rowell Lane, Mornington by Philip Dyer of Garden Living Space; Images 11-13  Blair Rd, Portsea by Sam Cox of Sam Cox Landscape.


  1. It was nice to find such a friendly comment opening my blog at monday mornig with my first coffee, thank you for your visit!

  2. I will be consulting with the Genius Loci very soon when i landscape the grounds on the new house(well next year when the house is completed). I adore the tranquil aura emanating from these gardens! Lovely post! XX

  3. Virginia, what a well written and unique post. And you have your priorities right! While you were taking in beauty this weekend and reflecting on what is important, I was just running around in circles... I wish I had read this post before the weekend!

    ox, Mon

  4. Hi Virginia. Thanks for stopping by my blog today. Yipee for me as now I have found yours. I think I may have to lose an hour and go through all your posts as these first ones look oh-so-super!!!

    Is that house on the windy road in Kew .. above the golf course? There were some lovely houses along there.

    I look forward to keeping up-to-date with all your posts - but for now I must go check your website (-:

  5. Hi Linda, yes it is on the road which edges high over the golf course. What a spot....must be one of the most jaw-dropping views in Melbourne, I think, with the bushland curling around the river, the city in the background, and the Dandenongs over yonder. Ah!!!

  6. what a wonderful selection of photos! i love the sleeper with the that gives me an idea for my garden! KG

  7. I'm so grateful I found your blog, it's beautiful.
    Congratulations on your post.

  8. I had to show this post to my husband who is a Landscape Architect. Very cools stuff!
    Thank you for sharing!!


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