Warning: Big Views Get Boring

I’m sitting up in bed, re-dawn, french doors open to the following view.  Its morning number four and I’m yet to get bored with it.img_7714

That’s Vesuvius in the background, the currently snoring presence that took out Pompeii two thousand years ago.  Actually, I’ll take a pic from the bed so you see what it’s like right now.  It’ll be horribly grainy ‘cos it’s pretty dark out there.

imageWith only two more nights here, it’s unlikely that I’ll tire of it, but I’ve no doubt that I eventually would.  I might not be consciously bored, but I’d stop looking at it – stop noticing and appreciating it.

William Waldorf Astor had the identical view when he lived next door at Villa Tritone (the cream, cliff-top joint in the pic below).

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He’d contracted Harold Peto to design the garden for him, and old HP knew how to keep things interesting.  He blocked the view out.  Well not entirely out, but very nearly.

He created a fabulously romantic inward-looking garden that provided only occasional glimpses of the bigness beyond.  The result is incredibly enticing.  It teases you at every point.

The construction of the walls required is outrageous.  Even when working with big budgets most clients want to see their money spent prudently.  These walls just have been a difficult idea to ‘sell’, but clearly HP managed to convince WWA of their value. (Later addendum: it occurred to me after writing this that the walls in question probably pre-date the construction of the Villa, and that Harold Peto may not have specified their construction.  He may, instead, have specified their retention.  Either way, the point remains).

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These stupendously walls were then punctured, only here and there, with Venetian-looking windows, along with shutters.  You can’t see them in the wall above as they’re in a section of the wall blocked from view by the greenery, around the corner.  This is how they look from inside the garden (though bear in mind that the pic below doesn’t quite do relative justice to the big-view pics above, as the day I actually managed to get into this nearly-impossible-to-access garden (almost exactly a year ago) wasn’t very clear, and you can only just make out the slope of Vesuvius on the hazy horizon)

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Below is what the walls and windows look like from my hotel balcony. You can see the windows just below all the greenery on the walls above the craggy point

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And this is how it looks from the beach below, when I went down for a swim yesterday. Again you’d barely notice the windows if it wasn’t for the sun shining through one of them.

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Harold Peto understood what so few home owners do – that all views eventually become wallpaper (to quote Christopher Alexander, from ‘A Pattern Language’).  His work at Villa Tritone may be an extreme response, but it illustrates beautifully that restricting, controlling and framing views are some of the best ways to keep them alive and engaging.

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(These pics were taken while leading a tour for Ross Garden Tours.  You should join me sometime…)

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18 thoughts on “Warning: Big Views Get Boring

  1. Hi Michael. I was looking for some way to contact you and tell you that Lyn and I have thought for years that you should be on television, because we have always felt that you have something important to say and demonstrate about the delight and diversity of gardens and gardening.

    But in the looking,I became bewitched by the erudite correspondence I discovered, and have now been reading the interchanges for far more time than I expected to spend. How good!!

    So — at last!!! We are looking forward immensely to the first episode next Thursday.

    Blessing and best wishes,
    Bruce

  2. I do not have vast views of water except what is in the old cement fountain that sits in my garden. For us, we have seas of pastures and fields of verdant alfalfa or corn. Presently, the trees in the pasture rows are changing colors and putting on a Broadway show. And like all of you, it is never boring but always a delight.

  3. I was struck by something similar recently when sitting on my back deck, looking out at our district views. We’ve been here for 17 years and have never sat on our deck and enjoyed the view as much as we have just the past 2 years. It took me a while to figure out why; it coincided with cutting down the outside part of our deck to be able to see more of the garden below. Now the distant view has a foreground and the three-dimensionality of the newer view is much more interesting and absorbing than it was before. So I think it’s more than just framing and hiding – it’s also creating a more 3-dimensional experience that adds to the appeal.

    • I totally agree Catherine. I like that the foreground, whether it frames or not, has that effect of moving at a different pace to the background as you move sideways. There’s something very three-dimensionalising about that.
      And there’s the effect of the eye linking better with the background when it can slide from the foreground to the mid-ground to whats beyond. And there’s probably so much more going on besides

      • Exactly like a well framed photo. Without a foreground focus, a large scene loses most of the impact. Congratulations on the new show… can’t wait!

  4. One can only imagine how immense and raw those walls would have been when first constructed but how wonderful that time and planting has softened and charmed them.
    As to the view… i totally agree. Perhaps the panorama of an ocean encourages greater habitual myopia as the view is all on one plain except for the misty suggestion of Vesuvius . Contrast that to the beautiful rolling hills of Tuscany. Moreover the eternally sunny Amalfian coast( tongue in cheek ) would offer little dramatic weather to stimulate ones awareness of the view. Blue skies as so boring!

    • Hadn’t thought of that – that there’s the changeability of the view itself to consider. But when it comes to the Amalfi coast, that dramatic scenery must surely provide some changing drama. Furthermore, I remember being totally captivated by the passing show of ships, boats and dolphins when I stayed at Lindsay Fox’s cliffside mansion in Sorrento, Aus.

  5. My sister lives with a view of the Atlantic off Cape Town.
    A slice of view she sees from her armchair – similar to only one of those arched windows.
    And how enticing is that ever-changing slice!

    Mine is two glimpses of mountain framed by the shrubs and trees in our garden.

  6. Am so pleased to read this!
    I have a waterfront in a bushy NSW location with a few very tall spotted gums in front of my very small house, which provide framework for smaller sections of the view to the West – with all the beauty of sunsets and setting full moon pathways across the water (and, BTW, which attract birds which can be seen at very close range from my loft area) – underplanted with more colourful shrubs and perennials… and if one more visitor walks into my living area, or onto my small deck and says, “Oh, why don’t you have those trees cut down?”, I won’t be responsible for my actions!

    • Photocopy the relevant pages of ‘A Pattern Language’, and have a class-set ready (oops – being sure to cover your copyright obligations…), and then just sit your visitor down on the deck, hand them a copy, and don’t allow them to talk further until they’ve read it. They may still not agree with the premise, but at least they’ll be confronted by (and hopefully silenced by) a new awareness of their ignorance.

  7. Grainy or not the pics still brought back memories. Totally agree about glimpses rather than huge vistas. Too much beauty leads to the (?) Flaubert syndrome. I saw this garden on a Monty Don programme some time ago. Looks wonderful. Something of a contrast to my view here in Castlemaine!
    Thanks Michael.

  8. Nice to read a reference to A Pattern Language. That passage concerning restricting views always appealed to me.

    Thanks for the posting.

  9. Oh, Michael. What timing for your post. Paul and I have spent the last six months trying to work out if we buy a property for the house (dreaming of Sissinghurst) or for the views (dreaming of Broughton Grange). Literally yesterday, we made a decision to put in an offer for a 1400s, grade II* house (as close as we’ll get to Sissinghurst) surrounded by a very enclosed garden, with the opportunity to just punch out a handful of holes to the open farmland beyond. Thank you for putting my mind at ease! Enjoy the rest of your time in Italy. It sounds (and looks) wonderful.

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