Leon KlugeThe Garden of Cosmic Speculation

For me, gardening is taking time out of a ridiculously packed, never-ending schedule to relax and express yourself by creating an idea of how a garden paradise should look. Never hold back when it comes to your creative flair, and let go of the traditional gardening chains blocking your ideas from jumping out and biting the neighbours.

Dizzying geometric shapes at The Garden of Cosmic Speculation

Dizzying geometric shapes (photo by Flexdream)

Some of the world’s most famous and visited gardens are the ones that people might find a bit odd, or even downright disturbing. In my travels I have encountered more than a few gardens that must have been inspired by a lot of extra strong martinis! The best garden of them all and the pinnacle of wackiness is The Garden of Cosmic Speculation.

Snail mound and snake mound at The Garden of Cosmic Speculation

Snail mound and snake mound (photo by Yellow Book)

This garden spectacle is sadly only open for half a day a year but is definitely the magical place where you will find eternal youth, as you feel like a naughty hyper-active child running through a sea of weird twisting DNA helix sculptures, snail-shaped grassy mounds and waterways. It is almost a fantasy Dr Seuss experience.

Wave wall at The Garden of Cosmic Specution (photo by Yellow Book)

Wave wall (photo by Yellow Book)

This garden covers an area of about 30 acres, and around each bend you will come across an oddity that makes you shake your head and squint your eyes in awe of such creative thinking. The garden is located near Dumfries, Scotland and is a private estate named Portrack House owned by world renowned architect Charles Jencks and his late wife Maggie Keswick.

Symmetry break terrace (photo by Yellow Book)

Symmetry break terrace (photo by Yellow Book)

The garden layout and design was inspired by the fundamentals of modern physics, melting together the wonderful worlds of art, nature, science and of course architecture. This unconventional way of garden design incorporates a dizzying amount of geometric shapes, the black hole idea, and a zig-zag staircase telling the story of the creation of the universe.

Zig-zag terrace (photo by Flexdream)

Zig-zag terrace (photo by Flexdream)

The garden has five different sections separated by massive man-made lakes, all connected by a series of oddly shaped bright red bridges and other strange architectural objects straight out of a science book. It is in my opinion one of the best examples of lawn scaping, the different lawn shapes lightly touching each other and grabbing hold of you, pulling your body to follow each curve, each wave, each bump leading you throughout the fantasy garden.

Red bridges (photo by Yellow Book)

Red bridges (photo by Yellow Book)

The passion for gardening is very evident in this creation. Although plant variety is on the backseat in this interesting landscape, the plants chosen work perfectly to link all the architectural entities together.

Now for the good news – the open day for 2013 is on the 5th of May, so if you are in that vicinity you have to make the effort to see this modern gardening marvel. But wake up early that morning, the traffic heading out to the garden can be more congested than an after-Christmas sale.

Steel Curves at The Garden of Cosmic Speculation (photo by Flexdream)

Steel Curves (photo by Flexdream)

Land sculpture (photo by Yellow Book)

Land sculpture (photo by Yellow Book)

Landforms, water and plantings (photo by Flexdream)

Landforms, water and plantings in harmony (photo by Flexdream)


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Leon Kluge

About Leon Kluge

Leon Kluge is an award-winning landscape designer who was part of the successful South African team at Chelsea in both 2010 and 2012, and the Gardening World Cup in Japan in 2011, and then won a Gold medal at the 2013 Cup. Leon is known for his modern, contemporary landscapes, sustainable community projects and his specialisation in vertical gardens. His company Leon Kluge Landscape Design is based in north-eastern South Africa.

10 thoughts on “The Garden of Cosmic Speculation

  1. Wow thanks for that Leon i look forward to the “weird” stuff you put up it makes me feel at home.On my travels one of my fav gardens has to be Park Quell in Barcelona just magical walking around and hearing the sound of flamenco guitar in the garden just great.

  2. It’s disappointing that you do not share any of your own photos of this place; or is it one of those annoying gardens where no cameras are allowed and you have to rely on other people’s stock images to tell the story of your visit?

    • As Leon is away at the moment, I’ll answer on his behalf – he saw The GofCS just after last year’s Chelsea FS. Sadly, moisture got into the camera lens so the only garden photos he took that day were in his memory. That’s why we’ve illustrated the story with CC available photos. As far as I know The GofCS has no such prohibition, unlike the hyper-protective Little Sparta.

      • Catherine, thanks for the explanation. Despite some of the rather negative comments here, I’m grateful for gardens such as this, whose owners are prepared to do something radical and challenging with their landscapes. Surely there is room for such bombast and artifice amid the mass of gentle and undemanding gardens most of us create? And of course, all gardens are artificial at heart – this one is just bolder about wearing its artifice on its sleeve….

  3. Love your work Leon, but I can’t stand this place. There is only one other garden that I’m aware of that beats it for sheer bombast and pretension and that is the “Site of Reversible Destinies” by Arakawa and Gins.

    Why poor old gardens should attract such degrees of hideous artifice is beyond me. The theatrics are ham fisted and badly drawn and the theoretical framework it rests upon has about as much relevance to gardening as formula 1 has to ferret farming.

    Jencks said this in an interview – “part of the idea behind the garden is a polemic to see if there is a set of ideas worth spending money on and spending art on, and I think my work is a critique of, let’s say, the triviality of contemporary art.”

    What he has done on a grand scale is entirely trivial. Trying to generate critical fizz for a garden is always suspect and a bit tedious, but doing it as he has done is a prime example of Disnification at it’s worst.

    • I haven’t seen this garden except in photos but I still like it. I like the way he plays around with landform, how that can completely change your view of what’s just an area of turf and, as Leon says, the way you move around the garden too. I don’t mind trivial, or gimmickry, if it can make me think about something in a new way. I’ve never heard of the ‘Site of Reversible Destinies’. Maybe a garden of ‘sliding doors’? I think the most pretentious UK garden has got to be the Lost Garden of Heligan. It’s like an really ugly antique but because it has a romantic back story, people don’t look at it critically and see what a dogs breakfast it is.

      • Heligan is awful, but most days I’ll preference kitsch over weighty academic pretension Catherine. Kitsch may be devoid of subtlety, but at least it’s honest.

        The G of CS is apparently collapsing as we speak. For me it collapsed under it’s own baggage from the get go, but it seems moles and voles are undermining the whole shebang. Jencks is concerned and upset, but prepared to let nature have it’s way. I think it’ll go the way of most grand squandered whims and decay into a horrible quagmire.

  4. It is difficult to “avoid” the Garden of Cosmic Speculation and impossible to deny that it stands out, but what has always (and will be) put me off to visit is these hideous opening hours. Treating visitors as if they were cattle is a very idiosyncratic sense of a cosmic speculation indeed. Or does it take a year to prepare for this one off? Or is there a special cosmic constellation on that very day? Or not bearable to be in there for longer? How can it be possible to enjoy a garden and think in or about it when you are faced with certain congestion there, and on your way?

    What also defines a genius for me is that she/he is just “normal” and not aloft at all…

    And I am sorry to hear about Little Sparta, Catherine. I remember visiting the place almost 18 years ago, unannounced and when it was not officially open. Yet, Ian Hamilton Finlay was there, showed me, a complete stranger arriving on an old bicycle, around and I could stay and walk about as long as I wished. He spoke of himself not as an artist or poet but as “the gardener”. He appeared not grand or pretentious at all (and gave me the interesting tip to stick peppermint leaves around the ears to avoid midges). It’s a pity how successors or disciples can change the spirit of a place. Of course that’s life and could perhaps, for a time, work the other way round at the Speculative garden.

    • Friend had a similar experience about the same time as you at Little Sparta Bernhard. Mr Finlay was very attentive and obliging and left a lasting impression on my friend.

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