USA Around the World in 80 Gardens


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USA

Monty Don sees the world through 80 of its most inspiring gardens. He meets garden guerrillas in New York, and visits a Virginian garden that reflects the birth of the nation.


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I believe that a really good way to understand a culture is through its gardens.

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This is an extraordinary journey to visit 80 inspiring gardens from all over the world.

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Some are very well known - the Taj Mahal, the Alhambra.

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And I'm also challenging my idea of what a garden actually is.

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So I'm visiting gardens that float on the Amazon,

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a strange fantasy in the jungle,

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as well as the private homes of great designers,

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and the desert flowering in a garden.

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And wherever I go I shall be meeting people that share my own passion for gardens

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on my epic quest to see the world through 80 of its most fascinating and beautiful gardens.

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If you set yourself to visit 80 gardens around the world,

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then you have to come

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to the richest and most powerful nation in the world.

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America is a country that has been built on optimism,

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amazingly diverse natural resources

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and an enthusiasm that, in my experience,

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empowers it to tackle anything with a real sense of creative purpose

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that is incredibly invigorating.

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And what I want to see on my journey around this vast country

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is how America takes all that wealth,

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all that incredible energy, and expresses it in the garden.

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I'm starting my journey in New York, where garden guerrillas

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are creating community gardens from derelict land.

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Then I shall travel south, to Virginia, to visit a garden

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that embodies the history and birth of the nation.

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Finally, I shall go west

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across to the other side of the continent to California,

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to see gardens touched by the glamour and glitz of show business.

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New York might be synonymous with the cityscape of Manhattan,

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but most of the state is actually very rural,

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and the upstate suburban towns have a very different feel

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to the intense, edgy energy of the city.

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My first garden of this trip is right down at the end of Long Island, in the Hamptons,

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and it's the LongHouse which is the home and garden of the textile designer and weaver, Jack Larsen.

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Now, he is hugely successful,

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and what I want to see is how someone

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who is very successful in one field applies it to their garden.

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It's a garden that self consciously nurtures the other arts.

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In fact, it's even a garden as a gallery.

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Now, nothing could be more different from European gardens,

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and that's why I've come here.

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Larsen began the garden in the mid 1980s,

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expressly as a place to display works of art

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with an eclectic mix of cultures and styles, which, paradoxically,

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seems to me to be a good way to try and pin down some kind of

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American culture and style.

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This is not what I'd expected at all.

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The gardens house temporary and permanent installations from Larsen himself

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and a variety of established artists, like Dale Chihuly,

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who was responsible for this blown-glass sculpture.

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Ooh art!

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Dunno.

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Dunno about that.

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Oh!

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I love this.

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I didn't realise it was so self-consciously and up front a sort of display of artwork.

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Most contemporary sculpture

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is best in the garden.

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It's best in the open air, where you get strong highlight and shadow.

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The changing of different weathers and so forth, times of the day,

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enlivens surfaces that you don't get

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in a museum or gallery,

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and that the organic textural backdrop is kind to these hard forms.

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One thing that I find very attractive

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is that one can be rather spontaneous in gardens.

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I'm a fabric designer, and a design takes at least a year,

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but gardening is much more direct.

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It's like performing art, you get a feedback quickly.

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I like that.

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Isn't that beautiful?

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Isn't that wonderful?

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LongHouse covers nearly 16 acres of East Hampton Great North Woods.

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Since he acquired the land in 1975,

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Larsen has laid out major spaces as settings for plant collections,

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ornamental borders and sculpture.

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Just like a gallery, the artwork comes and goes.

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That's good.

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The rams' heads with the white birch next to it.

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How beautiful is that?

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Well, of course, you get that effect by letting a tree grow and then

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just cutting it off at the base, and it resprouts with multi stems.

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But this has done it so beautifully.

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The great thing about having artwork of any sort in a garden

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is you start to look at planting.

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You start to look at plants as works of art.

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I mean, one wonders which came first - the sculpture or the planting.

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They look like fastigiate hornbeams to me.

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As a gardener, I think the fact these are in pots is really significant.

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It means you can create avenues like this overnight, if you've got the money.

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So, the garden becomes a sort of stage set.

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One of the permanent installations is the red garden,

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which was designed by Larsen himself.

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Now, I like that very much indeed.

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I like that a lot.

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I think it works instantly, partly because it's so simple.

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Brilliant red forms and the clipped azaleas.

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What you don't see from here is the posts, diminished right down,

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to give you the sense of perspective.

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I love the elephant balancing on his trunk.

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The inspiration for the design of the house

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is taken from the seventh-century Shinto shrine at Ise in Japan,

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which is one of Larsen's favourite buildings,

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and the planting around the house is very sculptural and architectural.

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I love looking underneath buildings.

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There's more garden on the other side.

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See, that's great. That's a really, really nice view.

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This has been a fascinating beginning to this journey.

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The mixture and the abundance of everything is quite difficult to absorb.

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But it does seem that what you have here

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is an extraordinary breadth and confidence of vision.

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But Jack Larsen has a large canvas to work with,

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here in the bucolic setting of the New York State countryside.

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Now I want to go to Manhattan and see how gardens are shaping INSIDE the big city.

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New York City is a uniquely dynamic metropolis,

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with eight million inhabitants.

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Manhattan, the central island, is one of the most densely-populated places in the world.

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Any green space is valuable in every sense of the word,

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so any available land that might possibly become real estate

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rarely gets made into private gardens.

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This means for many New Yorkers, Central Park is the only green space they have access to.

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It's a huge rectangle, two and a half miles long by half a mile wide,

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right in the centre of Manhattan,

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and the most widely-visited park in the whole United States.

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It was designed in 1857 by Frederick Olmsted.

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Although it looks very naturalistic,

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it is, in fact, entirely man-made and landscaped.

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This part of Central Park has real meaning for me.

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It's Strawberry Fields, which is the memorial garden to John Lennon,

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who lived in the Dakota Building just across the road.

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Now, John Lennon was a huge hero of mine.

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He influenced me when I was growing up more than anybody else,

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so that his death, and the resulting garden, had great impact,

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and Central Park then becomes personal.

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I guess that's the way people work in vast parks.

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The whole thing is too big, it's too big an idea,

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too big geography to be any kind of garden.

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But people come and take little bits of it,

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and I think that's the way it works in a big city.

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You take bits of public space and you start to possess them,

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even though you don't literally own them,

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and what I'm really interested in doing here in Manhattan

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is seeing how public space can become personal,

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connected to an area and, therefore, be properly called a garden.

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I've come across the East River from Manhattan to Queens, to Gantry Plaza,

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which is a public space designed by the landscape architect Thomas Balsley.

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And I want to meet and talk to him to explore the possibility

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of creating public spaces that have sufficient meaning,

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that they then become, by default, gardens.

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The gantries that give this two-acre park its name

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were used until the 1970s to load railway cars and cargo onto river barges.

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Thomas Balsley is one of America's leading public landscape architects

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and feels his design for Gantry Plaza,

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with its strong links to its history and surroundings,

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transform it into a legitimate garden space for the local community

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in this dense urban landscape.

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I'm really interested in the way that

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a space, a green space, moves from being a park to a garden,

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and, of course, gardens is what I'm interested in.

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What, for you, defines a public garden?

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A garden, when you put that word together with public,

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in my mind, doesn't have to have horticulture at all.

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It's that place where we can all escape our lives,

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our apartments, the places we live, or work, or the streets we walk down,

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and it's that place where we can transport ourselves into another realm.

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If we've done a good job, it's that we have created this common ground

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for people to find themselves and each other and to build social connections.

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I'm really interested how you've created the garden, or the park,

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using the iconography of the place.

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The space must have a meaning. That meaning can be translated in different settings.

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We all wanted to celebrate the heritage of this place.

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The decision to really bring the gantries out front and centre

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came from this need of ours for there to be real icons of this railroad history of this place.

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The more and more we thought about the gantries,

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the gantries are the icon of this place,

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and it didn't require lots of little historical motifs

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to be scattered around to tell the story.

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They tell the story in such a compelling way

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that there was very little more that we could do.

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This is an amazing sight, with that incredible skyline,

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and there are elements here that anybody would recognise as a garden.

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But I feel this is a process,

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and it's one that is very difficult to pin down,

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it's when a garden is not a garden,

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or when it's just an interesting public space.

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That may not matter. I suspect in the scheme of things it's not important.

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If it works and it's enjoyable, so be it.

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But I think I want to take this one step further.

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But is there a way that people can actually possess it from day to day,

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where they can manipulate the change?

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That seems to me the really interesting thing.

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Down on the Lower East Side is the Liz Christy Garden,

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the first community garden to be made in the city.

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Tell me, how did this garden begin?

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What's the history behind it?

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The Liz Christy Garden is the first of the community gardens

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in Manhattan and the five boroughs.

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-Right.

-It was begun by a woman named Liz Christy.

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She and her friends lived in the neighbourhood.

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She was a painter, and I believe she did some kind of social work.

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-When was this?

-1973.

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-Right, '73.

-And she and her friends would make seed bombs and throw them into vacant lots.

-Right.

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And that was one way to reclaim abandoned areas.

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This was owned by the city, and when the Liz Christy Garden began,

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they rented it for about a dollar month, so 12 a year.

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And we, the gardeners, I became a gardener in '85,

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maintained it as a community garden

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before it became officially part of the New York City Parks Department.

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So these gardens went from being vacant lots with seed bombs

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to something that people were prepared to campaign to preserve

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-and spend money to preserve.

-Yeah, right.

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What's their function? What are they for?

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To provide an outlet for our very fundamental human desire

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to dig the dirt and to work with plants.

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And the will to keep them is strong.

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-Didn't Giuliani want to sell them all off?

-Oh, sure he did, exactly.

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There's been always a struggle between developers

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and the interests of developers for housing,

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and I've always said that it's not housing or gardens,

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it's housing AND gardens that people need.

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And housing and noise!

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The soundtrack in this garden is always completely opposite of what you see.

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Well, I like everything about this garden.

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I like the way it looks, I like what they've done to it,

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but above all I like the fact that it exists.

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I even like the traffic hammering behind it because that's what it is.

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It's reclaimed space in the middle of downtown Manhattan,

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and it's a very noisy, busy place.

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It's part of the identity of the gardens.

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But now I'm leaving all that noise and business

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and going south to Maryland,

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to visit one of America's foremost garden designers,

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who is creating gardens that are new and very American.

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This is part of Chesapeake Bay,

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which is the largest estuary in America,

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where the rich and the successful politicians

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come to spend their weekends and their holidays.

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The big Atlantic skies, with its wide horizons and the natural flora,

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drew James van Sweden to this coast,

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about an hour away from his Washington base,

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because it reminded him of the Michigan meadows where he grew up.

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Well, here I am.

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This is James van Sweden's weekend holiday home.

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James van Sweden is one of America's leading landscape designers,

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and has created gardens for Oprah Winfrey and other celebrities.

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His gardens are always natural, free spirited,

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and are designed for low maintenance and high sustainability.

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His work pays homage to the natural grasslands of North America,

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but it's also a reaction against the tightly-mown lawns

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that still dominate the American suburban garden.

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This garden inverts the relationship between houses and gardens

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that I've seen endlessly on the road here,

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where you have mown grass going up to the front door

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and you keep looking for the garden to begin.

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Whereas here, you keep looking for the garden to end.

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But it doesn't, it just dissolves out into the landscape.

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Where you have a garden that merges so completely with the surrounding landscape,

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there can be a bit of confusion about what's garden and what's not garden,

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and just by cutting this curving path through the grass

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it brilliantly defines the space around it, it makes it into a garden.

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It's not a lot, but it's enough.

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When you came here, did you have in your mind what you wanted to do?

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I did. When I bought this land it was empty and flat.

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And what I wanted to do was build a house that floated over a meadow,

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and I thought this was the perfect place to do it.

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Now, for clients you often have to design a very gardenesque kind of garden, you know, pretty.

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But I wanted a garden that was not pretty.

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In fact, I said, "I want an ugly garden,

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"I'm so sick of pretty, pretty."

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And so I designed a garden that I thought was tough, was sustainable,

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and I have no watering, I don't water anything here.

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Not having chemicals and just a minimum of weeding...

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I'm very flexible about weeds,

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so that's why the whole garden looks quite a bit like a meadow.

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One thing about having no lawn, it brings nature right up to the house.

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Snakes, foxes, turkeys...

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I have wild turkeys walking right by, ten feet from the windows.

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I have deer coming up. It's fantastic, it's just wonderful.

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But it terrifies Americans, I think, to some extent.

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Driving along and seeing these very large houses often,

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with no cultivated garden, there'll be lawn mown outside,

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is a very strange experience for a European.

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Why is it that you think the garden culture doesn't seem to express itself very freely here?

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I don't think Americans necessarily want to be outside.

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When they are outside they want to play golf and they want to swim and so on, and play.

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But I don't think they really want to garden. I think it's too much work.

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It's very hot so they don't want to be outside.

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They're also afraid of a bug.

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They're afraid they'll be cold or hot, whatever.

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So it's not really a gardening country.

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This garden is a synthesis

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of the very modern and natural indigenous plants,

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taking a garden with huge skill to make it look effortless

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and carefree, and it's brilliant, I think.

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It works wonderfully well and is a real model for the way gardens could go.

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But now, from here, I'm going to go back in time.

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I want to go back to the roots of modern America,

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to perhaps the most famous American garden of all,

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which is the garden of Thomas Jefferson, at Monticello.

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Monticello is 100 miles

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south-west of Washington,

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in Charlottesville, Virginia,

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and this grand neo-classical mansion

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has become a symbol of nationhood and independence.

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Monticello was one of those places

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that I knew I absolutely must visit when I came here to the States.

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It was created and lived in by Thomas Jefferson, who was an extraordinary man.

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He was the third president of the United States,

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and the author of the Declaration of Independence.

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He was also a great gardener, a horticulturist, a landscaper and architect,

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a man with furious curiosity and energy,

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and he believed that plants had social significance.

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So what we have here at Monticello is not just a garden

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but also the founding of modern America.

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His energy and curiosity were boundless,

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and everything at Monticello is a testament to this.

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Jefferson began the Palladian villa in 1767 and worked on it,

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designing every quirky detail, for the next 40 years.

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This was his home, a sanctuary away from the demands of public life,

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but it was also always a place of almost manic work.

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He was a polymath, spoke seven languages,

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was versed in all the sciences and recorded everything he ever did.

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And if that wasn't enough, he was also, like me,

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passionate about growing vegetables.

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It's been very, very dry, so the garden is quite empty,

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but as a vegetable gardener that doesn't matter at all,

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it's still fascinating.

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It's actually quite wide. It's a hugely long space.

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These 24 squares - each of them is about half an allotment.

0:25:350:25:42

And as well as this huge vegetable garden terrace,

0:25:420:25:45

there's an eight-acre fruit garden and a large floral garden,

0:25:450:25:49

which were all part of the original 5,000-acre plantation.

0:25:490:25:52

Peter Hatch is the director of gardens and has written several books about Jefferson.

0:25:520:25:57

Now, I think it's clear that this wasn't a fancy garden,

0:25:570:26:02

where an ex-president pottered out his waning years.

0:26:020:26:05

There was a much more serious purpose to it.

0:26:050:26:07

I think there was a real profound function

0:26:070:26:09

that Jefferson was experimenting in order to sort of transform

0:26:090:26:13

the socio and economic culture of this new country he was working on.

0:26:130:26:17

I'll just stop you there for a moment because that is

0:26:170:26:20

A, an extraordinary statement, it's a really big idea.

0:26:200:26:24

Jefferson said the greatest service which can be rendered to any country

0:26:240:26:29

is to add a useful plant to its culture,

0:26:290:26:31

and a lot of these were kitchen vegetables that he planted

0:26:310:26:35

in this kitchen garden that's so remarkable at Monticello.

0:26:350:26:38

This was really a revolutionary garden in the way that it contained

0:26:380:26:42

330 varieties of 170 species of vegetables,

0:26:420:26:47

and he was growing really new things in this garden,

0:26:470:26:51

unusual plants that came, literally, from around the world.

0:26:510:26:54

330 different varieties of vegetable. That's not necessary.

0:26:540:26:59

That's interesting, but it's obsessive, isn't it?

0:26:590:27:02

Right. I think he grew 38 varieties of peach,

0:27:020:27:05

or 27 varieties of bean, and then would winnow out the inferior types.

0:27:050:27:09

-So this was an experimental laboratory.

-Right.

0:27:090:27:12

Now, here in what one might call the floral part of the garden,

0:27:140:27:20

what was Jefferson's thinking and how did it evolve?

0:27:200:27:25

He planted all the flowerbeds first,

0:27:250:27:27

as he was about to retire from the presidency,

0:27:270:27:30

and there were 20 oval flowerbeds.

0:27:300:27:32

He planted them and went back to Washington.

0:27:320:27:34

His daughter wrote to him and said the bulbs had done splendidly

0:27:340:27:38

but none of the seeds had come up.

0:27:380:27:40

Despite that temporary setback he said, "I need more room for a greater variety of flowers."

0:27:400:27:45

He sketched a plan with a border alongside of it.

0:27:450:27:47

One garden writer said Jefferson was like all good gardeners,

0:27:470:27:51

when he couldn't successfully garden in a small space,

0:27:510:27:54

he just decided to make it three times larger.

0:27:540:27:56

It's exactly the truth!

0:27:560:27:57

In its day, Monticello was a frontier garden.

0:28:030:28:06

To its west lay largely undiscovered land for Europeans.

0:28:060:28:11

But for the man who wrote that, "All men are created equal",

0:28:110:28:15

Jefferson's Monticello enshrined the deepest of American dilemmas.

0:28:150:28:19

All the way along this mulberry avenue were buildings,

0:28:200:28:23

and in those buildings, all the needs of the estate were serviced,

0:28:230:28:27

from making nails to splitting wood, and also lived slaves.

0:28:270:28:33

Now, there were about 100 slaves working here at Monticello,

0:28:330:28:38

which, for the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence,

0:28:380:28:43

is confusing to the modern mind.

0:28:430:28:46

Slaves were a largely accepted element of 18th and 19th-century life in the American south,

0:28:480:28:55

and although Jefferson wrote and spoke against the evils of slavery,

0:28:550:29:00

the bald fact remains that Monticello depended upon slave labour

0:29:000:29:05

for its creation and maintenance.

0:29:050:29:08

This is a beautifully-restored and maintained late-18th century garden,

0:29:100:29:17

set in the glorious Virginia countryside and, as such, is worth a visit.

0:29:170:29:21

But what makes it really special is the extraordinary man that made it.

0:29:210:29:27

There's still something slightly austere about Jefferson,

0:29:270:29:30

something almost ruthless at the heart of it.

0:29:300:29:33

Again, I suspect that's to do with being a successful politician.

0:29:330:29:38

But what it did do in its age was to inspire people

0:29:380:29:43

to go out and conquer what they saw as wilderness,

0:29:430:29:48

and set up a series of settlements, increasingly further west.

0:29:480:29:54

So now I'm going in the footsteps of those early settlers,

0:29:560:29:59

as they struck out westwards into what is now called Kansas.

0:29:590:30:03

Kansas takes its name from the Kansa tribe,

0:30:040:30:08

who inhabited the area long before Europeans arrived,

0:30:080:30:11

and for thousands of years native Americans had lived in this stunning landscape.

0:30:110:30:15

However, as the emerging nation expanded into the prairies of the mid-west,

0:30:150:30:20

their way of life would be changed forever.

0:30:200:30:23

Jefferson encouraged and sponsored the exploration of the west,

0:30:250:30:30

and following this were settlers,

0:30:300:30:33

forever moving inexorably westward looking for more land,

0:30:330:30:37

and there was, seemingly, a limitless amount of it.

0:30:370:30:40

And they came to the prairies,

0:30:400:30:43

thousands of square miles of rolling grass.

0:30:430:30:47

These vast grasslands once stretched unbroken for hundreds of miles across the continent's interior,

0:30:480:30:54

and when this landscape was first seen by the French explorers,

0:30:540:30:58

they called the sea of grass "prairie", the French term for "meadow".

0:30:580:31:03

Seeing this trail wind through the grasses,

0:31:040:31:08

you see exactly the inspiration

0:31:080:31:10

that James van Sweden has taken and used in his garden.

0:31:100:31:15

Native Americans lived harmoniously with this landscape,

0:31:180:31:22

and the ecosystem was sustained by a cycle of natural fires

0:31:220:31:26

and the grazing by tens of thousands of wild buffalo.

0:31:260:31:29

Today, the buffalo and the indigenous people have all but gone,

0:31:290:31:32

as well as most of the prairie,

0:31:320:31:35

but what remains still has to be sensitively managed.

0:31:350:31:39

Only 2% of the 19th-century grasslands remain, and two thirds of that is being preserved here,

0:31:390:31:44

the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve.

0:31:440:31:48

Ron Clark is one of the park rangers.

0:31:480:31:52

The prairie can contain about 60 different types of grasses.

0:31:520:31:55

We have approximately 40 that we've identified,

0:31:550:31:59

but we have four that we consider our signature grasses,

0:31:590:32:02

and those, of course, are the two blue stems, big and little, Indian and switchgrass.

0:32:020:32:07

The blue grass has these very deep roots, I understand.

0:32:070:32:11

Exactly. Most of these grasses root down at least eight feet.

0:32:110:32:15

Some of them can go down to 15 or 16 feet.

0:32:150:32:18

80% of the plant is actually under your feet.

0:32:180:32:22

And the grasses are extraordinarily subtle and beautiful.

0:32:220:32:27

They repay you steady, don't they?

0:32:270:32:30

I think this is the prettiest time of the year here.

0:32:300:32:32

They're just so majestic.

0:32:330:32:35

Standing here, the grasses are taller than us.

0:32:410:32:44

Yes. The one right behind you is just about your height.

0:32:440:32:47

One at the back, that's old big blue stem.

0:32:470:32:49

-Right.

-And this time of year you really don't see that blue stem colour, mid summer.

0:32:490:32:55

This stock has a kind of blueish-green colour to it.

0:32:550:32:58

Now, this grass is called turkeyfoot.

0:32:580:33:00

It's one of our big four, right here, a big blue stem.

0:33:000:33:05

Right in front of us here, I see some Indian grass,

0:33:050:33:08

which people who had a good imagination thought looked like the feather of an Indian.

0:33:080:33:12

The science community tells us that only the rainforest has a greater diversity than the prairie.

0:33:120:33:19

-Really?

-That's something that people have a hard time understanding

0:33:190:33:24

or even contemplating, because they just see it as a grassland,

0:33:240:33:28

that's got a few steers out on it, and a coyote or two,

0:33:280:33:32

but, actually, if you spend any time here, every rock has life under it.

0:33:320:33:37

Yeah. Yeah.

0:33:370:33:38

OK, as we kind of walk down out of the prairie,

0:33:390:33:42

you begin to pick up the woody vegetation, trees to our left,

0:33:420:33:45

and this beautiful red-leafed plant called sumac.

0:33:450:33:49

It's an astonishing colour.

0:33:490:33:51

It's an interesting plant. It's very pretty,

0:33:510:33:53

-and we like to see it on the prairie. It belongs here.

-Yeah.

0:33:530:33:56

I'm so glad that I came out here

0:34:070:34:11

to the Kansas prairies.

0:34:110:34:14

It puts everything into context and takes plants that you can see

0:34:140:34:18

and admire in a garden and gives them another dimension.

0:34:180:34:22

But the thing that changed this prairie,

0:34:220:34:26

it probably changed this country, actually,

0:34:260:34:28

more than anything else as it developed,

0:34:280:34:32

was the railroad.

0:34:320:34:33

The final leg of my journey is on to the west coast and California.

0:34:360:34:40

Modern transport is dominated by the aeroplane and the motor car,

0:34:440:34:48

but in the pioneer days it was the railroad that truly opened up the west.

0:34:480:34:52

Henry Huntingdon was a railroad magnate,

0:34:550:34:58

and he used the vast wealth that he accrued

0:34:580:35:01

to finance his collections of manuscripts, paintings, rare books and plants.

0:35:010:35:06

In 1904, he met a talented gardener named William Hertrich,

0:35:070:35:11

whom he charged to build the most beautiful garden in California.

0:35:110:35:15

The result is the Huntingdon Botanical Gardens.

0:35:150:35:18

The thing that has drawn me here, first of all in California,

0:35:230:35:27

is because it seems to me an extraordinary thing that Huntingdon,

0:35:270:35:31

who had so much power, who blazed a trail into California,

0:35:310:35:36

who loved California, decided to build a garden as his memorial.

0:35:360:35:41

He didn't just build any old garden, he built a garden on a grand scale,

0:35:440:35:47

bearing in mind California was only part of the US from 1850 onwards.

0:35:470:35:51

So it was an amazingly optimistic, grand gesture.

0:35:510:35:57

Huntingdon's Botanic Garden covers 127 acres,

0:36:030:36:08

with over 15,000 species of plants divided amongst 12 themed areas.

0:36:080:36:12

The desert garden is 100 years old,

0:36:120:36:15

and one of the oldest collections of cacti and succulents in the world.

0:36:150:36:19

Mmm.

0:36:210:36:23

Many of these cacti are night blooming.

0:36:250:36:28

So this wonderful, extraordinary flower is only open now

0:36:280:36:33

because it's rather a grey, chilly morning,

0:36:330:36:36

and, for once, I'm glad that the sun is slow to come out

0:36:360:36:39

because when it gets sunny, which it will do later on,

0:36:390:36:42

that will just close up.

0:36:420:36:44

But I confess that these are plants

0:36:470:36:49

as far from my own familiar botanical terms of reference

0:36:490:36:52

as anything found outside a coral reef

0:36:520:36:54

and to help me find out more about the garden and its plants,

0:36:540:36:57

I met up with Jim Folsam,

0:36:570:36:59

who's been director of gardens here for the past 23 years.

0:36:590:37:02

I'm intrigued that the place existed at all.

0:37:040:37:08

What did Huntingdon expect people to get out of this?

0:37:080:37:12

What was the purpose?

0:37:120:37:13

One of the things that we've lost, "we" in the broader sense,

0:37:130:37:17

is a feeling that an earlier generation had

0:37:170:37:20

that plants were important,

0:37:200:37:22

and that plants were almost important from an imperial sense,

0:37:220:37:25

and he felt that this was the new world, southern California.

0:37:250:37:29

If you could grow anything here, then you could be anybody, couldn't you?

0:37:290:37:33

The collections were an expression of what southern California can do.

0:37:330:37:37

You can grow all these plants, so you can do something wonderful, can't you?

0:37:370:37:41

It's partly, as you say, a sort of imperial statement.

0:37:430:37:47

It's partly an expression of sort of energetic optimism.

0:37:470:37:52

An understanding modern society has lost,

0:37:520:37:54

the understanding that plants are important.

0:37:540:37:56

Now, that looks, to me, terribly like a London plane,

0:38:000:38:03

and yet I can't imagine what you would want with a London plane tree in this environment.

0:38:030:38:08

Well, of course it's the more rugged, western cousin, of the hybrid regimented London plane,

0:38:080:38:15

and this is the way the tree looks in nature.

0:38:150:38:17

This is one of the few trees that was on the property when Huntingdon bought it.

0:38:170:38:21

It still looks incongruous to me, I have to say!

0:38:210:38:24

It looks perfectly natural here!

0:38:240:38:26

If you understand how your garden works,

0:38:340:38:37

you have gained a lot of understanding in science and culture

0:38:370:38:41

and a lot of understanding in just practical matters.

0:38:410:38:44

So, we hope that what we can do is we can cause people

0:38:440:38:49

to love to learn more about the world around them through their garden.

0:38:490:38:53

I confess that I'm feeling pretty shattered.

0:39:030:39:06

To try and take in ten acres of succulent plants that you're not very familiar with,

0:39:060:39:13

and that's less than one tenth of the whole Huntingdon estate, is exhausting.

0:39:130:39:19

But it's a great way to be introduced to California and its gardens.

0:39:190:39:25

It's a vast place, and the one message that comes through this

0:39:250:39:29

is the sense that the weather, and the land, and the general atmosphere,

0:39:290:39:35

the sense of possibilities here, are limitless.

0:39:350:39:38

And all that optimism, combined with the marvellous weather,

0:39:380:39:44

is really what drew the movie business here,

0:39:440:39:46

just after the First World War.

0:39:460:39:48

The next garden I want to go and see is one made by an entertainer.

0:39:480:39:53

The 1920s and '30s were the golden age of cinema in California.

0:39:590:40:03

Movie moguls and Hollywood stars built palatial homes

0:40:030:40:06

with suitably luxuriant gardens.

0:40:060:40:09

It was a time of extravagance and glamour, a period when

0:40:090:40:12

celebrities would flaunt their wealth through their gardens.

0:40:120:40:16

I've come here to Lotusland in Santa Barbara

0:40:250:40:29

because it is one of the very few gardens

0:40:290:40:31

that survived from the heyday of Hollywood.

0:40:310:40:34

And what we see now is down to one extraordinary woman,

0:40:340:40:39

called Madame Ganna Walska.

0:40:390:40:41

Ganna Walska was a Polish opera diva who married six times,

0:40:450:40:49

obviously wisely, if not successfully,

0:40:490:40:52

because she accumulated great wealth in the process.

0:40:520:40:55

She bought the property in 1941 and immediately began to renovate its grounds.

0:40:550:40:59

And today, Lotusland is 37-acre estate

0:40:590:41:03

made up of over 20 idiosyncratic gardens,

0:41:030:41:05

and it's become famous for its botanical diversity and richness.

0:41:050:41:09

A-ha.

0:41:120:41:15

Now, I've read that this used to be the original swimming pool

0:41:150:41:19

and it's been created into a series of ponds, not least to house the lotus,

0:41:190:41:25

which gives the garden its name, Lotusland.

0:41:250:41:28

The blue garden was one of the first of its kind

0:41:330:41:36

and created almost entirely without flowers,

0:41:360:41:39

and its weave of glaucous foliage, all intermeshes subtly,

0:41:390:41:43

set against a very yellow-green backdrop,

0:41:430:41:46

and it's one of a whole series of individual gardens,

0:41:460:41:50

each which has its own theme.

0:41:500:41:52

It's not just the physical scale of this garden.

0:41:540:41:58

Whether you like it or not, it's this mix.

0:41:580:42:02

Here am I, looking out on sort of a bit of Islamic garden

0:42:020:42:05

and a bit of Italianate garden,

0:42:050:42:07

and then there's a zoo or something in topiary down there.

0:42:070:42:10

Now, I actually really like it.

0:42:100:42:12

I like the kitschness, I like the sort of way it's all pulled together

0:42:120:42:16

in this quirky jingle-jangle of plants

0:42:160:42:20

because underneath that is a really assured performance,

0:42:200:42:23

as if someone's saying, "We're putting on a show and we're good at it.

0:42:230:42:27

"Stand back because you're going to be amazed."

0:42:270:42:29

But I'm curious to find out how a singing diva

0:42:350:42:38

came to create such an array of gardens on such a scale.

0:42:380:42:42

Ganna Walska's niece, Hania, grew up at Lotusland,

0:42:420:42:46

and her first wedding took place here, too.

0:42:460:42:48

What was it like growing up in this extraordinary garden?

0:42:480:42:51

Well, my friends, who I would invite for a swim,

0:42:510:42:54

were always kind of shy when they walked in here,

0:42:540:42:59

and it was kind of overwhelming for my teenage friends

0:42:590:43:02

when I would have a party here.

0:43:020:43:04

They were quite overwhelmed.

0:43:040:43:06

What was your aunt like as a person?

0:43:060:43:08

It's hard to describe my aunt.

0:43:080:43:10

She'd sort of the life of the party.

0:43:100:43:12

Let's put it this way, when she walked in, everybody knew.

0:43:120:43:15

I don't know why but they all stopped talking when she walked in,

0:43:150:43:19

and she was such a strong personality.

0:43:190:43:21

And it was extraordinary back then

0:43:210:43:23

that somebody like her should become so involved in gardening

0:43:230:43:28

because she became effectively the head gardener, didn't she?

0:43:280:43:31

Yes, she did, actually.

0:43:310:43:33

No-one was allowed to touch anything, or move anything,

0:43:330:43:36

or plant anything, or cut anything without her specific permission.

0:43:360:43:41

If it was a question of planting, she'd say, "Dig a hole, then wait."

0:43:410:43:46

Then she'd walk around the garden.

0:43:460:43:49

Two hours later she'd come back, the gardener's standing over the hole,

0:43:490:43:53

and she'll say, "All right, now put the plant in and I'll come back and look."

0:43:530:43:57

So, she puts the plant in the hole, then she'll come back an hour later

0:43:570:44:01

and she says, "No. More to the left. I'll be back."

0:44:010:44:05

I think, perhaps more than any other garden, this is specifically hers

0:44:120:44:18

because other gardeners may have landscape designers, you know,

0:44:180:44:22

and she did,

0:44:220:44:24

but she wouldn't take their word for it!

0:44:240:44:27

She would get their plans, and then she would change them!

0:44:270:44:31

I think I'm beginning to understand how Madame Walska got through her six husbands.

0:44:330:44:38

But there's no question that her approach has led to

0:44:380:44:40

a very individual garden, and that's always good.

0:44:400:44:44

Now this is very weird,

0:44:490:44:51

although I like that lion, with his shaggy mane.

0:44:510:44:55

Here we have a set of slightly Disneyfied animals, topiary,

0:44:550:45:00

and this enormous clock in the middle.

0:45:000:45:03

I think this is Madame having fun, and she did everything big.

0:45:060:45:11

So if she's going to do tacky, do it big.

0:45:110:45:15

This is the aloe garden,

0:45:260:45:28

with a large collection of aloes.

0:45:280:45:32

But it is centred around, and dominated by,

0:45:320:45:38

a pool of such monstrous hideosity

0:45:380:45:44

that it's hard to see the plants for what they are, which is fascinating.

0:45:440:45:49

But it's interesting.

0:45:500:45:52

I'm amazed.

0:46:010:46:03

Here we have a garden where money seems to be no object,

0:46:160:46:20

where ambition doesn't stop anything,

0:46:200:46:23

where everything is unfettered, including taste.

0:46:230:46:26

And that is a real picture of America and its optimism and energy

0:46:260:46:32

in the '40s and '50s and '60s.

0:46:320:46:35

And I think the next step, whilst I'm here in California,

0:46:350:46:38

is to see what people are doing with their money and energy in the modern day.

0:46:380:46:44

The movies are still the driving force

0:46:510:46:53

behind the cultural and economic life of California,

0:46:530:46:56

and the next garden I'm going to see belongs to the director

0:46:560:46:59

who made the huge Hollywood blockbusters,

0:46:590:47:02

Independence Day, The Patriot and Stargate.

0:47:020:47:05

I'm fascinated to see what he's done with his garden.

0:47:050:47:08

Here, right in Hollywood, we have the homes of the rich and the powerful in the movie business.

0:47:130:47:20

Next door is the house and garden of Dame Helen Mirren,

0:47:200:47:23

and this one belongs to the director, Roland Emmerich.

0:47:230:47:27

But when he bought it, it was actually very destitute and rundown,

0:47:270:47:30

so he was going to revamp the whole thing,

0:47:300:47:33

and he hired a garden designer and gave her very specific instructions.

0:47:330:47:36

He said he wanted her to create something that evoked the glamour of a 1920s starlet.

0:47:360:47:43

He wanted a garden that was exotic and other-worldly.

0:47:430:47:48

Compared to Lotusland, this is a relatively small garden.

0:48:020:48:05

It's only a couple of acres.

0:48:050:48:07

But actually everything about it is on a colossal scale.

0:48:070:48:11

Apparently it needed an enormous crane to bring in

0:48:110:48:14

these enormous trees, and the expenditure matches it.

0:48:140:48:18

The initial flush of pots set them back 100,000,

0:48:180:48:21

and then they got more.

0:48:210:48:22

The total cost of the garden came to round about 3 million.

0:48:220:48:27

Now, another aspect of the brief was that Roland wanted the view blocked because he didn't like it,

0:48:310:48:36

and he also wanted to make sure people couldn't look in,

0:48:360:48:39

so he had complete privacy,

0:48:390:48:41

not least from the paparazzi, as film stars often come and stay here.

0:48:410:48:46

And he wanted that NOW.

0:48:460:48:48

He wanted his mature garden as quickly as possible.

0:48:480:48:51

Well, of course, the only way you can do that

0:48:510:48:54

is by buying in enormous trees, which they've done.

0:48:540:48:57

So, money, power and the positive thinking

0:48:570:49:01

can create an extraordinary garden like that.

0:49:010:49:06

The garden is designed around a central stairway

0:49:120:49:15

that leads from the front door,

0:49:150:49:17

right the way down through the middle of the garden,

0:49:170:49:20

to the pool, the archetypal Hollywood swimming pool.

0:49:200:49:25

Now, I confess that I came here prepared to mock.

0:49:250:49:30

I somehow couldn't believe that all that I'd heard about this garden,

0:49:300:49:34

the energy, the desire to have it completed fast,

0:49:340:49:38

the money that it cost,

0:49:380:49:40

could result in anything that wasn't a bit brash, a bit vulgar.

0:49:400:49:45

But, actually, I was completely wrong.

0:49:450:49:48

It's fantastic.

0:49:480:49:50

When you consider the brief of this garden, to make something that

0:50:080:50:12

evoked a glamorous 1920s starlet, something exotic and other worldly,

0:50:120:50:17

the designer could have been forgiven for chucking colour at it.

0:50:170:50:20

Actually it's much more restrained.

0:50:200:50:22

It's all gradations of green, and what that gives it,

0:50:220:50:27

other than a sense of great peacefulness,

0:50:270:50:29

is substance, almost dignity.

0:50:290:50:32

And instead of being blousy with colour,

0:50:320:50:36

the few dots of brilliant flowers are like jewels,

0:50:360:50:38

jewels against the starlet's beautifully-cut frock.

0:50:380:50:43

I've really enjoyed this garden.

0:50:590:51:01

I like almost everything about it, and I particularly like

0:51:010:51:04

the way that it uses restraint, combined with confidence.

0:51:040:51:10

Now, it's not a gardener's garden.

0:51:100:51:12

There's nothing to do and there's no sense of it

0:51:120:51:15

growing and being nurtured by an individual hand.

0:51:150:51:18

But it's a performance, like everything here in Hollywood,

0:51:180:51:22

and I think the most appropriate response is just to applaud.

0:51:220:51:25

However, when I left Lotusland I said I wanted to see what was going on now,

0:51:250:51:30

and this garden draws a lot of its inspiration from the past.

0:51:300:51:33

There is a sort of retrospective feel about it,

0:51:330:51:36

and before I leave Hollywood,

0:51:360:51:37

I want to see something truly modern,

0:51:370:51:40

to see what people are looking forward to.

0:51:400:51:43

I'm off to Brentwood in the west of the city,

0:51:490:51:51

one of LA's most affluent suburbs,

0:51:510:51:53

to visit a garden that represents a dramatic break with the past.

0:51:530:51:57

The owners of this house and garden, the Greenbergs, having reached retirement age,

0:51:570:52:02

decided to start all over again and pull down the home they'd raised their family in

0:52:020:52:07

and rebuild a new, very modern house, literally in its place.

0:52:070:52:11

Walking in here I'm immediately struck by the great slabs

0:52:200:52:24

of colour on the surfaces and the build up of shapes,

0:52:240:52:27

and these fantastic palms!

0:52:270:52:31

I find it an extraordinary notion

0:52:500:52:52

that on this site was the family home where the children grew up,

0:52:520:52:57

with all the memories and associations,

0:52:570:53:00

and yet it was felt an exciting thing to do

0:53:000:53:05

to scrub it all away and reinvent themselves, to build something new.

0:53:050:53:10

And that kind of optimism and bravery

0:53:100:53:13

seems to me to be very Californian.

0:53:130:53:16

This boldness of vision led the owners to collaborate

0:53:250:53:28

with the Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta.

0:53:280:53:31

He's famous for using elements of Mexican regional architecture in his work,

0:53:310:53:36

including bright colours and plays of light and shadow.

0:53:360:53:39

The wonderful garden, however, is the work of the landscape architect Mia Lehrer.

0:53:390:53:45

It was a wonderful sort of

0:53:450:53:48

experience working with Mr Legorreta,

0:53:480:53:51

and working with the Greenbergs.

0:53:510:53:53

They really responded to the notion that the garden

0:53:530:53:58

and the house had to have sort of an equal billing, so to speak.

0:53:580:54:04

Some of my gardens, and especially this one, was relatively instant.

0:54:060:54:12

The fact that you can roll out a lawn,

0:54:120:54:15

you know, and actually, to a degree, Hollywood plays a part in this.

0:54:150:54:21

You know, the instant gardens that need to be created

0:54:210:54:25

for drama, film and TV

0:54:250:54:30

have become sort of an expectation in my world,

0:54:300:54:34

for a certain level of client.

0:54:340:54:37

-All the trees around the house were actually saved from the original property.

-Really?

0:54:530:55:00

It occurred to me that we could bank, so to speak,

0:55:000:55:04

the large existing specimen trees and work with them,

0:55:040:55:10

and that that would be a wonderful way of bringing

0:55:100:55:13

what was part of the original family place back

0:55:130:55:18

and integrate that into the garden.

0:55:180:55:22

We had these two beautiful jacaranda trees, in this courtyard.

0:55:220:55:27

We had the scattering of Washingtonia palms throughout the site,

0:55:270:55:33

and we decided to plant them before the house was built.

0:55:330:55:38

So literally locate them, with a surveyor,

0:55:380:55:42

in their location on the plan and then build the house around it.

0:55:420:55:47

I think one of the ultimate compliments I ever got was when

0:55:500:55:55

Mr Legorreta walked around the house after it was done and we had a party,

0:55:550:56:00

and he said, "You know, this is a garden with a house,

0:56:000:56:05

"not a house with a garden."

0:56:050:56:08

This is the best place to see the garden.

0:56:290:56:31

It looks absolutely fantastic from here, and, significantly,

0:56:310:56:36

the best place to see it from is the swimming pool.

0:56:360:56:40

Swimming pools are right at the heart of

0:56:400:56:43

the whole Californian lifestyle, really,

0:56:430:56:45

certainly of homes and gardens.

0:56:450:56:47

And the very European idea of garden rooms,

0:56:530:56:56

where you have compartments where you discover

0:56:560:56:58

separate sections of the garden, is totally absent from here.

0:56:580:57:02

The whole thing is open, open to the eye and, above all, open to the sun.

0:57:020:57:07

And yet it works together with its various sections

0:57:070:57:11

in a very balanced, harmonious way.

0:57:110:57:14

The thing I most like about this garden

0:57:140:57:17

is not actually just the physical layout,

0:57:170:57:19

which I think is beautiful, but it's the spirit behind it.

0:57:190:57:22

It seems to me this garden represents that very Californian spirit,

0:57:220:57:28

that if you've got the energy, the optimism and the money,

0:57:280:57:33

then you can do anything.

0:57:330:57:35

This is the end of my journey across America,

0:57:420:57:45

and I've visited some amazing gardens

0:57:450:57:47

that reflect the diversity and energy and of its people.

0:57:470:57:51

But the truth is that the wider American public are slow to embrace the concept

0:57:510:57:55

of tending for their land as part of a sense of personal responsibility and pleasure.

0:57:550:58:01

However, there is a movement in America that

0:58:010:58:04

is starting to think about issues of sustainability and stewardship,

0:58:040:58:08

which can be best expressed through the daily care of a domestic garden.

0:58:080:58:12

I think if America got gardening,

0:58:120:58:15

this idea of a sort of generous nurturing of the soil

0:58:150:58:18

that we'd all benefit from, then that could change the world.

0:58:180:58:22

Next time, my journey takes me to the Far East,

0:58:240:58:28

where I'll travel through China and then on to Japan,

0:58:280:58:31

to uncover the history and meaning of their enigmatic gardens.

0:58:310:58:37

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:58:430:58:46

Email subtitling@bbc.co.uk

0:58:460:58:49

Monty Don continues his extraordinary journey to see the world through 80 of its most inspiring gardens with a visit to the richest and most powerful nation in the world: the United States of America.

His plan is to see how America expresses its vast wealth and incredible energy through its gardens. And at a time when the USA is grappling to define its environmental goals, Monty inevitably hopes to find a powerful movement towards sustainable gardening. Beginning in New York, where garden guerrillas are creating community gardens from derelict land, he then travels south to Virginia, to visit a garden that reflects the birth of the nation's relationship with the land. Finally, he travels west to California, to see if gardens there reflect more than the glitz of the movie industry.