For Oscar Announcement Day:
Gardens in the Movies


by Susan Atonement
Constance Casey, one of my new favorite writers, complains in Slate about "garden fraud" in the movie "Enchanted
April" and worries that the false perfection shown in such movies can lead to despair because our gardens simply never look that good.

She goes on to say that while the movie "Greenfingers" is at least about gardening itself, it’s depicted in a misleading way.  And the garden in "Secret Garden" is simply too other-worldly for us to relate to.

But Casey did recommend one movie for horticultural verisimilitude and that’s "Atonement", the highly acclaimed new release just beginning to rack up awards, including seven Oscar nominations.  She approves of its true-to-season and less than perfect summer garden.

Aha!  I loved the book and would follow Ian McEwan anywhere.  And with all the kudos rolling in for the movie adaptation of his book, and now a garden recommendation – I’m there!  So I grab my equally McEwan-loving friend and we venture to the multiplex, hoping to be transported to the world of extravagant English estate gardens and forget the arctic weather here in Maryland.

Our review?  Loved the garden!  But after the opening 20 minutes or so, some of which did take place a the glorious summer garden, the time and location did a 180 – to WWII hospitals with looooong scenes of blood and guts, one gory wounded soldier after another.  Then another looooong scene on the beach at Dunkirk with more horribly wounded and dying soldiers and in case viewers aren’t appalled and horrified ENOUGH, we’re shown a horse being shot in the head and crumbling to the ground.  Yeah, it was that kind of movie and two days later my friend and I are still sorry we saw it.  Still seeing those images.  Still hearing the gun shooting the horse.  Still feeling angry at the filmmakers.

Great garden, though.

Here’s Casey’s article in Slate.

PS.  I just noticed the news account announcing the Oscar nominations describes "Atonement" as a "melancholy romance."  Not exactly the words I’d choose.


  1. You would write a post about the gardens in a movie! My husband knows that I will watch any movie, no matter how bad if there are lots of outdoor shots. I admit, for the most part I watch movies for the background scenery and get lots of creative inspiration. Thanks for the review.

  2. Liked the book, loathed the film. Not so much because it was all blood and guts but because it was mostly nonsense. Garden had that very alluring pre-fall-of-civilisation feel: all sunny days and poppy sparkled hay fields. Other good film gardens include The Draughtsman’s Contract (high hedges and formality), Kill Bill 1 (a garden covered in snow), the greenhouses in Harry Potter,The Garden (Derek Jarman) and there must be lots of others. Hooray, just what I needed, another excuse to procrastinate !

  3. Although I’m guilty of it, I don’t start out with the intention of watching a movie to get garden inspiration, as Shirley does. But, when bored with a movie, I have been known to stop watching the plot (if there even is one) and focus on the plants instead, trying to ID them, whether or not they reflect the appropriate season and other such nonsense.

    “Enchanted April” is one of my favorite movies! I don’t care if the garden is reflected as too perfect. I watch movies to escape, to dream so let me have my illusions, please.

  4. Thanks for the warning. I garden to get away from my memories.

    My first impulse was to lay into you for going on about how horrifying you found those images of war on film, but then I took a deep breath and stopped for a moment to think. It’ stuffing down the (real, not cinematic)memories of war, setting them aside, suppressing them that led to the emotional train wreck I became. I suspect that if I had “carried on”, as I perceived you to do,that I might well have avoided that 16-year emotional hell. So carry on all you like. I wish I had.

  5. I love “The Secret Garden.” Most genius use of a garden is in Ang Lee’s “Sense and Sensibility,” when Kate Winslet walks despairingly through a formal garden of rigidly trimmed yews.

    Great gardening song: R.E.M.’s “Gardening At Night,” back in the good old days when their lyrics were incomprehensible.

  6. I am thrilled to be forewarned about the movie. I avoid blood and guts I don’t care what garden they might show. There is enough blood and guts on the news to keep me on edge.

  7. My hubby and I have a secret code about certain movies. I’ll say, “Ohhh, that looks good.” And he’ll say, “Don’t you know, it’s an Oscar nominee?” And that means DEPRESSING!

    My son used to watch a dreadful kid’s movie and the only saving grace was that it was filmed at a Botanical Garden. Lovely background!

  8. That garden in “Atonement” wasn’t meant to be merely “less than perfect.” It was a stand in for the declining English aristocracy. It was an overgrown, unkempt, decadent, end-of-empire weedpatch. It was the ancestral garden of a family that could no longer afford to keep it up. It was, in short, Britain in atrophy.

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