Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Bathing in the Garden

Bathing in my garden at night
I have been giving a lecture to various horticultural organizations in the past year called "The Pleasure Garden".  I start out giving some historical context as to how and why gardens first came in to existance.  I talk about how irrigation systems formed the outlines for a structured landscape.  The first gardens were built around oasis, water sources that could be secured by building a surrounding wall.  Within the walls, persons of privalege could relax and savor the gifts of irrigation.  Plants bearing fruit and scent were planted in orderly quadrants divided by the Four Rivers of Paradise.  And you could bathe.
Pietra dura inlaid marble fountain pool in the Red Fort in Old Delhi, India

When you enter the harem quarters of a Maharaja's palace in India, you enter a world built for pleasure.  Fountains cool the air, while hot water and steam heat the baths.  In Turkey and surrounding countries, and in Morocco, the Hammam is where many people go to bathe publicly, lacking such amenities in their homes.  You can lay on a heated marble slab and have all of your old skin scrubbed away in a thick lather.  Then you melt in to a puddle.  Its wonderful.  Portland should have hammams.
Inca Hot Springs, Cajarmaca, Peru

Hot springs pools are one of those things that I would have bubbling up in my garden if I were granted 3 wishes.  We have some of the loveliest hot springs on Earth in the Pacific Northwest and I make a point of visiting them when traveling in other countries as well.  So the idea of taking a hot bath in the surroundings of my own garden, which I modeled on Indian palace harems seemed rather essential to me when I built it.   I think hot water is one of the World's great luxuries.

I learned to love claw foot bath tubs because I am 6 foot 2 inches tall and I can fit fairly comfortably in a large one.   When I bought my house it came with the original clawfoot tub.  When I bought the house next door I put one in there too, and spent two years surrounding it with a tile mosaic of undersea memories from snorkling and diving trips in S.E.  Asia and the Galapagos Islands.  And then I put a tub in the garden, with a beautiful stone wall encasing it, so now I have 3.
Undersea Tile Mosaic in my bathroom

Its early October in Portland as I write this.  Last night it was drizzling and cool.  I went out in the garden and lit candles in a mixed assortment of Moroccan style lanterns and drew a hot hot bath.  I like it hot enough that it hurts a little bit when you get in, and then you relax in to it.  I can stay in longer that way.  I have a hot water tap plumbed to the outside of the house, next to the cold water spigot.  I buried a black rubber hose connected to the spigot that is rated for hot water use that runs under the gravel terrace to the tub.  The overflow is sealed so that you can fill the tub deeper.
The Clawfoot Bathtub in my garden in Spring

On this cool night I slipped in to the piping hot water.  I have fountains that sound like trickling streams built in to the walls and a raised pond that sing to the garden.  Steam rose up from the bath through  candlelight flickering through colored glass panes.  The experience was so exotic and magical that I flashed for a moment on some Disneyesque Ali Baba scene planted somewhere in my memory.  Cleopatra's Baths, in my back yard.

Cleopatra's Baths at Heiropolis, Turkey
One of the most amazing hot spring baths I have ever seen is called Cleopatra's Baths.  It sits in the ruins of the Roman city of Heiropolis, Turkey, which itself sits on a giant snowy white mount of travertine deposited by hot springs trickling out the hillside at Pamukkale.  The setting is incredible.  Houses were built with running hot water from channeled springs, so many well to do Romans came here to soak thier weary old bodies in their final years that  Heiropolis has one of the largest Necropolises in the Roman World.

Cleopatra's baths had a couple of busloads of Russian tourists in them when I was there, floating around and magnified by the water to look sort of like Manatees.  The water is blue green, with the toppled columns of an Apollo Temple destroyed by an earthquake submerged on the bottom.  Talk about fantasy landscapes, its the stuff of dream sequences in exotic films.

Pool at the Jahaz Mahal in Mandu, India
The Sultans of Mandu had a fortress city high on a mountain plateau in the present day state of Madhya Pradesh in Central India.  The Jahaz Mahal is called the "Ship Palace" because of its long narrow shape flanked by two lakes.  It was built as a pleasure palace for a harem reputed to be 10,000 women!  Sounds rather decadent.  But it was done with extraordinary taste.  Pools that are filled using Monsoon Rains have steps so you can reach the water at any level.  The bath at the Jahaz Mahal has spiraling water channels that carry roof runoff in the most beautiful way imaginable in to a fancifal pool that is masterpiece of Afghan style architecture.  Mira Nair filmed scenes here for her movie 'Kama Sutra'.

At the ruined city of Hampi in Karnataka, more to the south in India is the Queen's Baths, a massive MC Escher like tank with crisply cut steps radiating in graduated rectangles.  It is utterly surreal to behold in this Utah like landscape, but it ensured that the Queen got her bath, no matter how dry it has been.
Queen's Baths, Hampi, Karnataka, India

One of my favorite royal bathing experiences was in Sri Lanka in the early 1990's.  There had been heavy rains and some flooding, and the ancient ruins at Anuradhapura, Sigiriya, Mihintale, and Polonaruwa were filled to the brim.  The refreshment from the heat and humidity in these cool and elegantly framed tanks bordered on divine.
Bathing Tanks in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

Tirta Ganga, Bali
Bali has some magical springs that have been become sacred temple sites, or in the case of Tirta Ganga, a royal water park.  Crystal clear water gushes from springs through the mouths of anthropomorphic creatures into sparkling pools on terraces studded with fountains.  When I was there in 1989 there were two rooms for rent by the gardens, and we had access to the garden at all hours, akin to being in heaven.  Children would come and play during the day, filling the garden with delight.

What makes all of these places so special is that they celebrate water and the pleasure it brings.

Pink Camellias are abundant in Spring
My bath tub needs maybe 35 gallons to fill.  That drains the gas waterheater of hot water by the time the time the tub is full.  When you get in, the water is hot, but it cools off, unlike a conventional hot tub, so you don't get cooked.  The water is fresh, rather than treated, and there is no whirring motor or thrashing jets.  It is just quiet, with the light sound of the fountain drowning out city noises.  When the water has cooled I can use it to irrigate the garden, so the water isn't wasted.  The plants I cultivate around the bath tend to have psychedelic looking foliage.  In spring there are Arisaemums and Podophyllums.  A huge ornamental Rhubarb becomes moderately Jurrasic in June.  In late Spring I plant out a mix of trippy Coleus, Calendulas, fancy leaf Begonias, and Gartenmeister Fuschias to attract hummingbirds.  It is amazing to see their tiny tongues sucking nectar from a flower at close range when you are blissed out in a hot bath.  In summer I hang Epiphllum Orchid Cactus baskets from a simple but elegant steel trellis strung with temple bells that frames the sky and the bamboo arching overhead.  The flowers are huge and otherworldly.

A 6 inch wide Ephiphyllum blossom hanging over my bath tub

A varigated Porceline Berry Vine laces through it all with pink tendrils and with no two marbled leaves alike.  I put a plywood cover on the tub when I'm not bathing and put a lounging bed on that strewn with nice pillows, so the tub becomes a divine place to recline.  Laying down in the garden is second only to bathing in it.

Lounging bed on top of the bath tub
A client of mine came once to take a bath on her birthday as a gift request.  I set up tea service and put lavender oil in the water and floated rose petals on the surface.  Later when she came in she asked if I had drugged her.  No, its always like that.  She now has her own garden tub.

Martina and Mirabella in a rose petal bath
So tell me, is there anything lovelier than bathing in a beautiful garden?  I suppose taking a bath with a beautiful somebody else in that garden.

The steam swirling through the candlelit lanterns makes me sigh relief and let go............................................


  1. Stunning as usual. Love that last picture xxx

  2. aaaah, thank you! now you've got me dreaming...

  3. Thank you for the eloquent reminder as to the ultimate reason we garden-for pleasure. I needed the reminder.

  4. Amazing works !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Kisses from Greece!