It’s been almost two years since work first began on Ovid’s Garden and I am thrilled to announce our opening event, ‘Ovid’s Garden Party’, will take place on Saturday 18th June, 2-4, at Winterbourne House and Gardens.
Ovid’s Garden Party will include a drinks reception, with talks from myself, Miriam Bay, ‘Cultivating Narrative & Composing Landscape’, and garden designer and bestselling author Kathryn Aalto, ‘Creating Gardens with Narratives’, followed by performances of episodes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses by ancient Roman pantomime theatre group Avid for Ovid.
This event is an opportunity to showcase Ovid’s Garden as an outreach space, and there are already plans to run interactive workshops on the uses of plants in ancient cooking, medicine and perfumery as part of the schools outreach events run by West Midlands Classics For All.
This is a free event and all are welcome to attend, although admission prices to Winterbourne apply – £6, £5 concession, and free for University of Birmingham staff and students.
Ovid’s Garden is a project that forms part of my PhD in the Classics, Ancient History & Archaeology Department at the University of Birmingham, funded by AHRC M3C, recreating the plantings of Italian Renaissance gardens inspired by ancient botany. My research explores the invocation of ancient myth, landscape and botany within Italian Renaissance gardens, transmitted through the writings of Roman mythographer Ovid.
The ancients inscribed their own myth and symbolism onto the natural world, and in Metamorphoses, Ovid portrays a treacherous landscape inhabited by wandering heroes, powerful enchantresses, mischievous nymphs and malevolent deities, into which mortals ventured at their peril. For many of the flowers, trees, rivers, mountains and natural features which comprised this landscape are victims of metamorphosis – like Daphne, transformed into a laurel to escape the amorous advances of the sun god Apollo (Met. 1.473-552); or Narcissus, who wasted away with longing for his own reflection and became a pale daffodil (Met. 3.402-510).
In my talk ‘Cultivating Narrative & Composing Landscape’, I will explore how Ovidian narrative was recreated in the ideological programmes of Italian Renaissance gardens through lushly storyboarded experiences, which enabled visitors to locate themselves within landscapes of mythic encounter. I will also relate how the plants grown in Ovid’s Garden were imbued with symbolism in antiquity and the Renaissance – like the hyacinth, narcissus, saffron crocus, violet and anemone, which embodied metamorphosed men; or the lily, marigold and poppy that conjured meadows where girls picking flowers were abducted by opportunistic deities; whilst trees like the mulberry recalled the story of doomed lovers Pyramus and Thisbe and the laurel evoked Daphne’s fate.
Avid For Ovid will be performing some of these episodes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses within the garden, and Kathryn Aalto’s talk ‘Creating Gardens with Narratives’ will situate the intertwining of garden and narrative within a broader historical and contemporary context.
Kathryn Aalto is a writer, designer, historian and lecturer based in Devon. For the past twenty five years, her focus has been on places where nature and culture intersect: teaching literature of nature and place, designing gardens, and writing about the natural world. She is the author of The New York Times Bestseller The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh: A Walk Through the Forest that Inspired the Hundred Acre Wood (2015) and Nature and Human Intervention (2011). Kathryn lectures on literary landscapes and garden topics around the world.
Avid for Ovid is a group comprising three Oxford-based artists, dancers Susie Crow and Ségolène Tarte, and musician Malcolm Atkins, as well as Birmingham-based dancer Marie-Louise Crawley. Working on selected episodes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, A4O explore the nature of ancient Roman pantomime through the telling of ancient myths with dance and music. They bring together a rich range of dance knowledge both as performers and choreographers, drawing on experience of ballet, contemporary, mime, mask work and butoh. A recent interview with A4O can be found on the Open University Classics blog.
Winterbourne House & Gardens is situated close to the University of Birmingham’s Edgbaston campus, just 10 minutes from Birmingham city centre. More information on getting to Winterbourne by road, rail, bus or bike and parking at can be found on their website here.
We look forward to seeing you and if you require any more information about Ovid’s Garden Party, please contact:
This event is sponsored by the AHRC Cultural Engagement Fund and Winterbourne House & Gardens