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The Garden Ephemerist

We will leave it to the professional movie critics to opine on which of the winning films in last night’s Oscars ceremony deserved their awards. As for us, we think the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences needs to add a few competitive categories, and we know who we would have voted for in previous years:

Best Garden Makeover

The Secret Garden, 1993. Based on the beloved children’s novel by Francis Hodgson Burnett, this film adaptation is a testament to the restorative power of growing things. Its young protagonist, Mary, and her friend Dickon restore the health of Mary’s cousin Colin along with the health of his departed mother’s long-neglected garden.

Best Fantasy Potager

It’s Complicated, 2009. We include the word fantasy in this category title because the sumptuous kitchen garden shown in this film is Hollywood set-staging at its finest. The leading female character, a baker played by Meryl Streep, was trained in France, so it makes sense that she would have a French-style potager. What doesn’t make sense is that in this garden, cool-season and warm-season crops grow side-by-side. Turns out they were grown in a greenhouse and sunk into the garden pots and all, so any of them that wasn’t ready for its close-up could be replaced quickly. And those lush tomatoes? They were wired to the vines.

Best Garden as Metaphor for the Zeitgeist

Il giardino dei Finzi-Contini (The Garden of the Finzi-Continis), 1970. This story centers on the members of an upper-class Jewish family who appear to be living an idyllic life in their beautiful walled garden in late-1930s Ferrara, Italy. But the rise of fascism brings with it a more sinister kind of exclusion and enclosure.

Best Institutional Garden

Greenfingers, 2000. Based on a true story, this British comedy stars Clive Owen as a convict in a minimum-security facility in the U.K. who spearheads a prison garden project. The inmates’ efforts are noticed by a gardening celebrity, Georgina Woodhouse (played by Helen Mirren), who encourages them to enter the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. Georgina has an attractive daughter, and romance ensues. Note: Also award-worthy, albeit for the small screen, is the similarly titled “Green Fingers,” a 1972 episode of the TV show Rod Serling’s Night Gallery. It features Elsa Lanchester as Lydia Bowen, a gardener who refuses to sell her land to developers. They resort to coercive tactics, but in return Lydia plants a crop they will never forget.

Best Unauthorized Use of a Greenhouse

Saving Grace, 2000. Faced with foreclosure after the death of her husband, a small-town widow named Grace, played by Brenda Blethyn, turns to an unusual crop to make ends meet.

Best Garden Holiday

Enchanted April, 1991. Again, the lush landscape in this British drama about a group of Londoners vacationing in Italy is slightly enhanced for the camera, but that only adds to the dreamy character of the film.

Best Use of Wildflowers

Howards End, 1991. Our pic for most memorable scene featuring wildflowers is the scene of unlucky character Leonard Bast strolling through a woodland carpeted with English bluebells (hyacinthoides non-scripta). Okay, so they’re nonnative and can be invasive, but they’re gorgeous.

Other movies that feature pivotal scenes in gardens:

  • Gone with the Wind, 1939
  • The Godfather, 1972
  • Being There, 1979
  • Much Ado About Nothing, 1993
  • Sense and Sensibility, 1995
  • Harrison’s Flowers, 2000
  • Pride & Prejudice, 2005
  • Atonement, 2007
  • The Town, 2010
  • Quartet, 2012