Portrack Garden Open Day is coming up and the weather forecast is looking good. This 30-acre creation of Charles Jenck’s idiosyncratic landscape genius, also known as the Garden of Cosmic Contemplation, will be open only for six hours this year which usually draws scores of visitors from the whole of the UK and attracts many foreign tourists.
As I am not a landscape photographer, I was more drawn to the snippets of human interactions unfolding in front of me within the structures, forms and waves designed by Jencks. Thus my photo review of Portrack Garden Open day is more people- than garden-centric. I wanted my images to tell the story of the open day as an event and the garden as an activity hub amidst DNA and mathematical references, fractals, black holes, rail tracks and bridges.
Our journey through the grounds started at the railway bridge across the river Nith. John frequently commutes to Glasgow and was always curious about the unusual landscape visible from the train window. Now we had a chance to view the mainline bridge from the edge of resonant red garden “bridge” projection and relate the scale of human bodies to both structures.
Walking a bit further along the river I photographed the triple bridge perspective created by the real structure itself and two replica arched bridge fixtures.
The garden is really massive. Sturdy walking shoes are a must, as well as a bottle of water and a packed sandwich – we saw lots of impromptu picnics on the landscaped slopes.
Those of an intellectual state of mind will be easily awed by the lake clockwise and anticlockwise swirls and mound spirals inspired by cosmologies and the DNA Garden of the Six Senses topped with the aluminium double helix DNA sculpture.
If you are an outdoor type you can follow those curls and climb the mounds on foot, but if you are more contemplative you can just park yourself underneath the white Universe Cascade running down from the back of Portrack House, read a book and marvel at the jumps in the universe development represented by the steps.
Dog owners will undoubtedly want to bring their four-legged friends along to Fractal Terrace as any day out will not be complete without them (of course, they would also like to be introduced to the paradoxes of time and space…).
Romantics may follow the memento mori labyrinth of Birchbone garden, looking at the bone imprints and reading inscriptions referring to Jenck’s late wife dying of cancer.
Mystery lovers may drop by Devil’s Teeth with Moss Mound.
Designers may be charmed by the swirls of the Willowtwist Garden and the abrupt shape of Jumping Bridge.
Quirky attendees can pose in front of the twin Buttocks hill.
A lot of woodland nooks and crannies and river bends with stone crossings to be enjoyed by more traditional garden lovers.
There is a tea room near the DNA Garden but there’s often a long queue to get there so it is more advisable to bring some snacks and a blanket with you and organise a picnic for your family.
At some point you are likely to encounter the great man himself, as Jencks habitually takes newspaper journalists and VIPs on the personal tour of the Garden of Cosmic Contemplation, sharing his ideas and the process that shaped the space in its current form.
On a lighter note, kids may wish to climb into a disused locomotive that pulls the “train” of metal plates celebrating prominent figures of the Scottish Enlightenment. Bring a box of wet tissues with you because the engine is pretty rusty inside.
There may be some music and other entertainment prepared for the visitors. If unsure listen to the sound of music. Last time we saw girls ceilidh dancing to the tunes of the Upper Nithdale Pipe band and a toddler from the audience grabbed a twig and pretended to be a piper. Youngsters also had a pleasure to meet cosmic faeries from Dumfries Youth Theatre and take part in the interactive show.