Alice in the Garden

A visitor (dressed for the occasion) examines Alice's fall.

A visitor (dressed for the occasion) examines Alice’s fall.

The Rose: Just what species or, shall we say, genus are you, my dear?
Alice: Well, I guess you would call me… genus, humanus… Alice.
Daisy: Ever see an alice with a blossom like that?
Orchid: Come to think of it, did you ever see an alice?
Daisy: Yes, and did you notice her petals? What a peculiar color.
Orchid: [sniffing Alice’s hair] And no fragrance.
Daisy: [chuckling, as she lifts up one side of Alice’s dress] And just look at those stems.
The Rose: [as Alice slaps the Daisy’s leaves away] Rather scrawny, I’d say.
Bud: I think she’s pretty.
The Rose: Quiet, bud

–Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

I wonder — are there any gardeners out there who don’t love Alice in Wonderland?

Alice, a perennial (ha) favorite for me, returned on my radar a couple of weeks ago when I learned about “Alice in the Garden,” an installation of 20 photographs by Mabel Odessey. It’s now showing in the Oxford (England) Botanic Garden through August. The work explores Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass using a pinhole camera and marionettes made in the 1940s by the English artist Margaret Littleton Cook.


Odessey describes the installation:

“Conceptually, pinhole photography fits right in with the topsy-turvy Looking Glass world. Things being turned upside down and reversed is just what happens in a pinhole camera. Carroll, himself a photographer, would have been familiar with the relationship between negative and positive.

Tweedledee and Tweedledum

Tweedledee and Tweedledum, of course.

“The characters are considered as representations of psychological states and Alice’s dream of Wonderland is seen as a spiritual journey.

“I found many parallels with Buddhist philosophy and psychology in Carroll’s books. Wonderland is another name for samsara, the wheel of cyclic existence that we are trapped in due to ignorance, attachment, and aversion. At the end of the book Alice wakes up, and Buddha means someone who has woken up.

“The photographs also explore time and perception. Carroll uses nonsense to explore these concepts and others such as impermanence, duality, identity, and the role of language. The use of marionettes is a playful visual counterpart to Carroll’s use of ‘nonsense’.”

[Another quote from Alice: “If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary-wise; what it is it wouldn’t be, and what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?]

“With this installation,” writes Odessey, “the garden takes on new meaning as a setting for Alice’s adventures. Each visitor has a unique experience of the installation as the light and garden change throughout the day and season.”

A deliciously spooky Cheshire Cat.

A deliciously spooky Cheshire Cat.

Odessey writes that 2015 marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

She is currently searching for new settings to install her work between now and then. For more information, please contact her at or check her website for more images


[Personally, I am very excited for this anniversary. Only two years to plan for the tea party!]

–Sandra Knauf

1 Comment

Filed under Art & the Garden, Garden Writers We Love

One response to “Alice in the Garden

  1. Lucy Bell

    On the surface, whimsical, delightful. Going deeper, meaningful and thought provoking.

    What’s more inspiring than connecting literature and nature!

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