As the summer temperatures rise, we have waterparks, swimming pools, and water blasters for cooling off. It is such fun to anticipate the cool plunge, the joy of the cooling water. Expecting the splash is fun; a random splash is a water joke*.
Water jokes were quite popular in renaissance gardens in Italy**. The unsuspecting visitor peering closely at a wall-mounted carving could step on a stone and be shocked with a shot to the face. A replica of this is found in Cranbrook Academy of Arts/Gardens in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Fortunately, I was warned to step lightly and was able to tap and run, enjoying the surprise but not the splash in the face.
In Chicago’s Millennium Park, a reinvention of just this trick is the Crown Fountain. A 55′ high art installation rotates through a series of digitally projected faces. The eyes draw you in, and then the smile begins to pucker up. It squirts out a stream of water into the reflecting pool below as onlookers splash about on a hot summer day.
Austria’s Hellbrunn Palace has trick fountains still in operation from the 1600s, including a dining table with spouts in the seat that can shoot water up your backside if you dare sit down.
The idea of water jokes played on the fancy dress visitors of renaissance gardens is a bit hard to imagine, but hot summer days call for a bit of fun. It was true then, and it is true today. City plazas and public gardens design interactive water features. A pop-up water surprise delights any who dare wander in.
Hever Castle, the childhood home of Ann Boleyn, and once owned by American Royalty William Waldorf Astor, has joined the water joke fun.
In 1990 it opened a water maze folly on an island in a lake. The feature is located at the far end of the elegant Italian gardens created by the Astor family in the 1950s. There is so much to see here, you can tour the castle to see prayer books and instruments of torture, or you can wander into the garden to walk the circular stones and take your chances.
Rich and I were the only people there, so we decided to give it a go. Rich went first, cautiously stepping as he went round and round, higher and higher attempting to reach the top. He got wet.
Then I gave it a go, and the wet spots alerted me where not to step! I made it up through the ferns, stones, and moss to be rewarded with a view out over the garden.
It’s summer. Enjoy the water and the jokes!
- *Water Jokes, How to Read Gardens, Lorrain Harrison, ©2010 Bloomsbury
- ** The Joke Fountain, The History of Gardens, Christopher Thacker ©1979 University of California Press