We sat huddled in Mrs. Jackman’s 8th grade geometry class at Hastings Junior High, learning the names of differently shaped solids and how to calculate their volumes, discussing the value of pi and the Pythagorean theorem and other equations, all the while wondering when in the hell we would ever use this self-evidently useless information.
Little did we know that Mrs. Jackman’s diligent instruction would have equipped us to nod yes if Louis XIV had asked us to design the extensive, jaw-dropping gardens at the palace at Versailles! But in fact those gardens — from their layouts, to their perspectives to the far horizon, to the shapes in which shrubs are trimmed, are all about using geometry, geometry, and more geometry.
In my view, the gardens at Versailles are far more interesting and memorable than the palace. You can only see so much gilt, and take in so many paintings and busts of Louis XIV, and experience so many vaulted ceilings and marble floors, before you experience sensory overload and ultimate disinterest.
But the gardens! They are full of wonder and surprises. Who would have thought that geometric lines and shapes could be so enjoyable and, in the case of shrubs, even a bit silly and whimsical?
Mrs. Jackman, who considered geometry to be a very serious topic and applied a no-nonsense approach to her teaching, might not have approved, but I chuckled with delight as Richard and I strolled through the gardens and enjoyed the different shapes and patterns that lay around every corner. The fact is, geometric lines and shapes are pleasing to the eye and to the mind. The gardens at Versailles are extraordinarily beautiful not just because of the flowers, and fountains, and canals, but because they are laid out in a precise geometric fashion. The gardens convey the neatness, and order, and patterns that the human brain craves.