“Sun, sun, sun, here it comes…”
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness’s (Hare Krishnas’) Bhaktivedanta Manor estate in Aldenham, Hertfordshire, England, opened its memorial to George Harrison, “A Garden for George,” to the public in May.
Forty years ago George donated the property to ISKCON, intending it to become “a place where people could get a taste of the splendor of devotional service to the Supreme Lord,” and it has been in constant use as a Gaudiya Vaishnava temple. He began studying various Hindu spiritual paths in the mid-‘60s and eventually embraced the Hare Krishna movement. ISKCON’s founder, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, was a close friend of his.
Following George’s death in 2001, a garden was created on the Bhaktivedanta Manor grounds in his memory, but it was private until this year. His widow Olivia Harrison said at the public opening, “I am grateful to the devotees for honouring George in the form of a garden. A manifestation in the material world of which he would be very proud.”
George was an avid gardener, first at Kinfauls, the home he bought in Surrey in 1964, then at the massive, woefully neglected Victorian neo-Gothic Friar Park mansion in Henley-on-Thames that he got for a screaming deal (£135,000) in 1970, rescuing it from demolition. As every Beatle fan knows, he wrote “Here Comes the Sun” in Eric Clapton’s garden and dedicated his autobiography, I Me Mine, “to gardeners everywhere.” Following the Beatles’ break-up, George cleared away much of the weeds and overgrowth at Friar Park himself, restoring and improving on it for many years. With a team of ten gardeners he meticulously planned out the landscaping of the 36-acre garden, incorporating the plants he loved, like jasmine, miscanthus malepartus, maples, birches, ferns, grasses, Japanese anemones, kirengeshoma, hydrangeas, zebrensis, magnolia trees, and kahili. As a little boy Dhani Harrison thought his dad was a professional gardener.
Friar Park was the property shown, complete with an assortment of garden gnomes, on the cover of George’s solo triple album All Things Must Pass in 1970, which contains a tribute to the mansion’s first owner, “Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll).” It was also used as collateral for the financing of the Monty Python film Life of Brian after EMI Films withdrew funding. Python Eric Idle described his friend’s generous action to author Peter Doggett as “the most anybody’s ever paid for a cinema ticket in history.” You can see Friar Park and the incredible grounds in the video Eric Idle directed for Harrison’s “Crackerbox Palace” in 1976.
George wrote in I Me Mine (1980):
I’m really quite simple. I don’t want to be in the business full time, because I’m a gardener. I plant flowers and watch them grow. I don’t go out to clubs. I don’t party. I stay at home and watch the river flow.
The memorial garden at Bhaktivedanta Manor is the second major horticultural tribute to George in the U.K. Local Henley politician, John Howard, clearly not a fan, rejected the idea of a large memorial in his town not long after George’s death. He bitchily told The Henley Standard, “He was a recluse and never let anyone have access to the gardens of Friar Park which used to be open to the public. We don’t really want to sting the people of Henley further. The ring of trees with a memorial in the centre will be enough.”
In 2008 Neil Innes’ wife Yvonne and Olivia designed a gorgeous memorial garden for George for the annual Chelsea Flower Show, “From Life to Life, a Garden for George.” He had loved attending the famous flower show each year. The garden had four sections representing four stages in George’s life: the Liverpool Garden, the Psychedelic ‘60s Garden, the Contemplative Garden, and the Afterlife Garden. Red bricks from Liverpool and a bicycle Olivia found that was identical to the one from a childhood photograph of George were used in the first stage. Wild grass from Friar Park was incorporated into the design. Mary McCartney, Ringo, Barbara Bach, Lulu, George Martin, and the Queen attended the opening.
The Psychedelic ‘60s Garden portion of From Life to Life, A Garden for George, designed by Yvonne Innes
Olivia wrote in her introduction to the reissued I Me Mine in 2003:
I might have said, “Oh, your bit of the garden looks great,” to which he would reply, “It’s not my garden, Liv.” It was his way of reminding himself that we are pure Spirit, and that the Spirit is in every grain of sand, belonging to everyone and no one; that nothing is “mine” and that the “I” we all refer to must be recognized as the little “i” in the larger scheme of the universe. George was tired of all the I Me Mines of this world, including his own.
George talking about his post-Beatles life, including gardening, on Good Morning America, 1981, below: