Have you ever wanted to meander between two spiral galaxies, or follow in the footsteps of a comet? Now visitors to Scotland’s Nith Valley can do just that. Welcome to the “Crawick Multiverse,” a massive installation created by renowned landscape architect Charles Jencks that gives symbolic physical form to some of our most abstract physics theories.
It’s not the first such garden Jencks has landscaped — he’s done other science-themed projects in Beijing, Edinburgh, and Dublin, among others — but it is possibly the largest and most ambitious, spanning 55 acres. In a fascinating long piece at Atlas Obscura, Aline Simone (whose father is famed cosmologist Alexander Vilenkin) describes the Multiverse as a mashup of scientific disciplines and styles, combining “the austerity of a Japanese rock garden with the whimsey of an Alexander Calder mobile; an improbable marriage of Seussian shapes and GPS precision”.
The American-born Jencks, 76, spent over three years bringing his vision to life, bankrolled by Duke Richard Buccleuch, who forked over £1,000,000 for the project. Before he took on this massive project, the landscape had been ravaged by a failed coal-mining operation in the 1980s, leaving a mess of rubble and contaminated sewage behind. Over the course of three summers, aided by six men armed with diggers and dump trucks, Jencks’s vision for the Crawick Multiverse gradually took shape.
His interest in landscaping dates back to 1990, when he began helping his wife, Maggie Keswick Jencks (an expert on Chinese gardens), with a garden at their home in Dumfries. Tragically, she died of breast cancer five years later.
Jencks continued to work throughout her illness on what became the 30-acre Garden of Cosmic Speculation, and gradually a theme of the origins of the universe emerged via his now-trademark crescent pools, cones, twisty paths and concentric circles. Today the garden is among the most famous in the country, and boasts Soliton Waves, Quark Walks, and Symmetry Breaks, to name just a few noteworthy elements.
The Crawick Multiverse features a “Void Shelter” that spirals downward to a small pool of water shaped like an apostrophe. There is a “Comet Walk,” a conical spire called the Belvedere Finger, twin stone circles representing the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies, two Black Holes, and an Omphalos — “a boulder-limned grotto symbolising Earth’s mythic navel,” according to Simone. Finally, there is the Multiverse itself, a “spiralling mound lined with red sandstone and mudstone boulders.”
In her article, Simone describes the reactions of a some of the world’s top theoretical physicists to a special sneak-preview of Jencks’s project, including Bernard Carr of Queen Mary University. “I’ve sent so many years thinking about it but this is the first time I’ve actually entered it,” Carr mused, adding, “Of course, we’re all in the multiverse.”
Royal Astronomer Lord Martin Rees took a moment to ponder the implications of a multiverse for theoretical physics and cosmology:
“It’s a speculation which may be true,” Rees mused about the multiverse. “I like to think of it as a new Copernican Revolution. We’ve learned that the Earth’s not the center of the solar system. We learned that our solar system is one of zillions of planetary systems in our galaxy. We’ve learned that our galaxy is one of zillions of galaxies in the visible universe. But we’ve learned now that possibly, our visible universe, huge though it is, is just a tiny part of physical reality. And there may have been other big bangs leading to other cosmoses perhaps quite different from ours.”
Images: (top) Omphalos and distant galaxies in the Crawick Multiverse. (bottom) A map of the Crawick Multiverse. Both courtesy of Charles Jencks.