Wednesday 28 March 2012

Historic Scotalnd properties open April 1

The garden at Edzell Castle (attrib. Jonathan Oldenbuck)
On this side of the pond, Historic Scotland is opens the gates and doors to its 25 properties to visitors on 1st April.  Not all are gardens, but then we shouldn't become fixated anyway!

Spring is Here (at least in the Northern Hemisphere) and it is Garden Visiting Time

Just a reminder that the Historic Charleston Foundation Festival is running its annual Festival of Houses and Gardens from now until April 21.  The calendar and all necessary information is available via the link.

More Garden History sources to be Digitised

As you may have realised by now, I am a great fan of the Biodiversity Heritage Library.  And both the organisation and us interested in garden history will welcome the news reported in the St Louis Business Journal that the Missouri Botanic Garden has been awarded a $260,000 grant from the National Endowment for Humanities

To quote the article, the funds will go toward a new project 'titled The Art of Life, (which) will help develop software tools for automated identification and will catalog the visual information contained within more than 100,000 volumes and 38 million pages of core historic literature made available through the Biodiversity Heritage Library.'  

Tuesday 27 March 2012

The Symbolism of the Islamic Garden

Just found this great article by Emma Clark on the site Islamic Arts & Architecture and which I want to share with you. Emma's informative piece provides an excellent summary of the symbolism and meaning of the Islamic garden

Emma is also author of the above tome, The Art of the Islamic Garden.

White House gardens & grounds in the 19th century

The White House North Lawn in the 1860s
Another fascinating post from Early American Gardens on the subject of the White House garden.  Take a look....

Monday 26 March 2012

Rhododendron maximum

Early American Gardens has posted a fascinating piece entitled 'Early Garden Book - Jacob Bigelow,  American Medical Botany. Boston 1817'

Do take a read end enjoy the gorgeous botanical illustrations.

Oxford Literary Festival Lecture, Saturday last

Thanks to all those who came to my lecture on Saturday in Christ Church.  I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.  

Friday 23 March 2012

The 2012 Winner is...Abbotsbury Subtropical Garden

Also in The Telegraph is the announcement the Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens near Weymouth in Dorset is the winner of this year's coveted Historic Houses Association / Christie's Garden of the Year award.


Is it English, Scottish, British or something else?

In today's The Telegraph Tim Richardson wonders if the various constituents of the British Isles have had or should have national styles of garden design.  I would also ask, could the same be said of the Benelux group?

Thursday 22 March 2012

Its Not All Good News

Thanks again to Sally for flagging this one up.  The Irish Times reports vandals have stolen the lead from the roof of Dublin bandstands in Phoenix Park and the National Botanic Garden, Glasnevin.

In the Garden with Jane Austen

The second edition of an interesting-looking book, which I would love to review, should the publisher be reading this!

Update from Derbyshire Historic Garden’s Trust

News from the Derbyshire Historic Garden’s Trust reported by Belper News.  Unfortunately the Trust does not have its own website.

Pulhamite Rockery Restored

A few news stories to share with you today.  First up, a Pulhamite rockery is being restored in Ramsgate, Kent, as reported by 

For those who don't know it, Pulhamite was/is a form of artificial, but very realistic-looking rock used to construct rockworks in the 19th century.  I'll do a post about it sometime soon, but in the meantime there is a whole website devoted to the stuff - and a fascinating site it is, too.

There is also a forthcoming book all about Pulhamite:


Wednesday 21 March 2012

Heritage Fruits & Vegetables

Yesterday I received an advance copy of my forthcoming book, Heritage Fruits & Vegetables.  It is always an exciting moment to see, hold and examine 'the real thing' after such a long creative process by a whole team of people.

And I have to say the book is absolutely beautiful beyond even my highest expectations.

So, a huge thank you to Clay Perry for his stunning photographs, and to all at  The Royal Horticultural Society and Thames and Hudson for making the concept a reality and for producing such a stunning book.

More Good News from the Planners

The Buxton Advertiser yesterday announced that a proposal to demolish a house next to an historic park and to redevelop the site has been turned down because, and I quote:

 'the proposed development, by reason of its scale and external appearance would be harmful to the character and appearance of the Conservation Area and the setting of the adjacent grade II* registered historic park.'

Great to know that those with the power are using it to preserve our national garden and park heritage.  But we must remain ever vigilant!

Tuesday 20 March 2012

The Italian Renaissance Garden

Villa d'Este
Volumes have been written about the wonders of the Italian Renaissance Gardens.  They are remarkable testaments to their zeitgeist and absolutely have to be visited.  But here are a few thoughts and comments which I hope may inspire you to seek out more information and take a vacation in Italy.  As if an excuse is needed!
Villa Lante
The Renaissance Mind 
The new Renaissance world view owed much to two innovative thinkers and writers: St Thomas Aquinas and Petrarch.

St Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)  who developed the concept of natural theology: theology based on reason and experience.  He brought Christian doctrine and Aristotelian logic into a syncretic intellectual system.  By inquiring into the nature of nature he laid the foundations of the scientific revolution.  But remember, he was not suggesting that nature was anything else but created by God.
Villa d'Este, Tivoli
Petrarch (1304-1374) is called the ‘father of Humanism’ and once again without being any way anti-Church or anti-Christian, he advocated a development of literary knowledge and linguistic skill based on the Classics, and in particular the works of the philosophers.  This new familiarity with the Classics resulted in a change in scholarship that saw man as a rational and sentient being, with the ability to decide and think for himself.  That is to say Man should attach prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters.
Villa di Castello, Florence
The Renaissance Garden

During the 15th and 16th centuries the garden evolved along side many other art forms and sciences, and the surviving examples, which have influenced garden designers down the centuries, are monuments to the ability of the innovative garden designers, sculptors and engineers who built them. 

Today, however, the gardens tend to be seen only in terms of beautiful statuary, fantastic water works, and large evergreen trees.  This is far from the whole story, but to understand these gardens, it is essential to get into the Renaissance mind, which saw the world as hierarchical, but with each part interrelated.  
Put simplistically the new relationship between human and divine went something like this.  At the top was God, who had created Man, and Nature.  Man perceived the natural world in terms of its usefulness to his needs: plants and animals provided medicine, food, and clothing.  Yet at the same time Nature was part of the divinely created cosmos, and so to understand Nature was to further understand God. 

This interaction was especially subtle and complex in the garden where art and nature were united into an indistinguishable whole.  Together they produced something that is neither one nor the other and is created equally by both.  Sadly, because the planting and perishable features have disappeared, many surviving Renaissance gardens have lost much of their original symbolism.  But it is possible to ‘recreate’ them. 

Garden Features

Villa Garzoni - main axis & terraces (but a detached villa!)
Axial Alignment
The garden was enclosed, with walls often covered with climbers and fruit trees.   But the most important feature was the garden’s axial arrangement to the house – that is to say a main line ran from the main doorway in the centre of the house to the end of the garden; with areas to right and left of this line essentially mirror images. 
Villa d'Este cross axis - Walk of 100 Fountains
Coming off this main axis was a main cross axis that divided the garden into regular subdivisions.  Wooden latticework structures or pergolas were used to cover the paths and give a stronger visual structure, and the compartments were further subdivided with cross paths to produce a geometric grid pattern of regular units, most commonly squares.  These compartimenti were defined by a low lattice fence or an herb hedge (lavender, sage, rosemary), which could be ornately arranged in a sort of knot garden design.
Planting at Villa Ambrogiana
God’s Meadow
Each compartimenti was planted either with a single specimen, or mixed planting increase the flower season, and to show.  By the 16th century and tied in with the Age of Discovery the obsession with collecting new plants was widespread.  By displaying as large a range of plants as possible, it demonstrated one’s wealth, as well as, of course, displaying the diversity of God’s wonders.
Villa d'Este
Architectural Features
Throughout the garden there were gazebos, pavilions, groves, grottoes, statues, sculptures and spectacular water features.  Again this demonstrated Man’s inventiveness, and offered scope for a symbolic display of the owner’s power and wealth. 
Marie-Luise Gothein's chapter Italy in the time of the Renaissance and the Baroque Style makes for excellent further reading.

Monday 19 March 2012

A Plug for my Lecture on Saturday

Just a reminder for anyone interested (and I hope you all are!) that I am giving a lecture on the subject of my new book, Heritage Fruits & Vegetables at the Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival this coming Saturday afternoon.  

The talk will focus on the fun and interesting stories behind the fruits and vegetables that we take for granted; and will be illustrated with Clay Perry's wonderful photographs.  It would be lovely to see you there, and tickets are available here.

Another Great Post from Historical Gardens

Do have a read of this fascinating article on The Second Life of Pavillon de Hanovre by Historical Gardens.

Hertfordshire Garden History - Volume 2

One of the many great and useful tasks performed by many County Gardens Trusts and enthusiastic individuals is to research an produce county gazetteers of historic gardens, extant and lost.  The Avon Gardens Trust was a pioneer in ths field and many have followed since.  The latest offering from the Hertfordshire Gardens Trust is Hertfordshire Garden History - Volume 2 edited by Deborah Spring and published this coming August.  To quote the blurb:

‘This second volume of Hertfordshire garden history considers how Hertfordshire's historic parks and gardens – some still existing, many others lost – have been influenced by, and reflect, the social and economic history of their time.

Hertfordshire's proximity to London swiftly made the county into a place for both the display of success and respite from its demands. Beginning with the hunting parks and Renaissance gardens of the Bacons, Cecils and Capels in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and their gradual replacement by designed landscapes, the book shows how in Hertfordshire individuals have long sought greater space and comfort within easy reach of the capital. The theme continues through to successful Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian entrepreneurs and professionals seeking an idealised country existence while travelling daily to the City, culminating in the tree-lined legacy of the early garden cities.

Lancelot 'Capability' Brown played a role in shaping the Hertfordshire landscape whilst in the nineteenth century industrial development made an impact. The Arts and Crafts movement brought contributions from famous designers Lutyens and Jekyll at Knebworth, and Mawson at Berkhamsted and Bushey. In parallel, services developed to supply the demand for elaborate gardens and the book also examines the role of plant nurseries, estate gardeners, and the Lea Valley glasshouses during the two world wars and beyond. Throughout the book, examples are drawn from both well known and less visible or vanished Hertfordshire gardens of the past 500 years.

This volume draws on new research by members of the Hertfordshire Gardens Trust, whose director of research is Tom Williamson, Professor of Landscape History at the University of East Anglia.’

Thursday 15 March 2012

Post-Doctoral Associate Position

Thanks to Sarah for flagging this up.  

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection in Washington, DC, an institute of Harvard University dedicated to supporting Garden and Landscape scholarship internationally,  has an opening for a Post-Doctoral Associate.

G is for Gazebo

One of a pair of gazebos at Montacute House (attrib. Les Mildon)
The word ‘gazebo’ is a flippant translation from the Latin, ‘I will gaze’, and is used to describe a building or structure from which one may enjoy a view over the garden.   Proper ‘gazing’, required the viewer have an elevated position, and a gazebo came to mean either a small building placed on a natural vantage point or a specially constructed two story stone or brick garden building with a viewing room on the first floor. The gazebo became an especially popular feature in Elizabethan gardens, where the buildings were often built at a corner angle within an enclosed garden in order to command the finest view out over the garden.  This position also meant that the buildings themselves could be admired as a feature in their own right. A twin pair were built in the garden at Montacute House in Somerset.
Henry VIII's Privy Garden at Hampton Court Palace with Mount and Banqueting House
These ornate buildings, which were also used to entertain, trace their origins back through the banqueting houses and wooden structures placed on the top of garden mounts (an innovation of the Tudor garden in 16th century England), to the simple bower, either constructed from trellis or woven saplings, so favoured in the Mediæval garden.  
One of the two gazebos at Ram Bagh in Agra that overlook the Jumna River and the garden
Gazebos were also popular in Mughal gardens, where such structures were sometimes built in groups of four, echoing their ancestors, the four dovecotes, one in each the four corners of the quadripartite Persian garden.  

Gazebo in the 'Hanging Garden of Nineveh
Older designed landscapes from the region, for example Mesopotamia such as those made by   the Assyrian kings Sennacherib (r.705-681) at Nineveh (Kuyundjik) and his predecessor Sargon II (r.722-705 BC) at Khorsabad also had garden buildings atop artificial mounts which fit the definition of a gazebos but are often called or pavilions.

Sadly, in an October 2010 report titled Saving Our Vanishing Heritage, named Nineveh was named by the  Global Heritage Fund as one of 12 sites most 'on the verge' of irreparable destruction and loss, citing insufficient management, development pressures and looting as primary causes.

Monday 12 March 2012

New MA in Garden History

The University of Buckingham is introducing as part of its London Programme a new research MA in Garden History.  To quote the blurb and probably to preach to the converted:

'Interest in British gardens and their history has never been greater than now.  Historic gardens and designed landscapes are a major part of the nation’s heritage, appreciated by more visitors than ever before.  Culturally as well as economically they are important national assets that need to be understood for what they are: works of art that document changing ideas and fashions, and which express the social, intellectual and aesthetic values of those who created them, and for whom they were created.  They are also constantly changing, something that makes them especially rewarding to study as over the course of time they may have been refashioned and reinterpreted by successive generations, and are constantly evolving.  Garden history is not only about the past.  British designers lead the world in contemporary landscaping and gardening, while magazines and television programmes continuously remind us of how important gardens are to us, and of the part they a play in our modern society.  Historians of gardens and landscape architecture draw on different kinds of evidence – visual, literary and intellectual, as well as on what there is on the ground – to explore the ideas, attitudes and approaches which any design contains within it.'

Friday 9 March 2012

Garden History for Kindle

Just an update for US visitors to the blog.  It is now available on Kindle.

Batty Langley 1696 - 1751

Batty Langley from The Twickenham Museum
I wanted to share with you this interesting blog post on the landscape designer Batty Langley, his work and how it has been used for the restoration of the kitchen and fruit garden at Castle Bromwich.

Plan for a Serpentine Garden from New Principles
And, of course, those good folk at the Biodiversity Heritage Library can supply you with a free copy of Langley's New principles of gardening (1728). 

New Book - Painterly Plants

Today's The Telegraph carries an extract from a new book entitled Painterly Plants by Clare Foster, with photographs by Sabina Rüberon.  The article focuses on  the history of the daffodil, together with a Q&A with Claire.  The book presents  14 popular flowers as case studies, examining their history and development.

Thursday 8 March 2012

F is for Ferme Ornée

Le Petit Hameau of Marie-Antoinette at Versailles
The ferme ornée or ornamental farm was a phrase coined by Stephen Switzer who described it thus in his  Ichnographia rustica or The Nobleman, Gentleman and Gardener's Recreation (1715): 'By mixing the useful and profitable parts of Gard'ning with the Pleasurable in the Interior Parts of my Designs and Paddocks, obscure enclosures, etc. in the outward, My Designs are thereby vastly enlarg'd and both Profit and Pleasure may be agreeably mix'd together'. Thomas Whateley provides an extended description in his  Observations on modern gardening  (1770).  

Both books is downloadable free (via the links) thanks of our friends at the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

However it took a few years for this ‘alternative’ landscape style to catch on and the original ferme ornée  was made by Philip Southcote. In 1732 Southcote, then 35, married the Dowager Duchess of Cleveland, a woman almost twice his age, and the couple moved to Woburn (or Wooburn) Farm near Weybridge in Surrey. Because of his Catholic faith he was denied a career in politics or position at at court and so he set himself to landscaping.  

Plan for a ferme ornée from Landscape Gardening by Andrew Jackson Downing
Rather than acres of sculpted topography, swathes of sward, ornamental clumps of trees and shelterbelts, classical buildings and lakes, Southcote developed the ferme ornée with its pictorial and bucolic scenes.  A carefully contrived amalgam of a working farm, flowery walks, and architcecturally-ornamented farm buildings. 

An ornamented farm building
At Woburn several buildings were of these designed by Southcote's friend, the landscape designer, William Kent about whom I have already posted.

The main element of the design was its serpentine walk which took the guest on a circuit of the landscape. The five foot wide sand path was flanked on either side by a hedgerow that was enriched with a wide range of trees, and a border of shrubs, climbers, and herbaceous species, chosen with particularly emphasis on scent; and arranged by height from smallest in the front to tallest at the back. 
The Path Planting at Woburn (R W King)
This floral path was carefully threaded through the farmland in a way that presented the bucolic scenery as a succession of pictorial scenes - carefully contrived gaps in the hedgerow framing the desired views and vistas.  The artistic impact was made all the more scenic by ornamenting the farmland.  For example, buildings such as barns were given crenelated facades, the banks of the excavated serpentine river were carefully mounded, the grass sward was embellished with small groups of shrubs and beds of flowers, and movement and sound were provided by the cattle, sheep, and wildfowl.  The ferme ornée never became a big fashion, but  was popular amongst a select cognoscente.

Sadly no ferme ornée survive, but as well as at Woburn, examples were made at The Leasowes in Halesowen by William Shenstone; Riching Park (later Percy Lodge) in Buckinghamshire; Apps Court in Surrey, Mickleton in Gloucestershire; White Knights in Berkshire (now the campus of the University of Reading) and Enville in Staffordshire.

Tuesday 6 March 2012

Jahanara - another lost Mughal garden

In 1648 the fifth Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (famous for building the Taj Mahal - which is now in danger of collapse) moved into his new capital, Shahjahanabad.  Now known as Delhi, it had taken 11 years to build and now replaced Agra as the capitall of the Mughal empire.

According to an excellent article in the Deccan Herald, Jahan's two daughters  'Jahanara and Roshanara, the two princesses, laid out gardens, market squares and serais (rest houses) which were among the most beautiful creations within the new walled city. It was Jahanara, Shah Jahan’s favourite daughter on whom he had conferred the title of Begum Sahib, who had laid out Chandni Chowk, the main market square, and the garden known as Begum ka Bagh.'

The latter, was well recorded by historians and accounts describe the enclosed garden, into which only women and children were allowed, as having 'pools and channels for running water. There were fountains and canopies supported on 12 pillars of red stone (called bara dari). These provided cool resting places for the people who came to the garden. The water in the channels came from a special canal system and helped irrigate the trees and grass and plants within. There were plenty of flowering trees and fruit trees'

Not much peace and tranquility today (image Deccan Herald)
Begum ka Bagh remained a garden for  royal ladies until the reign of Shah Alam II before becoming Company Bagh early during India's rule by the British East India Company. In 1876 it was renamed again to the Queen's Garden following Queen Victoria's elevation to Empress of India.  Sadly, the Begum Samro's Palace which was built in the garden during the reign of Shah Alam II is now one of the main markets for electrical goods in Delhi and of the gardens, the only surviving part is now the Mahatma Gandhi Park.

Oruawharo - a Garden Restoration in New Zealand

Images from the Oruawharo website
In central Hawke's Bay on the North Island of New Zealand's stands Oruawharo.  According to Oruawharo website, the house which was completed in 1879 was designed by a Wellington architect and built by D McLeoud of Waipukurau at a cost of some £4000 for Sydney Johnston and his bride Sophia Lambert. And surrounding the house were 17 hectares, (40 acres) of gardens and parkland laid out by Johnston who replicated the landscapes he had seen around stately English homes, and who as a keen tree-lover, planted thousands of trees.

In 2000 Peter and Dianne Harris purchased Oruawharo, which was suffering from 30 years of neglect.  As well as bringing the house back to life Peter and Dianne have embarked on a restoration of the grounds with the aim of returning them to their early splendour.  Cleared of undergrowth the hillside woodland once again reveals numerous fine trees specimens while nearer the house the croquet lawn is once more smooth and verdant and surrounded by gardens.  In the fields opposite is the large vegetable garden next to which are new additions - citrus and olive groves, a vineyard and oaks and hazelnuts for a truffiere.

Monday 5 March 2012

'Yes' for Aberdeen's City Garden Project

Image from Aberdeen Garden Cite Project website.

This controversial scheme, in which voters were offered the choice between retaining the historic gardens or opting for the £140m City Garden Project redevelopment, has passed in favour of the latter.  With a 52% turnout the result was 45,301 'yes' and 41,175 'no',  a  majority of 4,126.

The 'yes' will mean that historic Union Terrace Gardens will be lost as part of the redevelopment.  For both sides of the argument, here are the websites of the Aberdeen Garden City Project  and the Friends of Union Terrace Gardens.

Hannah Carter Japanese Garden - Update.

Image from Save the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden
Back in January I posted about the threat to the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden in Los Angeles.  Sadly, the University of California is proceeding with its decision to sell the garden.  In response a coalition of interested groups and individuals - Save the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden - has been formed with the intent and aim of preserving the garden.

Please do visit their website - there is also a downloadable factsheet on this page - and see if there is any way in which you can help save this historic garden.

Friday 2 March 2012

Views of Versailles by Alexandre Benois

King's Walk - really?

Here is a nice post for a Friday from another garden history blog - gardenhistorygirl.  Hope you enjoy her great post Views of Versailles by Alexandre Benois

Thursday 1 March 2012

E is for English Landscape Garden

Brown's landscape at Longleat - more natural than nature
Many thousands of acres of downland Britain that we assume are ‘natural’ were, in fact, parts of carefully designed English landscape gardens created in the 18th and early 19th centuries.  The move away from the formal, French-inspired garden of the late 17th century towards a reappraisal of Nature was stimulated by the Grand Tour, innovative farming techniques, and Enclosure. 

Charles Bridgeman
The first ‘landscapist’ was Charles Bridgeman (d.1738), and his greatest contribution was the introduction of the sunken hedge or ‘ha-ha’.  

A ha-ha
This brought the broader landscape into the garden, which evolved not just as something to look at, but also to look through.  

William Kent
The pace of change was maintained by William Kent (1684-1748) - the subject of an earlier post - who further de-formalised the garden and created idealised, picturesque landscapes - works of art inspirited by the Classics and set within a tamed, sculptured Nature. 

Venus Vale at Rousham
However, it was the much-maligned Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (1716-83) who created what has been described as Britain’s greatest contribution to world art. 

Lancelot 'Capability' Brown
His landscapes were wholly English in their character and inspiration, and Sir Horace Walpole perfectly encapsulated Brown’s work: ‘Such was the effect of his genius that when he was the happiest man he will be least remembered, so closely did he copy nature that his works will be mistaken.’  

Blenheim Palace
I also argue that if you apply the maxim ‘form follows function’ Brown was the original Minimalist Modernist - a work of art composed of water, grass, trees and topography that simultaneously turned in a profit as a productive landscape.

Humphry Repton
Brown’s successor was Humphry Repton (1752-1818), who I call 'Practicality' Repton because he combined beauty with utility primarily by reintroducing the terrace, but as Industrial Revolution suburbia rose and gardening for the masses arrived, formality returned to the garden....

Sheringham Hall
If you want to experience these works of art here are some suggestions of gardens to visit.  There is no unadulterated Bridgeman garden extant, although Claremont in Surrey and Chiswick House in London retains elements. The latter was designed in co-operation with Kent with whom Bridgeman worked on several projects

The finest example of Kent’s work is Rousham in Oxfordshire.  Brown’s crowning glory is Blenheim Palace, also in Oxfordshire: and Repton’s ‘darling child’ is Sheringham Hall in Norfolk.

This is a link to a feature on Georgian Gardens.