Tuesday 26 November 2013

The best gardening short courses for 2014

Many thanks to Ed Cumming (@edcumming) writing in the The Telegraph Gardening (@telegardening) for selecting my online garden history course as one of his best gardening short courses for 2014

The month-long course is hosted by My Garden School and begins on December 07.  Take a look here for more details and a taster of the class.  

For a review by a former student, check out Anastasia Abboud's blog, Our Ever-Changing Landscape.

Review of my Online Garden History Course

As I am sure you all are aware I teach a month-long online garden history course hosted by My Garden School.

A previous student, Anastasia Abboud, very kindly and unsolicited has posted this review of the course and her experiences on her great blog, Our Ever-Changing Landscape.

Thanks Anastasia!

Monday 25 November 2013

The Body & Philosophy in the Garden

Thanks to philosopher Damon Young (second from right) for writing up a report of The Body in the Garden Festival and posting on his blog, Darkly Wise, Rudely Great.
Damon is also the author of a splendid tome entitled Philosophy in the Garden - currently available here and to be published in the UK early in 2014.

Monday 11 November 2013

Radio Interview

Just back from a great trip to Australia where I contributed to The Body in the Garden - the inaugural garden and crime writers conference.

And where I was also interviewed by Margaret Throsby  (@margaretthrosby) on her Midday programme on ABC Classic FM.  If you would like to hear our conversation its available here.

Wednesday 9 October 2013

Hanwell Castle's Lost Jacobean Gardens

Hanwell Castle - photo citation
An exciting and ambitious garden archaeology project is featured in today's edition of the Banbury Guardian.  One of the sad things about gardens and garden history is how often down the centuries gardens are destroyed - by a decline in fortunes, lack of interest leading to neglect, wars, and straightforward changes in fashion. 

One of the big gaps in extant gardens in Britain are those from the 17th century.  So many were lost during the Civil War and subsequent Commonwealth when  ornamental gardens were far too frivolous for Puritans tastes; and those that did survive we subsequently landscaped according to 18th century fashions.

This makes the archæological survey and dig at Hanwell Castle in Oxfordshire all the more exciting.  The gardens are privately owned and closed to the public but for those who really want to get to grips with the project and the garden’s history, the archæologist in charge of the dig, Stephen Wass, has put together an infomration-filled website - The Hanwell Park Project.  Do have a good burrow and learn all about what has all the signs of becoming a
fascinating exercise ain garden archæology and history.

All I hope now is that the owner of the garden may see it in her heart to open the garden occasionally so that us keen garden historians can sate our interest.

Friday 4 October 2013

What's Out There Weekend, 26-27 October

If you happen to be in Los Angeles on the weekend of 26-27 October The Cultural Landscape Foundation is organising a 'What's Out There Weekend' which features:

'features free, expert-led tours at more than two-dozen significant examples of designed landscapes in greater Los Angeles. The region is known for its distinct Modernist design legacy, which connects indoors and outdoors in innovative ways, but Los Angeles also has a unique legacy of Postmodernist design, with public spaces that meld architecture, landscape architecture and art into one inseparable unit. Explore Modern, Postmodern and other significant sites that go back to the region's Spanish Colonial roots and Asian, Hispanic and African America heritage, with tours that reveal anecdotes and stories about city shaping, landscape architecture and design history. Many are places people pass daily, but do we know their background stories?

Click here for the schedule and to register 

On-line Garden History Course

 Still time to sign up!

My month-long, online garden history course hosted by My Garden School starts Saturday 05 October.  Over the four weeks we will examine 4,300 years of garden history - that most overlooked yet fascinating of all forms of artistic expression.

The course takes an interdisciplinary approach.  Of course we will examine the hows and whys of the the different expressions of garden art, but we will also investigate the ways in which gardens were (and are) such an integral and important component of their culture and society, and reflect on how gardens have influenced their zeitgeist, and vice versa.

For a review by former student Deb Wiles, please check out her post on her blog Got Soil? 

The London Gardens Walk


Taking a walk is good for the health, but taking one with a purpose is also good for the brain.  So if you are a resident with some free time or are a visitor to England's great capital, then this video is the perfect way to discover a whole different side to London that you perhaps don't know about.

Tom Turner, the garden historian behind the excellent and informative Gardenvisit.com offers The London Gardens Walk (or Cycle Ride).  A tour through 4,000 years of garden design history over 20.3 miles (32.7 km) of fascinating London.  Here is the video,  and if you are planning to take the walk the website page also has a useful Google map marking the route.  

Tom has also produced a Kindle guide to the walk / cycle that is available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Thursday 3 October 2013

In Memoriam: James van Sweden

Photo Credit: Richard Felber

On 20 September James van Sweden, one of the 20th century's most influential landscape architects, sadly passed away at the age of 78.  This biography from The Cultural Landscape Foundation is followed by two obituaries - from TCLF and The New York Times.

Tuesday 1 October 2013

Gnomes on TV with Alan Titchmarsh

Just a heads-up that I will be talking gnomes with Alan Titchmarsh on The Alan Titchmarsh Show on Thursday 03 October at 3pm (BST) on ITV 1.  Tune in if you dare!

Australian Garden History

A big 'Thank you' to Richard Aitken who as co-editor of Australia Garden History is guest posting this piece. 

Later in the month Richard & I will both be contributing to the

 This quirky new literary festival that elegantly combines two diverse genres – crime and garden writing, and which is to be held in the Botanic Gardens of Adelaide  over the weekend of October 25–27.

But back to Richard's post:

'Warm greetings from Australia, but more specifically from Australian Garden History, quarterly journal of the Australian Garden History Society. Since 2007 I have been co-editor of this journal, following an earlier youthful stint during 1990–92. With co-editor Christina Dyson, we bring out a quarterly blend of articles and opinions, news, and reports. This year marks the twenty-fifth volume of the journal and to celebrate this silver jubilee we have placed the whole of the first issue of this volume on the AGHS website as a free download

In this way we hope to bring the journal and the work of the Society to a wide general audience, and especially to students and younger enthusiasts who might become engaged in this fascinating and vital area of research and conservation.

The Australian Garden History Society was established in 1980 following an upsurge of interest in heritage conservation during the 1970s, and more specifically in the outcomes of statewide studies of culturally significant gardens across the nation. A wonderful touring exhibition and book Converting the Wilderness in 1979 and an inaugural garden history conference in 1980 paved the way for the Society’s foundation. Since then, through the ups and downs of membership and publishing that beset any fledgling organisation, the AGHS now has over 1800 members across the country and internationally, numbers comparable to the UK-based Garden History Society.

Unlike the GHS, with its scholarly journal Garden History and informative newsletters, the AGHS combines aspects of both in its journal, appealing to a wide cross section of members and readers. Increasingly the Society is supplementing its traditional media with digital platforms, and a vastly improved website is shortly to be unveiled. 

For our part, as journal editors we have considerable autonomy to promote Australian Garden History and we have recently launched a social media presence. We have adopted Instagram, which combines image uploading, micro-blogging, and hash tagging, to give a flexible platform that can be populated by the ‘crowd’ rather than requiring any official presence. To kick start the campaign we have anointed four social media ambassadors—chosen from amongst our youngest and brightest—to make the initial postings, and from there ideally the postings will be made by others. We post under the user name @australiangardenhistory and use the overriding hash tag #gardenhistory (to link postings internationally) and the specific tag #australiangardenhistory to define our special territory and interests. Join the crowd!

We see Australian Garden History as an agent for change within the AGHS. Whereas in 1980 many of the movers and shakers were in their twenties and thirties, this same group is now in their fifties and sixties. It doesn’t take much logical thinking to see that no organisation can continue indefinitely on the same path. With the journal appearing every three months, we are in a good position to gradually affect change. 

Recently we have been publishing contributions that have an international outlook, complementing more traditional state-based or nationally focussed articles. ‘Why should we publish international voices?’ queried the conservatives. For us the answer is simple. Australian garden making does not take place in a geographical or cultural vacuum. We live in a world that through digital means is increasingly global. We respect and cherish local significance, but need to look more broadly at our subjects and their contexts. Renewal is required in any organisation and as editors we have a role and responsibility to promote this through journalism that soundly based yet is also lively and accessible.'

Richard is also the author of the just-published Cultivating Modernism

Saturday 3 August 2013

William & Thomas Lobb

Volcano Llaima With Monkey Puzzle Tree Conguillio National Park Chile
I am undertaking some research into the life and works of the Cornish plant hunters William and Thomas Lobb, who plant hunted for the Veitch nursery in north and south American, and India and south east Asia respectively.

I have a pretty good feel for what, where and why they were working but there is a dearth of archive material, in particular their records / diaries written in-country and the Veitch company records of both London and Exeter branches have disappeared.  Possibly up in smoke in the Blitz.

If anyone has any records of or about Veitch and /or the Lobbs, or knows someone who may, would you be kind enough to drop me a line.  Thank you so.

Friday 2 August 2013

Notice of a Must-Attend Conference - Down-Under

To quote the website:

 'It’s well known that readers love crime novels and readers love books about gardening – and many readers like both. The Body in the Garden combines these two genres in a festival to be held in October 2013 in the leafy Botanic Garden.

This quirky festival follows the tradition of South Australia being an innovator and leader in the area of festival events. Like the Adelaide Festival of Ideas, the Body in the Garden will be the first festival of its kind in Australia – and perhaps in the world.'

And I am proud and excited to be a part of this interesting hybridization.  So if you are in Australia or are looking for an excellent excuse to take a trip, why not make a date and come to Adelaide and participate in what promises to be a most unusual and innovative festival.

Garden History Course

Thomas Church's iconic garden, El Novillero in Sonona, California
There is still time to sign up for my month-long, online garden history course hosted by My Garden School.  The course begins on the 3rd August and for a review by former student Deb Wiles, please check out her post on her blog Got Soil? 

Notice of a Must-Attend Conference

An International Conference is to be held at the University of Sheffield between Friday 20th and Saturday 21st September 2013 entitled ‘The historiography of landscape design and management: Why is the profession so disengaged?’

This link will take you to the booking page where there is also to be found the Programme under the ‘More Information’ tab.

Fees are £50 for this two-day event, which includes participation, lunches and teas together with a coach trip to Wentworth Castle.

And if you want to swot up before you visit, I can't recommend highly enough The Georgian Landscape of Wentworth Castle published by New Arcadian Press.

Thursday 1 August 2013

Mughal Gardens of Kashmir

The water channel at Nishat Bagh (Photo: Jan Haenraets, 2011).

Great post from Jill Sinclair on her a landscape lover's blog focusing on the Mughal gardens in Kashmir and the work currently being undertaken to preserve and conserve them.
The remains of the Oont Kadal in Dal Lake at Nishat Bagh (Photo: Jan Haenraets, 2010).
The post features an interview with Dr Jan Haenraets who is working on the conservation work, and who also wrote a fascinating article 'Rediscovering the Mughal Gardens of Kashmir'.

Thursday 6 June 2013

Judith B. Tankard Lecture

On Saturday 08 June the garden historian Judith B. Tankard will be presenting a lecture at Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum on England’s most famous 20th century gardener and garden designer Gertrude Jekyll. There is more information about the lecture and reservation information here.

Tankard is the author of eight books on American and European landscape and garden history; and her most recent work is Gertrude Jekyll and the Country House Garden.

Friday 31 May 2013

Garden History Online - A Review

My online garden history course begins tomorrow for its monthly run - and there is still time to sign up.  To give you a flavour of the course, Jean Cornell who took the course last month has written the following review.  The words are wholly her own.  Thank you Jean.

Having completed this course recently, I have been asked to about it. I made the fatal mistake of saying I enjoyed it.

Of course a four-week course can only scratch the surface of this vast subject, and I have numerous things to continue to explore now the course is over.  However it gives you a sound and enthusiastic introduction.

What the course does give is the context of why gardens have played such an important part in people’s lives since time immemorial.  They reflect the culture and philosophy that was important when they were created, and help us understand why gardens continue to give such pleasure.  Perhaps we overlook this today and take it for granted.

The course comprises four seminars – one a week delivered in a video and downloadable transcript.  There is a weekly assignment, which you can use either photographs of gardens included in the seminar or ones of your choosing.  There is a wealth of information to be found on the internet to provide additional information.

I have included illustrations of the gardens I used for my assignments to illustrate the variety of gardens covered.

Painting in an Egyptian tomb (TT217) in the Valley of the Nobles, Deir al-Medina, Thebes
I was fascinated by the Ancient Egyptians obsession with death and Paradise.  Paradise is a theme that runs through many of the early gardens – in Babylon and in Persia, and in Islamic gardens. 

Chahar Bagh-e Shahazadeh, Iran
To this day Islamic gardens are still designed in the way that shows a central pool with four rills flowing from it to show the four rivers of life – water, milk, honey and wine.  Water is another recurring theme in garden design and I was interested to learn how technology for using water both for irrigation and ornamental features developed.

Chateau de Villandry, France
The Italian and French Renaissance gardens show how ideas about gardening evolved to show how nature could be controlled, but were part of their surroundings.  

Croome Court, Worcestershire
 Then we have the ideas of Capability Brown and others whose gardens were “natural” and which today could be thought to be the natural landscape.

York Gate, Leeds, Yorkshire
Finally there are the Victorian ideas of elaborately designed beds filled with annual bedding plants, the reaction to this in the Gertrude Jekyll and Sir Edwin Luytens Arts & Craft gardens, and the gardens of 20th century.  

Nicholson Wall, Sutton Court, Surrey
My reasons for undertaking such a course were twofold.  First, I wanted to see whether I would be able to commit the time to study and submit the assignments.  Second, I wanted an overview of the history of gardens from the Ancient Egyptians to the present day.

Both my objectives were met.  I needed to prove to myself that I had the skill to study again as I am starting an MA in Garden History in May.  However this course caters for anyone with an interest in garden history as you have the freedom to tailor what you do to meet your own needs.  It’s up to you how much you do.

Toby Musgrave exceeded my expectations about what help I could expect.  Apart from the excellent seminars, he is happy to provide you with additional reading and constructive advice.  His enthusiasm comes across throughout the course.

So have I any criticism?  My main one is that submitting the assignment on line is a pain, in particular photographs which have to be uploaded separately from the text and one at a time.  The only time I asked for support, I never got a reply.  There is the opportunity to engage with fellow participants.  On my course, the other participant was conspicuous by her absence.

That said, I hope Toby may do a follow-up course, perhaps to cover the more recent gardens in Europe or elsewhere in the world or the plant hunters and their discoveries.

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Kitab fi al-adwiyah al-mufradah

Unless your Arabic is up to it the title of this post will mean nothing in and of itself.  But I should like to draw your attention to a fascinating feature from McGill Publications that I just came across while researching early Herbals

The translation of Kitab fi al-adwiyah al-mufradah is 'The Book of Simple Drugs',  it was written in Al-Andalus (Moorish Spain) in the 12th century by Abu Ja’far al-Ghafiq (d.1165).  One of the foremost Arab physicians and scholars of
his time, Abu Ja’far al-Ghafiq drew heavily on the work of earlier Greek botanists including Dioscorides (1st century CE) and Galen (2nd century CE), and earlier fellow Muslim scholars including Abu Hanifah al-Dinawari (d.895), Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi (d.925), and Ibn Samajun (d.1001). 

The manuscript is unicum - that is to say the only known copy of this work, and  is now housed in the McGill University's Osler Library of the History of Medicine.

The Ghafiqi Project hosted at McGill aims is to produce a three-volume work, a facsimile of the original manuscript, a translation and a collection of scholarly commentary.

Tuesday 5 March 2013

Spode & Curtis

Cyclamen coum on plate and paper (below)
Thanks to Val Bott for bringing the following to my attention.  Its always interesting to see how different art forms influence each other, in this case botanical illustration on porcelain decoration.  

The post by Pam Woolliscroft author of Spode History tells about the botanical designs employed by Spode in the 19th century and which were inspired by the plates in Curtis's Botanical Magazine.  The magazine was founded by William Curtis in 1787.  Samuel  succeeded to the editorship of the magazine in 1827 selling his rights in 1846. Curtis's Botanical Magazine (1801-1920) is downloadable for free from our good friends at the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

Spode is a Stoke-on-Trent based pottery company that was founded by Josiah Spode (1733-1797) in 1770. Josiah Spode earned renown for perfecting under-glaze blue transfer printing in 1783-1784 – a development that led to the launch in 1816 of Spode’s Blue Italian range which has remained in production ever since.  Josiah Spode is also often credited with developing a successful formula for fine bone china.

A snip at €2,413
A modern example of the same would be Royal Copenhagen's beautiful - but expensive - Flora Danica collection.

Thursday 28 February 2013

The History of Street Trees

A month or so ago I discovered Sustainable Cities Collective, from which I have learned a huge amount and developed a great respect for their contributors.

Photo Credit: DeepRoot
I posted a feature about a couple of weeks back about Historic Gardens being Biodiversity Hotspots and today I would like to offer you another insightful piece by L. Peter MacDonagh, this time about the History of Street Trees.  Do read and enjoy.

Wednesday 27 February 2013

Garden History Course

Interesting in digging a little deeper or wanting to discover a whole lot more about global garden history?  Then please do do come and join my on-line garden history course

The course is a month in duration, and there is one video lecture and optional assignment for each of the four weeks.  The format enables you to study at your own pace and I throughout the month I am there to answer questions and queries and to provide feedback on assignments.  

Hosted by My Garden School the course begins on March 02.  

Here's a taster from the first lecture:

Tuesday 26 February 2013

Seminar on Japanese Gardens

The Research Center for Japanese Garden Art and Historical Heritage, in Kyoto, Japan, runs an annual English language intensive seminar regarding the Japanese Garden. The course is designed for the serious student, amateur or professional and is a rare opportunity for English language speakers, giving broad access to Japanese gardens and gardeners. It is not a garden tour.
The Centre is currently accepting applications for review and selection for the 15th seminar to be held in October of 2013. In order to provide maximum personal attention, the course is limited to a maximum of students.  More details via the link above.

Friday 22 February 2013

Jane Loudon

Jane Loudon 1807-1858
Garden historians are generally familiar with the hugely prolific, workaholic 19th century garden designer and garden-writer, John Claudius Loudon.  Most of his works are available from the Biodiversity Heritage Library for free - just follow this link.

However, he was married to an equally fascinating woman, Jane Loudon (née Webb).  Jane was not only a pioneer of science fiction (The Mummy! was published in 1827) but also a pioneer in encouraging ladies to garden - genteelly of course! 

Jane was the author of five books and one magazine and her highly popular and influential Instruction on Gardening for Ladies (1840) has been reprinted by Oxford University Press and both the tome and the author as the subject of yet another fascinating post from the Cambridge Library Collection.

Do take a read and learn more about Mrs. Loudon

Thursday 21 February 2013

A Call for Papers

The 10th Garden Historical Research Colloquium will be be held at the Technical University Munich-Weihenstephan between 19 and 22 September 2013.

The Organizers are asking for abstracts from current or recently finished doctoral dissertations and research projects within a garden historical context.  Deadline 4 March 2013, and for more details email Stefan Schweizer.

Wednesday 20 February 2013

The Parks and Gardens UK

More Good News.   The Parks and Gardens UK website (a partnership between The Association of Gardens Trusts and the University of York) has been revamped and was relaunched.  As the homepage states, Parks & Gardens UK.

‘is the leading on-line resource for historic parks and gardens providing freely accessible, accurate and inspiring information on UK parks, gardens and designed landscapes and all activities concerned with their promotion, conservation and management’.

Do take a look....

Tuesday 19 February 2013

Gardening for the Disabled

Repton's business card
An interesting post, as always, from GardenHistoryGirl that examines the work of Humphry (it is spelt without an 'e') Repton who was the first to write about gardening for the disabled.

As the result of a coach crash Repton used a wheelchair for the last two years of his life and was likely the inventor of the raised bed which allowed those so confined to garden.  He even illustrated the concept in his Fragments on the theory and practice of landscape gardening (1818). 

And just for reference, many of Repton's books are available for free as pdfs from those great folk at the Biodiversity Heritage Library (the link is to the Repton page).

Friday 15 February 2013


Today's guest post is by Debs Wiles.  Thank you @dawiles.

Recently a friend who is starting up a new landscaping business asked my opinion on a logo design. My friend's mission is to create and maintain gardens that appeal to all of our five senses and he was sketching out logos that contained images pertaining to each sense. Naturally, I immediately thought of a Quincunx, a geometric pattern of five points arranged on a cross.

 Cosmatesque floor pattern
The term comes from the Latin quinque + uncia, literally translating to “five ounces”. It has applications in the sciences of botany, astronomy, and modern computer science, not to mention the practices of architecture, agriculture, horticulture, and a style of geometric decorative inlay stonework called Cosmati, or Cosmatesque (Harry Potter fans may recognize this style on the inlaid marble floors of Gringotts Bank). 

Sir Thomas Browne (above), a 17th century luminary, wrote a lengthy and formidable essay on the Quincunx (The Garden of Cyrus also entitled The Quincunciall, Lozenge, or Network Plantations of the Ancients, naturally, artificially, mystically considered, 1658). In it he quotes Quintilian, a 1st century Roman rhetorician who uses the term in his Institutio Oratoria, first published c.95 AD: “Quid [illo] quincunce speciosius, qui, in quamcumque partem spectaveris, rectus est?" which translates roughly, "What is more beautiful than the quincunx, that, from whatever direction you regard it, presents straight lines?" In context, Quintilian is discussing beauty and utility and writes, “Shall not beauty, then, it may be asked, be regarded in the planting of fruit trees? Undoubtedly; I should arrange my trees in a certain order, and observe regular intervals between them.” He recognizes that planting trees at regular intervals is also advantageous to their growth and health “as each of them then attracts an equal portion of the juices of the soil...”.

The quincuncial arrangement of flower petals in bud, as seen in the rose family. Attrib 
Browne's work recounts the military conquests of Cyrus the Great, founder of the Achaemenid Empire, and especially his achievements in gardening, crediting him with the creation of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Cyrus was “not only a Lord of Gardens, but a manual planter thereof; disposing his trees like his armies in regular ordination. So that while old Laertas hath found a name in Homer for pruning hedges, and clearing away thorns and briars; while King Attalus lives for his poisonous plantations of Aconites, Henbane, Hellebore, and plants hardly admitted with the walls of Paradise; While many of the Ancients do poorly live in the single names of Vegetables; All stories do look upon Cyrus, as the splendid and regular planter”.

A Quincunx Orchard.  Attrib.
A recurring theme in Browne is the regularity created by the quincunx pattern which in Roman times symbolized an orderly world, something Romans were very keen on. The quincunx is still the basis for planting an orchard today and in the Middle Ages, it was one of the patterns used for planting medicinal or exotic plants. In Christianity it symbolized the five wounds of Christ on the cross and a sanctified universe. The arrangement of the cross-in-square used in church architecture from the early 9th to 13th centuries was often expressed three dimensionally – a larger central bay surmounted with a dome framed by four smaller bays likewise surmounted by smaller domes. It's an arrangement that can be seen in 18th century garden follies inspired by the Italian Renaissance, such as the Temple of Four Winds at Castle Howard, with the central bay surrounded by four porticoes. 
DaVinci's sketch illustrating quincunx in branch arrangement.  Attrib
Browne asserts that the term quincunx was “in use long before Varro”, a 1st century BC Roman scholar. Varro was widely read by Quintilius and also by Pliny the Elder, who wrote extensively on nature and the ideal arrangement for gardens. Vitruvius read Varro and DaVinci read Vitruvius. 

Students of art and architecture during the Italian Renaissance read them all, and applied their theories to their creations. Through these early scholars and down through history, the quincunx is still in use in garden design today. When you see the rows of an orchard planted with military precision, or a mass of bedding plants neatly laid out waiting to be installed, you are most likely looking at a quincunx. 

N.B. from Toby. Cyrus's garden at Pasargardæ (a UNESCO World Heritage site) contained the prototype quadripartite garden, a Persian garden form that subsequently so influenced the Islamic chahar bagh.