Seven restoration projects of garden history importance – two in Greenwich Park

Historic garden restoration projects

A proposal for 7 historic garden restoration projects in the preface to the first edition of Tom Turner’s English Garden Design

I proposed 7 garden restoration projects in 1986, and reported on what had happened in 1998:

The Preface to the 1986 printed edition of this book made ‘ a personal plea for some restoration projects which would be of special historical value as examples of poorly represented styles’. The plea had no influence upon events but the following update may be of interest to readers: (1)  The semi-circular parterre at Hampton Court, known as the Fountain Garden, has not changed. But the nearby Privy Garden has been restored with the greatest possible care for historical accuracy. I believe this was an error of judgement: the Privy Garden is an unremarkable as a Baroque parterre but looked good in its picturesque 1986 condition. The Fountain Garden remains rather ugly but would have been very splendid – if restored in the manner of the Privy Garden. (2)  The Giant Steps in Greenwich Park have not been restored. The Royal Parks Agency commissioned a design for a Baroque water cascade on the site. It was opposed by the local people. I can see a strong case for restoring the original steps which would have been like Bridgeman’s theatre at Claremont Landscape Garden. Or one could make a respectable case for a new design on the site. But ‘restoring’ a cascade which never existed would have been illogical. (3)  The Leasowes is now run as a country park. (4)  Nothing has been done about the parterre at Melbourne Hall or the ornamental farm at Great Tew (5)  Gertrude Jekyll’s garden at Munstead Wood is, I am delighted to report, being restored.

It’s time for another update:

  1. The semi-circular parterre at Hampton Court has not been restored and the Privy Garden still lacks the aesthetic quality it had before it was restored
  2. ‘Restoration’ of the Giant Steps in Greenwich Park is under consideration and may well happen – I will do a blog post about this soon
  3. The Leasowes is still run as a country park and with little regard for the outstanding importance of William Shenstone’s conception
  4. Nothing has been done about the parterre at Melbourne Hall
  5. Nothing has been done about  the ferme ornée at Great Tew
  6. Good restoration work has been done at Munstead Wood and it is open to the public by appointment
  7. I suggested ‘some full-scale Gertrude Jekyll borders with colour schemes based on J.M.W. Turner’s colour theory’
The herbaceous border in Greenwich Park is not a national disgrace

The herbaceous border in Greenwich Park is not a national disgrace

With regard to the 7th suggestion, I was thinking about the long border in Greenwich Park but did not mention it because the Giant Steps seemed more important. In 2013, The Royal Parks appointed Chris Beardshaw to ‘completely redesign the border’. I have often admired his work at Chelsea and am sure he did a good job for Greenwich. But there are lessons to be learned:

  1. The quality of the long border is poor. This may because you can’t just ask an expert to design a herbaceous border. You need to expert to have responsibility for its management and review the design very frequently. It’s best to have the expert working on the border and thinking about it all the time. Is this plant doing too well? Why is that plant suffering? Would it be better if those two plants were not side by side? do those colours go together?
  2. The Royal Parks Agency (as it used to be) lacked expertise in the design and the design history of parks, gardens and landscapes. So they probably did a poor job in briefing Chris Beardshaw.
  3. The Royal Parks are really bad at involving volunteers in the management of parks and gardens. This is a tragic wasted opportunity for bringing in resources of mind and brain and involving the community.
Gertrude Jekyll's brilliant idea for the colour planning of herbaceous borders has never yet been deployed at the large scale and superb viewing conditions Greenwich Park could provide

Gertrude Jekyll’s brilliant idea for the colour planning of herbaceous borders has never yet been deployed at the large scale and superb viewing conditions Greenwich Park could provide

Huphry Repton, the Schlosspark Klein-Glienicke and landscape architecture

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The garden court at Schlosspark Klein-Glienicke has a distinctly Reptonian character

The garden court at Schlosspark Klein-Glienicke has a distinctly Reptonian character

Humphry Repton’s influenced landscape and garden design outside as well as inside the UK. I see his books as England’s most important contribution to the theory of garden design and landscape architecture. They were lavishly produced, opulently published and sought after by collectors. Foreign travel was enormously hard in his lifetime, not least because of the Napoleonic wars, and many people found out about the English style of making gardens from books. Among them was Peter Joseph Lenné.

The Klein-Glienicke garden has a domain of art near the house, a Brownian park and distant views of lakes and forests

The Klein-Glienicke garden has a domain of art near the house, a Brownian park and distant views of lakes and forests

The Schlosspark Klein-Glienicke in Potsdam Berlin was designed by Lenné with help from Prince Hermann von Pückler-Muskau.  The latter invited Humphry’s son,  John Adey Repton, to Potsdam. Though remembered as an architect, and not known to have helped with the Glienicke design, John was familiar with his father’s theories.  The Glienicke layout shows clear evidence of Repton’s Landscape Style.

The Lion Fountain

The Lion Fountain

Glienicke was planned with a Beautiful area near the house and a transition to a Picturesque park (in the Serpentine Style) and a Sublime background (the Potsdam lakes and forests).

After their republication by John Claudius London, Humphry Repton’s works had a wide influence on the English-speaking world and were a starting point for Frederick Law Olmsted’s practice and the development of landscape architecture as an organised profession. Repton also influenced UK town and country planning with the principles that:

  • cities should be compact
  • agricultural land should be protected from urban sprawl
  • national parks and natural parks should be protected from development

The Wallenstein Garden was made by one of Europe’s greatest military commanders

The Wallenstein Garden

The Wallenstein Garden

The garden is beautiful and secluded. But the Wallenstein Garden in the Czech Republic was made by  a cold, egotistical and autocratic man. In his plays about Albrecht von Wallenstein, Friedrich Schiller wrote that

  • Life is earnest, art is gay.
  • Posterity weaves no garlands for imitators.

The design style of the garden is somewhere between Early and High Baroque on our Garden History Style Chart.


wallenstein_garden

Wanstead Park proposed regeneration, restoration and Ghost

This Wanstead Park footpath suggests an easy way of marking the lines of the old axial lines on the forest floor

This Wanstead Park footpath suggests an easy way of marking the lines of the old axial lines on the forest floor

Wanstead Park used to be one of the greatest late-Baroque gardens in England. It survives with half the land used as a golf course and the other hand cared for by the City Corporation, which merits its great reputation as a benevolent land owner and manager. Wanstead was purchased as part of Epping Forest in the 1880s. It is now managed as what might be called a forest park. Could it restored? Should it be restored? The Friends of Wanstead Park have a good answer: ‘In recent years the Friends of Wanstead Parklands and the City of London Corporation have formed a partnership to reveal the ancient landscape and make the park more accessible to the local communities and those from further afield’.

The Ghost of Wanstead Park

The Ghost of Wanstead Park

But what would this involve? With no great house, a different use, no significant resources and only half the site, it can’t go back to the early 18th century? My suggestion is to celebrate The Ghost of Wanstead Park. This is how she might look. Her face is gone forever. Her shadow sleeps on the forest floor.

To give her life, I suggest:

  1. placing a structure at both ends of the main axis, to give her eyes
  2. sharpening the edges of the main axis, which is formed by trees and by the edges of the canal
  3. placing logs on the forest floor to mark the positions of the old axes

The two plans, below, show the Wanstead Park in its prime and Wanstead Park with a Ghost sleeping on the forest floor for the curious to meet.

Plans of Wanstead Park with proposed Ghost

Plans of Wanstead Park with proposed Ghost

Stourhead is a great English landscape garden


Stourhead Landscape Garden has a good claim to being ‘England’s greatest landscape garden’. Though changed, as all gardens must change, it retains much of its eighteenth century character. Tour operators are right to make it a priority in English garden tours.

Henry Hoare’s aim was to recreate the landscape of antiquity. Not having too clear an idea of what it looked like, he turned to the great  landscape painters of Italy, including Claude Lorrain and Nicholas Poussin.

In the Great Gardens postcard, below and at the start of the video, the plan of Stourhead is on the left and the garden design style diagram it represents is on the right. The Gardenvisit.com style chart shows this style in its historic position. Stourhead owes much to Augustan ideas.

Great English Garden postcard of Stourhead, showing the garden plan and the garden design style

Great English Garden postcard of Stourhead, showing the garden plan and the garden design style

English lawns in 1964

Lawn and Adirondak Chair (Guardian, 1964)

Lawn and Adirondack Chair (Guardian, 1964)

The Guardian has just reprinted a 1964 article on lawns by Moira Savonius, who also wrote books on fungi and on flowers. She sees lawns as a ‘cult’. My impression is that grass cutting has declined in public parks and stately homes but that the area they occupy in private gardens is but slightly diminished – and maybe not at all if you allow for fact that motor mowers were , relatively, much  more expensive in 1964 and so many more people ‘neglected’ their grass in the suburbs. A curious feature of the black and white photo accompanying the article is the Adirondack Chair – I believe they were most uncommon in 1960s Britain.

The Promenade Plantee predates the Highline

The Promenade Plantee is older than the Highline and is spatially more varied

The Promenade Plantee is older than the Highline and is spatially more varied

I wonder why the Highline in New York City has become much more famous than its older predecessor, the Promenade Plantee in Paris. I don’t think it’s a consequence of the design, the location or the scenic quality.  Could the explanation be an application of triumphal American marketing to the Highline?  Or does the Highline have more oomph? Paris is fast becoming a cycling city and the Promenade offers a great ride.

See also: Garden Tours in France

Not too late for a garden tour to the Italian lakes

Villa Balbianello on Lake Como in Italy

Villa Balbianello on Lake Como in Italy

Still desperate for a garden tour in 2017? I recommend the Italian Lakes. Villa Del Balbianello is on a wooded peninsula projecting into Lake Como. It was built in 1787, on the site of a Fransiscan monastery, by Cardinal Angelo Durini. Steps lead from the landing stage into a terraced garden with a beautiful loggia. It was renovated by the American General Butler Amos and given to the Fondo per l’Ambiente Italiano (FAI) in 1988. This guidebook to the gardens of the Italian Lakes is also recommended.

Donald Trump unveils new White House garden design

Trump White House Garden Design

Golden opportunity for garden design lover

The design objectives were to make fellow Americans feel great about themselves, to restore women to their proper place in American life and to show that the garden of the White House can serve a higher purpose than Michelle Obamacare for sustainable vegetables. The designer is believed to have been recommended by a Mr Putin who has an important position in Russia and good taste in golden statues of bimbos.

A cub journalist working for Gardenvisit.com was invited to be a judge on the internal competition for redesigning the garden of the Trump White House in Washington DC. She was flattered but turned down the opportunity when required to wear a gold bikini.

Michelham Priory Medieval Garden

Michelham Priory Garden is a delightfully tranquil moated manor house in East Sussex. What I like most about it is the recreated medieval garden. And what I like most about the medieval garden is the ‘flowery mead’ and the turf seats. Our knowledge of Michelham – and of medieval gardens in general – is not enough to say whether or not the details are accurate. But, to me, these details feel right and this is not a feeling I have about comparable recreations, either by the Garden History Museum or National Trust. Nor do I have this feeling about cathedral cloister garths. They are all managed with lawn mowers and this device was invented in 1830. The usual problem with medieval recreations is that their designers are muddled about the differences between medieval, renaissance and baroque gardens. So they use clipped hedges, which were a baroque feature, to make renaissance-style knot gardens. It does not make sense!

Michelham Priory Medieval Garden

The ‘flowery mead’ in Michelham Priory Medieval Garden

Capability Brown: Lenses on a Landscape Genius Exhibition 22 June – 29 July 2016

Capability Brown designed the landscape park at Blenheim Palace

Capability Brown designed the landscape park at Blenheim Palace


The Landscape Foundation has organised an exhibition of photographs of Capability Brown’s work. It will be on show at the Building Centre, Store Street, London WC1E 7BT, from 22 June to 29 July.
Brown’s reputation has been in flux. Sky-high at the time of his death and at the time of his 300th centenary, in 2016, it had a profound slump from late 18th century to the early 20th century. For artists and novelists, this is not uncommon and re-examinations can be done by examining their original works. For works of landscape architecture, this is scarcely possible, because they are in constant change. So a photographic exhibition is an excellent idea. We can examine Brown’s work at one point in time.
See also
Capability Brown in Kent – book review by Tom Turner
Was Lancelot Capability Brown a landscape designer of genius?

Capability Brown in Kent – book review by Tom Turner

Capability Brown in Kent, published by the Kent Gardens Trust, is available from Amazon

Capability Brown in Kent, published by the Kent Gardens Trust, is available from Amazon

Congratulations to Kent Gardens Trust for producing a book on Lancelot Capability Brown’s work in Kent. Despite there being little of his work in Kent, the content is interesting and the book is very nicely produced. I particularly commend the editors for their use of plans. Far too many ‘garden history’ books make no use of plans. Instead, they use long descriptions of garden designs that are hard to read and must have been difficult to write. Using plans is so much better. They can be understood at a glance and they let the reader make comparisons between what the designer intended, shown on historical plans, and the present condition of the gardens. The present day plans in this book (by Liz Logan and Rowan Blaik) were done using OpenData from the Ordnance  Survey. It is great that the OS allows their data to be used in this way – I wish Google and Bing allowed satellite maps to be used in a similar fashion. There is much to be learned from air photography.

The gardens analysed in the book are:

  • Ingress
  • Leeds Abbey
  • Valence
  • Chilham Castle
  • North Cray Place

As the editors state, they were relatively small-scale projects. Yet ‘though they may not be amongst the most significant, but they do provide some highly valuable insights which help broaden our understanding of his work’. As a contribution to Brown scholarship, this book makes a most-welcome advance with its use of contours on plans. Brown had no effective way of representing landform on his own plans despite it being one of his main design considerations. This is one of the factors which make his own drawings both puzzling and disappointing.

It would be good if the detailed research in this book could be used to restore some of Brown’s Kentish planting.

The 1857 estate map shows a recognisably Brownian design, with the design concept much more intelligible when seen with the contours on the Kent Gardens Trust Map (right)

The 1857 estate map shows a recognisably Brownian design, with the design concept much more intelligible when seen with the contours on the Kent Gardens Trust Map (right)

Steven Desmond Gardens of the Italian Lakes – book review by Tom Turner

gardens Italian lakes

Marianne Majerus’ photographs of the gardens of the Italian lakes are delightful

The Italian Lakes are a fantastic place for gardens, comparable with Kashmir. They have great scenery, wonderful light, a terrific climate and extremely wealthy residents who have been building luxurious villas and gardens since Roman times. Though only a small proportion of the total, many villas and gardens are open for visits. Even better, you can travel to them by public ferries, which is so much better than driving long distances on exhausting roads. The book describes 17 gardens.
Of its type, this is a very good book. Readable, well-illustrated and and informative. If you are wondering about a visit to the gardens of the Italian lakes, this is the book to buy. The last chapter has maps and details of garden opening times ‘at the time of writing’. Garden owners do tend to be conservative about opening times but, in case they change, you can find links to the the garden websites below.
But what type of book is this? More than anything, it puts me in mind of a set of articles which might have been written for a glossy magazine. Steven Desmond, the author, ‘is a gardener’ who leads garden tours and ‘advises on the conservation of historic gardens and writes for Country Life.’
He is good on general chit-chat and sets the gardens in the context of the personalities and historical contexts in which the gardens were formed. The plants and planting are very well handled, picking out notable examples but keeping horticulture in balance with other considerations.
The things I miss in the book are garden plans and an art-historical account of the styles represented in the gardens. The terms Renaissance, Mannerist, Baroque, Romantic etc are used but without any information either about their characteristics or about how they apply to gardens (see our Style Guide for further information on design styles and please contact us if you offer tours of the gardens of the Italian lakes to add to our Garden Tours section on Italy.

Gardens of the Italian Lakes by Steven Desmond was published by Frances Lincoln in May 2016

 

GARDEN TOUR AROUND LAKE MAGGIORE

1 . ISOLA BELLA Open from late March to late October, daily 9 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. www.isoleborromee.it/en/home/isola_bella
2. ISOLA MADRE The garden is open from late March to late October, daily 9 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. www.isoleborromee.it/en/home/isole_madre
3. VILLA TARANTO The garden is open from late March to the end of October, daily 8.30 a.m. to 6.30 p.m.; during October, the garden closes at 4 p.m. www.villataranto.it/en
4. VILLA SAN REMIGIO See http://www.visitstresa.com/Villa_San_Remigio.htm and http://en.villasanremigio.it/
5. VILLA DELLA PORTA Bozzolo The garden is open from March to November, from Wednesday to Sunday 10 am to 6 pm http://eng.fondoambiente.it/beni/villa-della-porta-bozzolo-fai-properties.asp
6. VILLA CICOGNA MAZZONI The garden is open for guided visits on Sundays and public holidays from April to October, 9.30 a.m. to 12 noon, and 2.30 p.m. to 7 p.m. www.villacicognamozzoni.it
7. VILLA PALLAVICINO The garden is open from mid-March to the end of October, daily 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., with the last entry at 5 p.m. http://www.parcozoopallavicino.it/index-en.html
8. ALPINIA The garden is open from mid-April to mid-October, daily 9.30 a.m. to 6 p.m. http://en.lagomaggiore.net/24/giardino-alpinia.htm
9. BOTANIC GARDEN OF THE BRISSAGO ISLANDS The garden is open from late March to late October, daily 9am to 6pm. http://www.isolebrissago.ch/en

GARDEN TOUR AROUND LAKE COMO

10. VILLA MELZI The garden is open from late March to the end of October, daily 9.30 a.m. to 6.30 p.m. www.giardinidivillamelzi.it
11. VILLA CARLOTTA The garden is open from early April to mid-October, daily 9 a.m. to 7.30 p.m. (the ticket office closes at 6 p.m) http://www.villacarlotta.it/
12. VILLA DEL BALBIANELLO The garden is open from mid-March to mid-November, daily except Mondays and Wednesdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with last entry at 5.15 p.m. http://eng.fondoambiente.it/beni/villa-del-balbianello-fai-properties.asp?
13. VILLA SOMMI PICENARDI The garden is open by prior arrangement www.villasommipicenardi.it/english
14. VILLA SERBELLONI Tours are available from mid-March to the end of October, daily except Mondays, at 11 a.m. and 2.30 p.m. www.bellagiolakecomo.com/bellagio-lake-como-italy I POI-points-ofinterest/villa-serbelloni-garden
15. VILLA CIPRESSI Access to the hotel garden by ticket from reception: http://www.hotelvillacipressi.it/en/
16. VILLA MONASTERO The garden is open from March to the end of October, daily 9.30 a.m. to 5 p.m. www.villamonastero.eu/index.php
17. VILLA D’ESTE The garden can be visited by arrangement with the hotel: www.villadeste.com/en/13/home.aspx

Most of the gardens are beside the lakes and easily accessible by ferry

Most of the gardens are beside the lakes and easily accessible by ferry

Fernando Gonzalez’ Buddhist approaches to the design of gardens and landscapes

The photograph of Brighton beach, below, reminds me of Fernando Gonzalez’s Pure Land Garden:

Flint meeting chalk on a beach is a symbol of impermanence - anicca" width="900" height="531" /> Flint meeting chalk on a beach is a symbol of impermanence - anicca

Flint meeting chalk on a beach (in Sussex) is a symbol of impermanence – anicca”

Fernando  is  exploring the future role of Buddhism in garden design. The videos, below, have a comment on his 2015 Pure Land Garden and a 2013 interview with the designer.

Fernando wrote of the Pure Land Garden that: A curvilinear white shimmering structure captures the organic shapes of the landscapes and is inspired by nature’s natural rhythms. A planting colour palette influenced by the principal colours used in Buddhist art and ritual, warm yellows, oranges, blues and reds, emerge through a matrix of tussocky grasses. Three multi-stemmed Koelreuteria paniculata , golden rain trees, complete the well-being garden, exploring the potential of harmoniously combining the artificial and natural in a new artistic.

This video shows two contemporary Buddhist-inspired garden designs, at the 2013 Chelsea Flower Show: The Sound of Silence Garden Fernando Gonzalez (interviewed by Tom Turner) and the Mindfulness garden by Martin Cook (a stone-carver and calligrapher).

Was Lancelot Capability Brown a landscape designer of genius?


2016 marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of Britain’s most famous landscape architect and garden designer. Lancelot Capability Brown was baptised on 30 August 1716 and when he died at the age of 67, on 6th February 1783, his reputation was sky high. By 1800 his reputation was mud-low. In 2016 Brown’s reputation is, once again, sky high.

In 1987, I had a go at explaining why this happened and, rightly or wrongly, have not changed my mind. You can read the explanation here or listen to an illustrated version on the above video. The short summary is that Brown’s popularity crashed because a change in the predominant understanding of ‘nature’. Even Gertrude Jeykll dissed Brown. His reputation only recovered when Marie-Luise Gothein, Christopher Hussey, Nicholas Pevsner and others appreciated that Brown worked in a classical style. He was not confused about the appearance of ‘wild nature’ or how it should be ‘imitated’.

Tim Richardson Oxford College Gardens – book review by Tom Turner

Oxford College Gardens

Oxford Colleges have plumped for the National Trust Style of Planting design (right) and are lucky to have excellent gardeners (left)

Tim Richardson  (Author), Andrew Lawson (Photographer) Oxford College Gardens  Frances Lincoln 2015 ISBN-13: 978-0711232181

Tim Richardson’s text is excellent.  Andrew Lawson’s photographs are excellent. Tim is the best informed and most readable of contemporary British garden historians. Andrew is a technically skilled photographer with artistic talent. Working together, they have given us a biography and portrait of Oxford’s colleges and their gardens.

Oxford College gardeners have done a great job too, century after century, and Tim does them justice. But from my standpoint they are too fashion conscious and too determined to make the college gardens look as though they belonged to the National Trust. Modern additions would be welcome but more historical traditions could have been conserved.

Plans of All Souls College Garden, Oxford

Plans of All Souls College Gardens. The new plan (left) has no information on planting design. But the 1598 plan (right) is rich in information.

I have three criticisms of the book. First, there is a lack of integration between the text and the illustrations.  Too many of the photographs were taken ‘in the garden’ rather than ‘of the garden’. They therefore fail to illustrate interesting points which the author has made.

A second criticism concerns the specially drawn plans. Plans are very welcome and I wish garden writers made more use of them. But this set of plans does not show the planting which everyone agrees to be a key feature of gardens – and many see as their defining feature. No trees, no shrubs, no hedges, no herbaceous plants. The plans only show buildings, water, paving and a green tone which might be grass. Future historians could have been very grateful for information about the planting design.

A third criticism is the lack of historical illustrations. There are a few – but there are far too few. Oxford is particularly rich in drawings, paintings, engravings and photographs. It would be great to see more of them. For example: p.35 refers to David Loggan’s engraving of Balliol. It is freely available on the web but it is not in the book; p.51 refers to Loggans drawing of Christ Church showing parterres.

One of its most enjoyable aspects is the balance between comment on the colleges and on their gardens. I knew little of the separate histories of the colleges and found that, as well as being of great interest, they helped me make sense of the gardens. Perhaps the title should have been Oxford Colleges and their gardens. A good map shows the locations of the colleges but there are no details of opening times.

Let me conclude by saying again: I really enjoyed reading the text and looking at the pictures.

Alan Titchmarsh on creating a “Stylish Garden”

Hard to know what I would write if the Sunday Express asked me to do a few hundred words on garden design but I can put some helpful advice in one sentence: ‘don’t take advice from Alan Titchmarsh‘. The concept of ‘style’ on which his article rests is of use in understanding garden history and restoring historic gardens but it often leads amateur designers astray. Or maybe the problem is more basic: to do a design you have to be a designer. Many owner-designers have proved that a design training is not essential – and some professional designers have proved that it is not sufficient. But, somewhat tautologically, you do have to be a good designer to produce a good design – and a fixation on styles or ‘stylish gardens’ is unhelpful.

Tivoli Companion,Tim Cawkwell – book review by Tom Turner

A Tivoli Companion Tim Cawkwell

A Tivoli Companion Tim Cawkwell

Tim Cawkwell’s 78-page book Tivoli Companion is, scholarly, enjoyable and puzzling in equal measure. The puzzle, for a reviewer, is the intended audience. I guess I know more about Tivoli than most general readers but a good deal less than those with specialist knowledge of Italian garden history. So perhaps the guide was written for people like me. But, are there many other people like me with an in-between knowledge of Tivoli?
The title A Tivoli Companion is well-chosen, reminding one of Georgina Masson’s Companion Guide to Rome. The Introduction is explicit that ‘this is not a guidebook that will tell you where to stay and what to eat’ but also states that ‘Tivoli is a rich enough place to have its own guidebook’. So is it a ‘guidebook’? Not really. The contents page identifies the main section of the text as an ‘Essay’ and this is the truth of the matter. It is akin to an extended magazine article. About half the text is about Tivoli’s three famous gardens: Hadrian’s Villa, the Villa d’Este and the Parco Villa Gregoriana, with their history and character dealt with rather glancingly. The author’s photographs tell us more but not as much as they could have done with more consistent and informative captioning. The book has only one plan. Hand-drawn and with almost unreadable labelling. But the information is useful and interesting: ‘Tivoli and R. Ariene in 17th century showing channel dug under the town to the NE corner of Villa d’Este’.
Just possibly, the puzzling aspect of the Companion is explained by the information about the author on p.78. Most of his writing has been about cinema. His literary approach is filmic. I am pretty confident that Calkwell’s Companion is, to date, the most extensive discussion of Tivoli’s graffiti in the English language,

A Tivoli Companion Tim Cawkwell CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (2015)

The Gardens of Fletcher Steele, Priscilla Elliott – book review by Tom Turner

The Gardens of Fletcher Steele by Priscilla Elliott

The Gardens of Fletcher Steele by Priscilla Elliott


I opened this short book with some puzzlement, wondering why the author wrote it when a longer book had been published in 1989 and revised in 2003 (Fletcher Steele, Landscape Architect: An Account of the Gardenmaker’s Life, 1885-1971 Robin S. Karson). Elliott must surely have read Karson’s book but does not list it in her bibliography.
The explanation of Elliott’s approach lies in her title: her focuses is on the gardens Steele designed. They are explained with quotations from his letters and grainy old sepia photographs from the Library of Congress Archive.
Fletcher Steele’s career has parallels with that of Thomas Mawson (1861-1933). He was born 28 years after Mawson and the comparison is interesting. Both were strongly influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement and by its transformation into another Italian revival. In terms of design quality, the work of both men was less-inspired than the work of Jekyll and Lutyens. But in one respect Steel’s work is more interesting and important than Mawsons. Steele was interested in the modern world and keen to draw upon them. Mawson ridiculed the Art Nouveau style. Steele was attracted by the currents of Art Deco and Art Nouveau and interested in Abstract Art. This helped him achieve something Mawson never managed: a design classic – at Naumkeag – which Elliott sensibly illustrates on the cover of her book.
Though she lists and documents Steele’s gardens, Elliot is disappointingly quiet on stylistic issues and on Steele’s place in the histories of garden design and landscape architecture.
The Gardens of Fletcher Steele, American Landscape Architect by Piscilla Elliott (2014) is published by Guysborough Press 72 Cottage Street Melrose MA 02176

Great Gardens of London, Victoria Summerley – book review by Tom Turner

Good writing and good photography are real assets for garden books. Great Gardens of London was produced by a skilled investigative journalist working with two expert photographers. Victoria Summerley explains that the book is ‘aimed at residents and visitors alike’. Yes. But it is not particularly aimed at garden visitors. Or should I say ‘it is not aimea at all garden visitors’. The book’s first garden is that of the Prime Minister’s official London residence: 10 Downing Street. Doubtless it has been seen by many important visitors to London but I doubt if many travellers on omnibuses from Clapham are to be counted among their number.

Great Gardens of London by Victoria Summerley, Hugo Rittson Thomas, Marianne Majerus Frances Lincoln (2015) ISBN-10: 0711236119, ISBN-13: 978-0711236110

The book has a map and appendix with details of which gardens can be visited: 13 of the gardens are never open and 17 are open in various degrees. I did not know that Downing Street lets in a few visitors by ballot. Another appendix suggests more gardens to visit. 

America is said to have less of a class system but Winfield House, second in the book and the American ambassador’s London residence, is not part of the tourist circuit. No matter: the book is a great opportunity to see and read about these important gardens.

I don’t know whether to be pleased or sorry that PM Gordon Brown’s wife (Sarah) introduced raised vegetable beds to Downing Street. Good to think of the happy couple doing something useful with their time but I worry about how the beds fit into the garden aesthetically and about why they wanted the beds to be raised. Did they use railway sleepers? Raised beds are fashionable, and possibly a Tory idea, but my experience is that unless your ground is badly drained or polluted, or you want to avoid carrot fly, vegetables do better in unraised beds and need less watering. I’d like to know whether Downing Street harvests rainwater for its garden – or does it make unsustainable use of tap water? I was interested to read that Margaret Thatcher commissioned the Downing Street rose beds and that they contain a rose named after her. Great that it survived the dark age of Blair and Brown, much as the nearby statue of Charles I survived the Civil War. Do they use strips of iron to protect the adjoining lawn?

Sustainable gardening is high on the agenda for Winfield House. Even memos are composted. Just think how much Wikileaks trouble would have been avoided if the US had stuck to composting. Obama liked Winfield garden so much that he joked about wishing he had been Ambassador to London instead of President.

The gardens and parks in the book which are accessible to the public are well worth visiting, though most are flattered by the excellence of the photography. Eltham Palace Garden is an interesting place but, despite continued efforts by English Heritage, I find the quality of the gardens disappointing. Summerly sees Eltham as the product of ‘two dynasties’: the Tudors and the Courtaulds. But one does not sense their tastes in the design. It looks like a municipal park. English Heritage say the aim is restore Eltham to the style of the 1930s and they have used archive material to this end. Perhaps the problem is that the Art Deco style, which worked well for rebuilding Eltham Palace, was never resolved in English gardens. Fletcher Steele, as he showed at Naumkeag, could have done a much better job.

The garden of Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill was ‘pretty dreadful’ before the Strawberry Hill Trust began a £9m restoration of the house and garden in 2009. Generally, I think individuals and trusts do a better job of this kind of work than bodies, like English Heritage, with national responsibilities. The Strawberry Hill Trustees have the wisdom to run a volunteer programme. Why don’t all publicly owned green spaces do this?

The next chapter is on Hampton Court, where much garden history research and restoration has been carried out. I am sorry that the book does not use historical drawings or plans but can understand that they might be thought unsuitable for a non-specialist readership.

Moving on, I was very pleased to find a chapter on the Downings Road Floating Gardens in Bermondsey. The wretched, unimaginative, blinkered bureaucrats of Southwark Council have been trying to get them removed for years. Their inclusion may help those who have long campaigned for their recognition and protection.

The book’s 30 gardens are categorised into five chapters. Some are unconvincing as groups. Chapter 4, on roof gardens, is a good group and a pleasure to discover. My dream is that London will become a Roof Garden City. This chapter shows what is possible. Most roof gardens are, understandably, not open to the public. But they are great places and, unlike most of the design styles represented in the book, they look contemporary. Jane Brown wrote of ‘the gardens of a golden afternoon’. Much though I like them, that afternoon continues to linger on beyond its natural lifespan. What London needs is a wealth of roof gardens. Unlike many capital cities, including Washington, Delhi, Beijing, Tokyo and Moscow, London has a climate which is very well suited to the enjoyment of roofs – providing they are well planned and well designed. I hope the second edition of Victoria Summerley’s Great Gardens of London will include the University of Greenwich Roof Garden in Stockwell Street. And if space can be found, I’d like to have more discussion of garden design styles.

Tom Turner