Monty Don is my favourite TV garden presenter but watching his BBC2 series on “””Paradise Gardens”””” has been a mixed pleasure. He has the talents to be a good garden historian. But he does not have the time. So the BBC should involve more experts. On Islamic gardens (as they are often, if misleadingly called) the best source of reference is Islamic Gardens and Landscapes by D. Fairchild Ruggles. She argues, convincingly, that before the sixteenth century the gardens Monty Don has visited (at speed) were NOT conceived as Paradise Gardens. The concept of paradise was found in the Qur’an but was not applied to real world gardens until tomb gardens came to be made in Mughal India. Retrofitting the paradise concept to earlier gardens is a flight of fancy of a kind the BBC should spurn. It makes no more sense than would a discussion of motor vehicles in eighteenth century gardens or in Roman gardens.
Monty is stronger on the planting of Islamic Gardens and it was a pleasure to hear him draw attention to the British planting of the Taj Mahal Garden and Humayun’s Tomb Garden. He, or his research assistants, had the good sense to consult local experts. A British viceroy did his disappointing best to convert the Taj Mahal garden to the Gardenesque Style of Victorian England. ‘George Nathaniel Viscount Curzon was really a very superior person’.
I don’t miss the Lodge Garden of the 1870s – because there is no reason to think its quality was exceptional. Nor do I miss the Lodge Garden of the 1930s, partly for the same reason and partly because the National Trust has made so many ‘improved Arts and Crafts’ gardens.
The RSBP Lodge bulding, near Sandy, was designed by Henry Clutton (above) for Arthur Wellesley Peel (below)
Photographers are able to find angles which make the Lodge Garden look National Trusty, which is the right thing to do near the house. But by taking a close look one can see that the RSBP has begun work on something more innovatory and more important. It is using its technical expertise to make a wildlife garden. There is every reason for the RSPB to know more about this and to do it an way that can be an inspiration to both amateur and professional gardeners. My suggestion is for the RSPB to make a garden that is beautiful, as well being habitat-rich. My video was taken in 2009 and I am sorry to criticise such a worthwhile effort. The Lodge Garden looks as though a group of conservation volunteers from a sixth-form college had been invited to have a bash at making a wildlife garden. There should now be a concentration on design quality.
Garden birds have been popular at least since the gardens of ancient China and ancient Rome
London has 13.2% of the UK’s population and the area of private gardens in London 37,900 hectares. Gardens tend to be larger outside London so land devoted to gardens in the UK could be 300,000 ha. Comparing this with the area of the National Nature Reserves in the UK (94,400 hectares) it is obvious that the RSPB could do a lot for the UK’s bird population by creating a first class example of an Ornithological Garden for the Lodge. Birds were highly valued in ancient Chinese and Roman gardens.
Which is the best Royal Park for garden-loving visitors? The more I think about London’s Royal Parks, the better I like them. So I can’t give a favourite. But if a gardening friend was coming to London and said ‘I’ve only got time for one Royal Park – which should it be?’ I would say ‘Regent’s Park’. If an architect or urban designer asked me the same question I would give the same answer. The two most astonishing things about Regent’s Park, for me, are that no urban expansion scheme of the twentieth century equaled its quality – and that Modernist architects wanted to knock down the Nash terraces in the 1950s. The above video shows some of the things I love about Regent’s Park.
The central axis of Wrest Park Garden is one of the best examples of the High Baroque Style of garden design in England
Wrest Park is not as well-visited as it deserves. The garden was restored in 2011 and, faced with the question ‘when should it be restored to?’, English Heritage took the sensible decision to restore separate parts of the garden to different dates: the Baroque section to the Late Baroque period, the perimeter canal section to the Serpentine Style of the mid-eighteenth century, the Victorian section to the Mixed Style of the mid-nineteenth century. Visitors may well find it necessary to consult the Gardenvisit.com style chart to understand the design. I agree with Tim Richardson that Wrest Park may appear in a future stylistic classification as a prime example of a ‘National Trust restoration’.
The oriental pavilion at Woburn Abbey, as it was built in 2011 and as shown in Repton’s Red Book. The grotto was built in the early nineteenth century. Though often described as a ‘rockery’, I think grotto is a more appropriate term. Rock gardens were late nineteenth century garden features.
Sigiriya’s garden was probably made by Buddhist monks
Sigiriya has an exceptionally interesting garden. Though often described as a ‘palace garden’ its character is much more likely to derive from the time when it was a Buddhist monastery. What looks at first sight like a ‘formal water garden’ of the kind made in Renaissance Europe was probably a set of baoli ponds used by the monks for drinking water, washing and ritual cleansing. The beautiful goddesses on the mirror wall are akin to those in other Buddhist monasteries of the period.
Kathy Brown writes on cooking and has made a garden which is as much appreciated for its beauty as for its cakes. Kathy is the author of a book on The Edible Flower Garden.
I wish more people used their gardens to grow food, as well as for delight. The first horticultural enclosure was made more than 10,000 years ago. Purely ‘ornamental’ gardening probably began no more than 300 years ago and only became dominant about 100 years ago.
Is Damien Hirst furnishing Toddington Manor with a Young British Artist Garden? Born in 1965, he is now a now Middle Aged British Artist
Damien Hirst is the lord of Toddington Manor. The old manor house was drawn by Kip in the eighteenth century and rebuilt as a gothic revival mansion in the nineteenth century. Hirst uses the manor for his art collection and I hope he is making a YBA garden.
MacGregor starts by talking about water in Christianity and Islam before devoting most of the programme to India. What little is known about ancient Hindu gardens indicates they were flowery forests arranged around pools, which seem related to baolis, ghats and the pools in Buddhist monasteries.
In the modern world, I wish purity was more of a design objective for garden pools, as it is in Herbert Dreiseit’s Waterscapes. Even the worst books on garden design stress the centrality of water. Dr D G Hessayon The Rock & Water Garden Expert 1993 is a good example of a bad book on garden design.
Beliefs have led to the planting of Nelumbo nucifera the Sacred Lotus since ancient times
Beliefs have always influenced garden design styles, just as they influence contemporary gardens. And just as they will surely influence future gardens. I do not have a religion but I do believe in beliefs and in their importance for designers. Neil MacGregor’s radio series on Living with Gods is therefore of great interest to me. Taking objects and places as examples, MacGregor explains the beliefs that led to their creation. This is what I tried to do when writing histories of Asian, European and British garden design. So when I can see a connections between what MacGregor say and the history of gardens I will blog and tweet about them using the hastag #GardenBeliefs. I am hoping he will devote a programme to Nelumbo nucifera the Sacred Lotus – but doubt it. It was a celebrated garden plant long before the Buddha made it a very famous garden plant as recorded in the story of the Flower Sermon:
Toward the end of his life, the Buddha took his disciples to a quiet pond for instruction. As they had done so many times before, the Buddha’s followers sat in a small circle around him, and waited for the teaching. But this time the Buddha had no words. He reached into the muck and pulled up a lotus flower. And he held it silently before them, its roots dripping mud and water. The disciples were greatly confused. Buddha quietly displayed the lotus to each of them. In turn, the disciples did their best to expound upon the meaning of the flower: what it symbollized, and how it fit into the body of Buddha’s teaching. When at last the Buddha came to his follower Mahakasyapa, the disciple suddenly understood. He smiled and began to laugh. Buddha handed the lotus to Mahakasyapa and began to speak. “What can be said I have said to you,” smiled the Buddha, “and what cannot be said, I have given to Mahakashyapa.”
Alan Watts a great interpreter of Buddhist ideas for westerners made a wise comment on contemporary religious ideas (he uses the term ‘faith’ where I use ‘belief’):
The present phase of human thought and history … almost compels us to face reality with open minds, and you can only know God through an open mind just as you can only see the sky through a clear window. You will not see the sky if you have covered the glass with blue paint. But “religious” people who resist the scraping of the paint from the glass, who regard the scientific attitude with fear and mistrust, and confuse faith with clinging to certain ideas, are curiously ignorant of laws of the spiritual life which they might find in their own traditional records.
In the first episode MacGregor discusses is the Lion Man. This 40,000 year old figurine is interpreted as a representation of man’s relationship with the natural world – which is one of the grand themes in the history of garden design. A question for me is whether the Lion Man was made by nomads or whether it was made by a holy man who settled near a cave and a place where he could live without being nomadic.
The Baroque style avenues of sweet chestnuts (Castanea sativa) in Greenwich Park are believed to have been planted 1660-1. So they may have been 356 years old when these video clips were taken on 28th October 2017. Greenwich was imparked in the fifteenth century is the oldest of London’s Royal Parks. Maybe ten years ago they were looking unloved. Today they are very well cared for. Instead of mowing the grass under the trees, the turf is being removed and bark chippings are being spread, as shown below.
The roots of this ancient tree are now cared for with a ring of bark chippings which hold fallen leaves and chestnut shells
With good care the Greenwich chestnuts might live as long as the oldest chestnut tree in Britain (571 years and at Stourhead) but the aim should for them to live as long as the Hundred-Horse Chestnut (Castagno dei Cento Cavalli) in Sicily: estimated to be 3000 years old.
The Hundred Horse Chestnut as it was a 145 years ago (in 1872).
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:
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
‘Restoration’ of the Giant Steps in Greenwich Park is under consideration and may well happen – I will do a blog post about this soon
The Leasowes is still run as a country park and with little regard for the outstanding importance of William Shenstone’s conception
Nothing has been done about the parterre at Melbourne Hall
Nothing has been done about the ferme ornée at Great Tew
Good restoration work has been done at Munstead Wood and it is open to the public by appointment
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
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:
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?
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.
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
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 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
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 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
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
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:
placing a structure at both ends of the main axis, to give her eyes
sharpening the edges of the main axis, which is formed by trees and by the edges of the canal
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.
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
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.