Category Archives: Garden Visiting

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

Is Greenwich Park London’s most interesting Royal Park?


I think the answer is ‘yes’ – and it should certainly be included in London garden tours. For a start, it is the oldest of London’s Royal Parks. Greenwich has associations with the period in British history most loved by the BBC and English schools. Only the 1930s and ’40s rival the Tudors.
Greenwich was enclosed by Duke Humphrey of Gloucester, who also built what became the Royal Palace of Placentia. Henry VIII was born here. So was his daughter, Elizabeth I. The design and the design history are also of great interest. Greenwich Park began as a late-medieval Hunting Park with an Early Renaissance garden. It was then influenced by the Baroque Style in the seventeenth century by the Serpentine style in the eighteenth century and by the Gardenesque Style in the nineteenth century. The green laser beam is a Post-Abstract twenty-first century addition – and a great idea. The designers who influenced the park include Inigo Jones, André Le Nôtre, John Evelyn Christopher Wren, Lancelot Brown and John Claudius Loudon.

Persian garden tour April and May 2014 Iran

iran_persia_garden_toursPersian Gardens have a 2500 years history. They overcome environmental constraints and manifest the cultures and beliefs of people living in an often-harsh climate. In collaboration with the Iranian Society of Landscape Professionals (ISLAP) offer a specialized tour and workshop called “Taste Paradise”. This is a unique opportunity for Landscape professionals, architects, botanists and Landscape historians to exchange information with Iranian specialist experts while visiting Persian Gardens. After our very first successful international tour and workshop “Taste Paradise I” in May 2013, The Cultural Landscape Association (CLA) is planning to offer another journeys (Taste Paradise II and III) for experts and professionals all around the globe, to visit and enjoy the cultural beauty of Persian Gardens. You can find More Information here: http://www.shahromanzar.org/component/k2/item/400-tour/%20400-tour#
The dates are:
Taste Paradise II: April 12-18, 2014
Taste Paradise III: May 03- 09, 2014
Further information on Garden Tours in Iran and on Iranian Gardens:
http://www.gardenvisit.com/gardens/in/iran
http://www.gardenvisit.com/garden_tours/in/iran

Stourhead Landscape Garden in autumn with Radio 4, Eddie Mair and Alan Power

Stourhead is more than a tree garden: it is an important work of art

Listening to Eddie Mair on Radio 4 I often think ‘Eddie is Britain’s Best Broadcaster, ever’. He towers above the entire Dimbleby family as the Shard towers over London. Well, for several years Eddie has been chatting with one of Britain’s nicest gardeners: Alan Power looks after Stourhead. Eddie went to Stourhead Garden today and spent two and a half hours walking round with Alan. It was a vintage disappointment. Alan mentioned several times that Stourhead is a work of art and that it has many temples. Eddie missed the point and was interested only in the trees and the autumnality – so we kept coming back to Tulip Trees and Maples. It was like walking round St Paul’s Cathedral and talking about the materials and the paint colours – interesting enough for specialists, but not the main point for a high profile discussion. Reyner Banham observed that ‘The purely visual aesthetic of Stourhead, free of sentimentality and allusion, is what puts it in the class of European masterpieces… in a manner that escaped Capability Brown for most of his life’. I do not know why Banham thought Stourhead ‘free of sentimentality and allusion’ but he is surely right about it being a masterpiece and a work of art – and there are only a handful of gardens in this category. Don’t get the wrong idea: I am very interested in why, for example, TS Eliot wrote ‘Let us go then, you and I’ instead of ‘Let us go then, you and me’ but if I were going to present Eliot to a mass audience on Radio 4 then I would not take this as the most important point about either him or J Alfred Prufrock.
Let’s hope Eddie Mair returns to Stourhead with a determination to understand its importance as a work of art.

Gardenvisit.com wins 2013 Award for Best Garden Tourism Website

We were delighted to receive the 2013 Website of the Year Award. It was one of the Canadian and International Awards handed out during the Garden Tourism Conference in Toronto, Canada. The Garden Tourism Awards are presented to organizations and individuals who have “distinguished themselves in the development and promotion of the garden experience as a tourism attraction. Recipients travelled from across North America and as far away as Japan, France, Portugal, Italy, and Australia”.
“It is an honor to be part of the international community that has established an awards program to recognize the invaluable contribution the world’s outstanding garden experiences make, not only in terms of environmentally friendly and sustainable tourism, but also in terms of the equally important intangible benefits that nature brings to the soul,” said Alexander Reford, Chair of the Canadian Garden Tourism Council as he handed out the Awards. Michel Gauthier, Conference Chair, closed the event by saying, “According to Richard Benfield, authorof ‘Garden Tourism’, more people visit gardens annually in the US than visit Disneyland and Disneyworld combined, and more than visit Las Vegas in any given year. Given those impressive statistics, we’re certainly on the right track as we recognize the country and the world’s finest garden experiences in this vibrant, thriving and rapidly growing segment of the international tourism market.” The inaugural Garden Tourism Awards were presented at the 2011 Garden Tourism Conference held in Toronto. To view past winners, visit: www.gardentourismconference.com and click on the ‘media’ tab. In the spirit of highlighting Canada and the world’s most dynamic garden experiences and GardenTourism’s limitless potential, the Canadian Garden Tourism Council, in consultation with a Canadian and international jury network, proudly announce the 2013 recipients of the Garden Tourism Awards.

Garden tourism: 'Is London the World's Gardening Capital?'

I am a Londoner – and with understandable bias regard London as the capital city of world gardens, garden design and gardening. As argued in the above video, the reasons for this are both geographical and historical. Britain was emerging from the Pleistocene when horticultural techniques were devised (about 12,000 years ago) and they did not reach Britain until c3,800 BC. The art of making pleasure gardens came to London with the Romans, ended when they left and resumed when the Normans invaded England in 1066. Since then, there has been a steady advance in the popularity of gardening. Long may it continue! Britain is always likely to have a hard time competing with the Mediterranean countries for beach holidays – but it has very considerable opportunities for developing garden tourism. We were delighted to hear of the 2013 Garden Tourism Conference to be held in Toronto, Canada, in March – and have entered the Gardenvisit.com Website in hopes of receiving an award in the Garden Tourism Website category. Further information on the London Gardens Walk – and free routemaps.

The Claremont Amphitheatre as a problem in historic garden restoration

The amphitheatre in Claremont Landscape Garden

The historic amphitheatre in Claremont Landscape Garden


Clockwise, the images of the Claremont Amphitheatre show (1) Charles Bridgeman’s design, as illustrated in Stephen Switzer’s Hydrostatiks (2) John Rocque’s drawing shows the garden as modified by William Kent after 1734 (3) a drawing by an unknown artist with the water as a circular pool (4) a recent photo of the amphitheatre as a feature in what is now called Claremont Landscape Garden. Claremont is a pleasant and popular place – so why not leave it as it is? The amphitheatre was almost lost at one point and then restored by the National Trust. I am sure they were right to restore the amphitheatre but I do not think they went far enough. Stephen Switzer (in his Introduction to a general system of hydrostaticks and hydraulicks 1729) wrote that: ‘The upper part of the work may very easily be seen to be a sketch of the fine Amphitheatre at Claremont, (belonging to his Grace the Duke of Newcastle) the design of the very ingenious Mr. [Charles] Bridgeman; and the lower part, where the water spouts out, is an addition of my own, from a work of that kind that I have done for the Right Honourable the Earl of Orrery , at Marson in Somersetshire. In this composition, which I humbly conceive to be the noblest of any in Europe, may be seen a very magnificent taste and way of thinking, and in which I can’t help observing, that had the ingenious designer had more room at Claremont, he would certainly have made his water much larger than that little circular basin, which is seen therein, and which is very much eclipsed by the prodgious grandeur of that Amphitheatre. And this I note for the advantage of those who have more room for such a purpose: as for the rest the plan speaks for itself.’
Bridgeman and Switzer and are significant figures in the history of garden design and far too little of their work survives. More of Kent’s work survives. The problem with Claremont is that it lacks the high quality one would expect from such a distinguished cast, though Vanbrugh’s avenue, bowling green and Belvedere Tower are very good. My suggestion is to restore more of the design shown on Switzer’s drawing. I would like to see Switzer’s ‘water spouts’ and the first metre of the baroque canal (it could be done with jetties if there is insufficient land). Restoration of the ‘wilderness’ in which it is set would also be welcome (ie the woodland with straight rides and twisting paths). This would give Claremont a clear separation between (1) the Kentian landscape garden (2) the late baroque features designed by John Vanbrugh, Switzer and Bridgeman. If some way of arranging it could be found, a way of viewing the house and setting which Lancelot Brown designed for Lord Clive would also be highly desireable. The aim should be to make Claremont into first class garden it should be: it is in danger of becoming a public park for the middle classes.

Could Hemel Hempsted's Jellicoe Water Gardens be managed by volunteers?

Volunteering to help in public parks and gardens

Would British gardeners volunteer to help with local public parks and gardens? The Americans do!

We observed that Hemel Hempstead Water Gardens are a National Disgrace and that Hemel Hempstead Water Gardens are getting worse and worse and worse. This led to a number of people making contact to say ‘If someone started a Friends of the Water Gardens organisation then I would help’. This, I believe, is the best way forward. As our Prime Minister would say ‘It is a Big Society initiative which would cost Dacorum Borough Council little and make the standard of care much higher’. Jane Austen, however, would have said that ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that two old ladies with good skills can manage a garden better than a dozen youths in sweatshirts’. I would caution her against sexism but confirm that good gardens need brains more than they need brawn. A gardener has to know what to do, how to do it, when to do it, where to do it and why it is being done.
Britain is a nation of gardeners to a much greater extent than it is a nation of shopkeepers – and to a much greater extent than America. But UK public parks make hardly any use of volunteers. The UK National Trust, in comparison, makes extensive use of volunteer gardeners and in the USA it the normal way of managing public gardens and parks. New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, for example has a page for volunteering. So do US gardens open to the public, like Longwood and so do US botanical gardens like Missouri.
My suggestion to Dacorum Borough Council (DBC) is to provide an elegant little building with a verandah where volunteers can keep their tools, wash their hands, make tea, distribute seeds and keep an eye on the gardens. You can see how this would work at Phoenix Garden in London. It is an approach which would soon make the Hemel Hempsted Water Gardens a beautiful place and a social amenity. Old folks would go there to meet their friends and get healthy exercise. The Council might find its social services bill falling as fast as its parks maintenance bill. The lager drinkers one sometimes sees in the Water Gardens might change to a life of tea drinking and hard work. Younger volunteers might find that the skills learned from older gardeners leading to skilled employment. So come on DBC: why not make everyone happier and reduce the Council budget? Isn’t that your job?

The future is blossoming

The stained glass windows of Josef Albers (1920-33) demonstrate the remarkable advances that were made in glass art in the period between 1885 (with the Tiffany glass Company) and 1933 (with students from the Bauhaus), and the increasing links between emerging art movements and gardens (hinted at by Filoli ).

Art Nouveau began a remarkable period in the history of art, when designers inspired by nature and natural forms, began a creative transformation which would lead to the pure abstraction of Modernism, perhaps most typified in the work of Gustav Klimt.

Louis Comfort Tiffany, was the third generation of successful American entrepreneurs. His father founded the jewelry company, Tiffany & Co, while his grandfather had been a leading cloth manufacturer.

Mirroring the emerging emancipation of women which typifies the age, the daffodil lamp, designed by one the ‘Tiffany Girls’ Clara Discoll, is considered among the most famous of the studio’s designs.

Impressive gardens: revisiting the Golden Age in America

‘The Golden Age of American Gardens’ begins “In the 1880s America’s millionaires were looking for new ways to display their new wealth, and the acquisition of a grand house with an equally grand garden became their passion.”

It is said that the style of architecture and gardens, evidenced in Lila Vanderbilt Webb’s 1886 model agricultural farm Shelburne Farm (among others) “was a mix of eclecticism and the latest advances in artistic and cultural developments as promoted in popular English style books and periodicals of the time.” The tubbed bay trees on the terraces overlooking Lake Champlain, as a consequence, were said to have been climatically challenged!

The Golden Age ended with the Jazz Age in which a distinctly American sensibility in gardens and lifestyle emerged. European influences still dominated design ideas, but new approaches were gradually emerging as is shown in the Chartes Cathedral Window Garden (photograph by Saxon Holt shown above), one of three walled gardens on the estate.

Filoli, the home of shipping heiress Lurline Roth, whose daughter debuted to jazz strains in 1939 at the property, maintains a strong jazz tradition.

Perhaps she danced to the classic‘I wish I could shimmy like my sister Kate’, said to be a charleston/belly dance fusion, and which inspired The Beatles to release a song of the same name in 1962?

Monty Don on the best garden in the world: Ninfa?

Monty Don, in a recent TV series on the gardens of Italy, remarked that his friends know he has visited a lot of gardens and often ask him ‘What is the best garden in the world?’. So, while visiting Ninfa, he told us: ‘This is it’. I too have visited a lot of gardens and, though I could not name a ‘best garden’ have ventured a list of The World’s Top Ten Gardens. My list does not include Ninfa. Nor have I been there, but I would like Monty to be questioned or psychoanalysed to discover the reasons for his choice. My theory is that Monty Don is more interested in plants and planting than art and design. I like him as a presenter but despair of his garden history and regret his being such a gusher. Critics should be critical and, to be fair, he did visit Isola Bella to say ‘it’s kitch but I love it’.


Image courtesy sunshinecity

Romantic new garden for the cafe in Chiswick Park?

New garden landscape for the cafe beside Chiswick House


Evidently, English Heritage staff have become avid followers of this blog. In August 2010, we criticised the new cafe for being in a sea of bitmac. Now it is surrounded (top photo) by an attractive surfacing with the friendly name of ‘tar and chips’. We therefore urge EH to take another step and implement the proposal in the lower photograph.
But when I visited the park today a nice man came running towards me and advised that if seen on my bike again the fine would be £8. I should not have made this comment in August 2010: ‘I have always had a soft spot for Chiswick House and Park: my Mum used to play there; it is a key project in William Kent’s design progress; it is the only park or garden in the world where a uniformed official has told me that “you can ride your bicycle here if you want to”‘.

Plans of Chiswick House in 1729 and 2010 (EH plan; NE orientation). The canal would be below the drawing and the new cafe above the drawing


Chiswick House Park as it was and as it is

Museum Quality Gardens

A interesting garden typology which seems to be given more attention in recent times is the museum garden, such as the garden at Giverny ‘The Museum of Impressions’. The garden museum was conceived to give visitors an experience of the Seine valley on the impressionists trail and to complement the art gallery experience of viewing impressionist paintings. The museum building is described as “topped by roofs landscaped in heather…inscribed into the natural slope of the land, allowing the minimum of opague walls.”

For the garden traditionalist there is the Musee Rodin in Paris which captures something of the atmosphere of the outdoors indoors and has a an inspiring sculpture garden.

Perhaps an even more interesting possibility with this trend is the potential for the museum-in-the-garden. The museum of life and science in North Carolina demonstrates the potential of the museum outdoors.

Where better to experience and learn about art, physics and the natural world?

Does Leeds Castle have the lovliest castle garden in England?

No. It does not.
Leeds Castle gets enormous and well-deserved publicity as ‘the lovliest castle in England’ and is crowded with visitors paying £17.50 each in 2010. My guide book says the garden is Grade II listed. If correct, this is ridiculous. The designed landscape around the castle should be Grade I+++ listed. The riverside garden and the Culpepper Garden (supposedly designed by Russell Page) are mediocre. But why? With such a host of visitors the Leeds Castle Foundation must have a sufficiency of funds. I would not criticise the design if it were a public park in run-down town in a depressed part of the English Midlands. But for the surroundings of the very finest example of a designed medieval landscape in England – I recommend the appointment of a skilled designer-manager. England has few better places in which to dream of gallant kings, beautiful maidens and the age of chivalry. At the time of their marriage, in 1524, Edward was 15. Eleanor was 10 years old, Spanish and beautiful. It was an exceedingly happy marriage, arranged by their parents. They had 16 children. Edward was a great military leader and in 1271 he and Eleanor were in Acre, crusading. Her child miscarried and they returned home via Rome, where they met the Pope, and via Paris. We would frown on the early marriage and the anti-Muslim crusade. One can rarely judge an earlier age by the standards of a later age – but we need have no reservations in criticising the current design of Leeds Castle Gardens. It’s pathetic. And why did they litter the streambank with old railway sleepers?

Maze, 1988, by Vernon Gibberd. Who will win the fair maid?


The maze at Leeds Castle is of a different quality: it is well conceived, well made, well positioned and popular. Unicursal (one-path) labyrinths were popular religious symbols in the middle ages and symbolized the spiritual path a pilgrim might take. Multicursal (many-path) mazes were popular renaissance games. They were fun to experience and symbolic of the difficulties of finding and winning the game of love: a fair maid might be placed at the centre of a maze. The Leeds Castle Maze is enjoyed in precisely this way and does not conflict with the medieval castle landscape.

Is there too much of Kew Gardens at Wakehurst Place?

urst Place on the cover of English Garden Design (left) and in June 2010

Wakehurst Place on the cover of English Garden Design (left) and in June 2010

‘Father, forgive them, for they know exactly what they do’. (adapted from Luke 23:34). I have always liked Wakehurst Place and have put it on the dustjacket of a book – but I criticised Wakehurst Place last year and after another recent visit am being driven to conclude that it is being over-Kewed.
A plaque near the house is dedicated to ‘Sir Henry Price Bt. who in 1963 presented these lovely gardens for the education and enjoyment of all who visit them’. Two questions must be asked ‘Education in what?’ and ‘Enjoyment of what?’ The apparent aim is to convert a beautiful place into a spotty collection of specimens.
When Wakehurst Place first appeared on Gardenvisit.com, about 10 years ago, we received an anquished email along the lines ”Call us pigs or Pakis if you must but please PLEASE do not call us Gardenesque’. But why shouldn’t Wakehurst Place be a place for ‘education’ and ‘enjoyment’ related to the Gardenesque Style? Properly understood and executed, it is one of the most-English and most-appreciated styles of garden design. My recommendations for Wakehurst Place are:
– an Arts and Crafts area around the house
– a Gardenesque section at the head of the valley
– a full-scale Landscape transition to a Sublime lake at the foot of the valley
But as Geoffrey Jellicoe argued, Creative Conservation is often the best policy for historic gardens and landscapes. Should this be wanted, the garden managers could also consider
– seasonal and thematic ribbons interlacing the estate
But an even more important step would be to appoint a Design Manager for Wakehurst Place. If the manager’s skills are only horticultural then the future of gardens is to become more botanical, less Beautiful, less Picturesque, less Gardenesque and less Sublime. Let’s hope I’m wrong.

Note1: the above photographs of the bridge at the head of the valley are looking in opposite directions

Note2: by ‘over-Kewed’ I mean ‘too much of an emphasis on botany’ – Kew Gardens are in fact getting better looking year-by-year.

Bad garden design in America

bad-garden-design-11

James van Sweden told Monty Don that ‘Americans just don’t get gardening. Americans don’t go outside. They are frightened of it. Frightened of bugs and wildlife. Frightened of the heat and the cold. They don’t want the work of a garden. Maintenance companies come in and cut and fertilise the grass. That’s it.’ (Around the world in 80 gardens, 2008 p.244) He sounds like a grumpy old man, and seems to have forgotten about California and the Pacific North West, but there are some significant points to be made about gardening in the United States:

  • when it is not too hot and too humid to work in a garden, it is often far too cold
  • though called ‘yards’ much of of the green space around houses is not fenced or otherwise enclosed, partly because a fence would be considered an unfriendly gesture
  • American’s move house more often than Europeans – and pay a higher percentage of the house price to the realtor (leaving less money for the garden)
  • American houses are larger than European houses – so why go out when indoors is so comfortable?
  • Americans have shorter vacations and tend to work longer hours
  • Food is cheaper in the US
  • the American landscape architecture profession continues to regard garden design as an inferior activity

Please correct me if I am wrong – or add other explanations. I am not saying bad garden design is an exclusively US phenomenon, but they do seem rather good at it! The above illustation is from our eBook The Principles of Garden Design. We are of course aware that America has many great public gardens to visit and has long enjoyed a leadership role in world landscape architecture.

The Landscape Man: Matthew Wilson on Channel 4

The Landscape Man launched on Channel 4 today with Matthew Wilson as host and Keith and Ros Wiley as his subjects. Matthew has a pleasant manner but, judged only from this episode, lacks a feeling for design. His talk was all about operations and quantities (of land, soil, money, water, plants etc). One feature was described as a ‘sort of canyon’ and another as a ‘sort of Mexican parterre with a wooden cloister and hot plants’. They call it the Wildside Garden. I would call it a display garden for a plant centre. Before that Keith was the manager for the Garden House, which is admired. The style of the Wildside planting was described ‘naturalistic’. But why make a Mexican parterre in Devon? – and when were parterres a characteristic garden form in Mexico? And what is ‘wild’ about pond liners? Matthew did not ask. Keith did not say. His main aim is to make money, since losing his previous job. Matthew has adopted many of Kevin McLeod‘s speech mannerisms and it would not be surprising to learn that the same production team is involved. But to catch-up with Kevin he must sharpen up his design judgement. The programme was sponsored by B&Q and I wondered if they had helped with the garden design.

Please change the inappropriate planting design in Salisbury Cathedral cloister "garden"


Is the planting in Salisbury Cathedral Cloister designed to hide the 'ugly' medieval stonework in England's largest cloister 'garden'?

Is the planting in Salisbury Cathedral Cloister designed to hide the 'ugly' medieval stonework in England's largest cloister 'garden'?


It takes one’s breath away. How can the managers of Salisbury Cathedral Cloister be so misguided in their approach to planting design? Do they really want to give one of the masterpieces of medieval  European landscape architecture (1280) the character of a Victorian vicarage? The apparent aim is to hide the floral tracery of arcades behind a shrubbery, and to hide those ugly stone columns with some nice green tanalized wooden posts – even the galvanized wire does not make them beautiful. Perhaps the trouble began when some past prelate had the idea of being buried in the cloister, making his successors think the place was a boneyard. Ugh. I wish the Church of England could resolve its problems with women priests, gay priests and planting design. The solutions are obvious and I would give them my advice with free and tolerant humility. Prima facie, I suggest (1) leave the cedars, despite their historical inaccuracy (2) remove the shrubbery (3) manage the grass as even more of a flowery mead than its present condition, (4) perhaps, have an annual design for the layout of mown paths in the millefiori.

(See yesterday’s post on the social use of cloister garths)

The use of cloister courts and garths for memorial plaques is fairly common in England. It can be compared to memorial plaques inside cathedrals and, of course, to the tomb gardens of Egypt, China, India and elsewhere. But it does not feel right and I think the Buddha had the right attitude when he asked for his grave to be unmarked. It was a sign of humility. Memorials smack of ostentation. But placing an engraved stone on a wall or floor is preferable to memorial stones in grass: they are often unsightly; they diminish the vegetated area; they are impure.