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!
As a generalisation, the condition of historic gardens in most countries is getting better. They enjoy more expert attention, more visitors and more resources. Shalimar Bagh in Kashmir is an exception. When I saw it in 2006, it did not seem to be in quite as good condition as when Susan Jellicoe (black and white photo above) photographed it c1970. And when I saw it again in 2012 (colour photo, above) it seemed in even worse condition. Oddly, there were also far more visitors than in 2006. Does anyone know what the problem is? Lack of money? Lack of will? A concern for the bugs which enjoy rotting timber? A lack of concern for India’s Islamic heritage?
Located in East Berlin, the Soviet Memorial in Treptower Park is the last resting place for 7,000 Russian soldiers. Planned in 1945, finished in 1949, the design was chosen in a competition to which 33 submissions were recorded. The winning design came from an artist’s collective that included the architect Yakov Belopolski, the sculpter Yevgeni Vuchetic, the painter Alexander Gorpenko and the engineer Sarra Valerius.The memorial was completely restored between 2003 and 2009, including the shipping of the 70 ton, 12 metre tall main statue – a Red Army soldier holding a child and standing over a shattered swastika – to the island of Rügen and back for repair. The memorial is ca. 570 metres long, 150 metres wide, and the main statue with its base mound stands 30 metres tall.
I am always very impressed with designs that rest heavily on trees for their main spatial definition. The Soviet Memorial relies on plane trees – now around 30 metres high – to define its outer boundary, with pleached limes – now around 15 metres high – used to step this scale down as an internal edge. There is an amazing avenue of weeping birches, now with crown diameters of up to 15 metres, planted at 25 metre centres. The western end of the axis is closed with lombardy poplars. One would look far today for a client that would be prepared to countenance a design that would first be ‘realised’ 40 years and more after its actual completion. As the point of the memorial is to convey everlasting glory upon the fallen soldiers, this aspect of the design makes it for me particularly moving.
The detailing of the memorial is superb. Students of landscape design should be encouraged to visit it to learn the importance of step, edge and paving details, and the enormous power of simplicity when ‘writ large’. It is a living memorial, fresh red carnations are strewn throughout on the statuary, and the room below the main statue is filled with flowers and garlands. There is a complete absence of religious symbolism.
Many people will not like this memorial, or this kind of political landscape. I was surprised myself that I found it very moving. Though most visitors were simply out enjoying the sun, one overheard many conversations on political themes, so it does seem that this piece of landscape design is still engendering debate.
The final image, included for contrast and to encourage comment, is taken in Budapest’s Memento Park, a collection of statuary from the Russian occupation of Hungary. The statue is of Stalin’s boots, all that remains of a massive sculpture of him that once stood in the centre of the city, after the population sawed off the rest of it and pulled it down.
The candidates for ‘oldest avenue of trees in England’ include:
- The yew trees in Westbourne said to have been planted in 1544.
- The Bucklebury Oaks, also known as The Queens’ Avenues, which may have been planted to commemorate a visit by Queen Elizabeth I as well as a later visit by Queen Anne
- Joris Hoefnagel’s drawing of Nonsuch Palace makes it look as though a line of trees leads to the entrance and there was a similar feature is shown on reconstructions of the Palace of Beaulieu
But the ‘correct’ answer depends in the interpretation of the question:
- the processional route at Stonehenge is often described as an avenue and probably passed through trees for some or all of its length. Other stone circles (eg Callanish) also had what are assumed to be processional routes, as did Egyptian and Mesopotamian temples
- the word ‘avenue’ (from the French avenir) was not used in English until the mid-seventeenth century. A similar feature made before this date would probably have been called an alley (from the French aller)
So on a strict interpretation of the word ‘avenue’, the oldest avenue in England may be in Greenwich Park. The chestnut trees, which survive, were planted c1660 and John Evelyn, who is recorded in the OED as the first English author to use the word ‘avenue’, may have advised on the layout. He had an avenue, which does not survive, in his nearby garden (at Sayes Court in Deptford). The best-looking avenue of old trees in Greenwich Park runs north from a point near the intersection of the Great Cross Avenue with Blackheath Avenue. The view along this avenue was blocked a few years ago by the erection of a ‘hit-and-miss’ fence round an outdoor rubbish dump for the park cafe. It makes one think that the Royal Parks, who manage Greenwich, either have no knowledge of garden history or no interest in garden history. So one does not know whether to conclude ‘forgive them, Oh Lord, for they know not what they do’ or whether to conclude ‘forgive them, Oh Lord, for they know exactly what they do’. But I regard the positioning of this rubbish dump as unforgivable. When an airplane crashes, an accident investigation team is established. There is a need for a similar investigation of the Royal Parks Agency. The Commission of Enquiry should have plenipotentary powers to call for papers, to summon witnesses, to take evidence under oath and to make binding recommendations, if necessary for the future involvement of expert garden historians and landscape architects in decision making for the Royal Parks. How many managers of Royal Parks have qualifications in garden history? Are there any qualified garden historians on the agency’s payroll? Several excellent landscape architecture firms have given advice on Greenwich Park but, so far as I know, no trained designers or historians have had a role in the Greenwich Park management hierarchy. And it shows. Greenwich Park is to be closed for a month in 2012 for the Olympic Equestrian Events. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the rubbish dump were removed as part of the Olympic legacy to Greenwich Park?
The top pictures show a medieval statue, Michaelangelo’s David and Bernini’s David.
The lower pictures show a medieval garden, a renaissance garden and a baroque garden.
The pairs represent the devotional attitude of the middle ages, the static calm of the renaissance the drama of the baroque.
I think there are closer parallels between the histories of gardens and fine art than between the histories of gardens and dynasties, which makes me doubtful about the categorisation of British gardens as Tudor, Stuart, Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian etc. Nor do I think kings and queens have had a leading role in the development of garden design. So why are royal names so popular in Britain? Are garden historians flunkies? And how do the Irish manage without royal names for garden styles?
Following upon the discussion of Copenhagen’s Greenfinger Plan, here are two photographs of my hometown. They show examples of ‘urban landscapes’. BUT BUT BUT I do not regard the buildings as ‘urban’ bits and the green bits as ‘landscape’. I regard the scenic composition of buildings+landform+vegetation+paving+water (ie the Five Compositional Elements) as urban landscape compositions. Another reason for calling these examples Urban Landscapes is that they are beautiful. The below photograph of part of what was once of the most important early baroque-influenced gardens in England (Sayes Court, in Deptford) now lacks beauty and I would rather call it an ‘urban wasteland’ than an ‘urban landscape’. Sayes Court was nearly the first place to be saved from demolition by the National Trust. Things didn’t quite work out! Should any elements of the historic design be restored when Convoy’s Wharf is re-developed? The current design looks a bit Dubai-on-Thames but with duller architecture. The developers are Hutchinson Whampoa and the architects are bptw working with Aedas Architecture.
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.
Saddam Hussein’s Victory Arch in Baghdad is being restored – with mixed feelings among commentators. Meanwhile, the habitat of the Marsh Arabs is also being restored. But the Marshes, which are often identified as the geographical location of the Garden of Eden story, now have only a few thousand inhabitants instead of the half-million who lived there before the wicked Saddam Hussein drained the marshes. My proposal is to make an area of marshland around the Victory Arch in Baghdad to symbolise the victory of the wetlands over the dictator. It could also create a tourist attraction, a wildlife resort, a water management facility and a recreation area for the oppressed people of Baghdad. The name of the city could mean Bag “god” + dād “given”, translating to “God-given” or “God’s gift”. Or it could mean Bağ “garden” + dād “fair”, translating to “The fair Garden”.
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 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.
‘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.
I was very pleased to hear from Kathryn Gleason about the foundation of International Society for Garden Archaeology. The Gardenvisit blog has a number of posts on garden archaeology and I have gleaned the following thoughts from them:
1) the work archaeologists do on archaeology is of great value, for the information it yields and for the carefulness of their approach. But the work archaeologists do on garden ‘restoration’ and ‘management’ is generally terrible. It tends to lack each of the three essentials for dealing with historic garden sites: (a) a broad perspective on garden history (b) design judgment (c) technical knowledge of construction techniques and building materials (d) technical knowledge and skill with plant material and techniques of plant management
2) garden archaeologists should take an interest in two separate but related issues (a) the investigation, care and management of what are primarily archaeological sites (b) the investigation, care and management of what are primarily garden sites
3) I admire the garden archaeological work of Wilhelmina Feemster Jashemski (at Pompeii and Herculaneum) and of Barry Cunliffe (at Fishborne Roman Palace) but I do not admire they ‘resotrations’ of Roman gardens.
4) the archaeological principle of preserving evidence should have a strong position in the care and management of historic gardens
5) the current condition of the garden courts in Rome’s Palace of the Emperor’s (on the Palatine Hill) is depressing
6) the vast crowds who course through the Emperor’s garden in the Forbidden City (in Beijing) are wearing away the wonderful pebble paving.
Turfing the grand courtyard on the Palatine was wrong. But what should be done? To answer the question one needs historical and design judgment underpinned by a detailed knowledge of Roman planting and construction. But I am doubtful about any kind of restoration on such an important site.
Image of the Palatine courtesy Jeff, Jen and Travis
This is not a railway station: it is the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities – and a nearby building is on fire today. The thought of the antiquities being damaged is horrific and it makes me think they should be copied for public view and placed in secure underground bunkers. In fact they should make two copies. In the case of statues, one should go on display in a museum and the other should go in the place where it was found. This should be the normal procedure. For example, large numbers of statues were found at Hadrian’s Villa. Copies should be sited in their original locations.
I would love to see the Egyptians changing their government. But waiting till the old devil dies would be better than damaging the fabulous antiquities. Dr. Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), said two mummies were damaged by demonstrators. But his job came from Mubarak – so can he trusted?
It seems a petty point to add, but the Egyptian Museum also has material of the first importance to the study of garden history.
Image courtesy jkannenberg
The Tirta (Holy Water) gangga (Ganges) water gardens in Bali are composed of three main elements: water, sculpture and gardens. They were originally built by the
late King of the Karangasem in 1948. However in 1963 with the eruption of the volcano Gunung Agung much of the palace was destroyed leaving only the bathing pools. The garden is said to be designed in a mixture of Balinese, European and Chinese styles and have undergone reconstruction.
Here is the explanation of the frontispiece to The Retir’d gardener by George London and Henry Wise. Though England’s greatest Baroque garden designers, London and Wise dreamed of the simple life.
I. Agriculture, represented by a country-woman; her left hand upon a fruit-tree, her right upon a Zodiac, two genii supporting it.
II. Industry, represented by a woman standing on the other side of the tree, holding a book in her right hand, and a lamp in her left, with a crane at her feet representing vigilance; to show, that besides the labour and practice abroad in the day-time, to come to a perfect knowledge, we must read and study at night by the light of the lamp.
III. One of the naides or nymphs of the water, to water the tree; water being the soul of all vegetables.
IV. Terra, or mother-earth, with a wreath of flowers upon her head, a cornucopia in her right hand, and the globe of the earth in her left.
V. A view of a plantation of trees.
VI. Spades, pruning-hooks, &c. upon the ground.
The reference is to Virgil’s Georgics: Blest too is he who knows the rural gods.
And what more could any of us want: agriculture, the industry to seek perfect knowledge, water, earth, trees and tools?
Henry Wise retired to enjoy a life of rural retreat at Warwick Priory. In 1925 his house was sold for its bricks, which were used to built Virginia House in America.
The Undersecretary of State for the Home Department knew it was to be demolished, in 1925, and said that ‘financial reasons’ prevented his doing anything. As Thomas a Kempis put it, Sic transit gloria mundi. The foundations of Warwick Priory were partially excavated in 2002-3. .
The Daily Mail reports that under a UK government policy announced yesterday ‘the feckless unemployed will be forced to take part in a punishing US-style ‘workfare’ scheme involving gardening, clearing litter and other menial tasks’. It is a bad account of what could be a good policy. Giving people money for doing something is better than giving them money for doing nothing. Work is not a punishment; it is what the world does. But gardens already suffer from a skill shortage and gardening is not a ‘menial task’ and it should not be assumed that the unemployed are feckless or unskilled. Many over 40s know about gardening and lose their jobs because of market conditions or bad management. Surely it is healthier and more pleasurable to work as gardeners, or to help for elderly people living at home, or similar, than to get the dole and watch TV.
The autumn weather was beautiful and I went to see the Nonsuch garden today. Little survives and I agree with the local Nonsuch historians that it represents ‘both a responsibility and a challenge.. [regarding] the proper management, preservation, and presentation of the site of one of the great houses and gardens of England’. A simple first step would be to attempt a re-creation of one of the Knot gardens shown on John Speed’s plan of Nonsuch. The plan was drawn in 1610 and a re-created knot would make a great contribution to garden history, for a small outlay. Since various interpretations of Speed’s drawing are possible, a different knot could be produced each year and they could become famous.
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?
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.