Category Archives: Historic garden restoration

Romantic new cafe garden and elegant architecture in London's Chiswick Park?

Chiswick Park gets a romantic new garden cafe

Chiswick Park gets a romantic new garden cafe!

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’. So it was a pleasure to find that the current refurbishment of the park by English Heritage and the Chiswick House and Gardens Trust includes what may have been intended as a romantic new ‘Garden of the Mind’. The gravel was dredged from the North Sea. The bitumen binder was sourced far beneath the region in which the world’s first gardener worked. The garden furniture comes from far-away China. The manhole covers are tastefully handled. The architecture reminds me of Mies’ Barcelona Pavilion. We must congratulate the dashing young boss of English Heritage (Simon Thurley) and wonder if his own fair hand was behind this garden. Conveniently, it has good toilets and is within spitting distance for visitors to Lord Burlington’s Chiswick Villa. But, for me, the Garden of the Mind is nothing but a sea of bitmac (though a layer of gravel has been applied since the photo was taken). Chiswick Park is a key project in the architecture and landscape architecture of the eighteenth century world. Its sparkling new cafe deserves a sparkling new cafe garden – and Mies showed the way at Barcelona. English Heritage once ran a highly unsuccessful Contemporary Heritage Gardens project, because it was applied on inappropriate sites. The cafe in Chiswick Park could still be a great site for a great project.

Garden as setting for life's drama

Anna Gilman Hill’s ‘Grey Garden’ in the East Hamptons is the setting for a movie on the lives of mother and daughter Little and Big Eddie. Anna Hill has been described as “one of the world’s greatest feminine horticulturalists.”

Yet the women who acquired her garden were challenged by the legacy she left them.

The Grey Garden, and the women’s struggle to maintain a viable garden in a beachside setting, somehow parallel their lives as individuals.

http://www.whatweretheskieslike.com/2009/03/grey-gardens-from-garden-perspective.html

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.

The strange re-birth of liberal England has not reached Windsor Great Park, yet

No Vehicles and No Entry for Horses and Cycles onto the Long Walk in Windsor Great Park

No Vehicles and No Entry for Horses and Cycles onto the Long Walk in Windsor Great Park

I re-visited Windsor Great Park on the day, in May 2010, that Britain got a Liberal-Tory government and tried to ride my bike along the 4.26 km Long Walk. A flunky dashed out and told me to stop it. I offered to push the bicycle. He said this was forbidden. ‘Why?’ I asked. ‘The Queen doesn’t like cyclists’, he told me. ‘I think I’ll become a republican’, I told him. ‘Me too’ he said. In the course of a long stroll up the Long Walk I noticed the above signs and was overtaken by many vehicles, including picturesque horse-drawn carriages, for paying guests, and a fleet of warden’s cars with no apparant purpose other than ridding the realm of pestilential cyclists. Those with money and power lord it over the poor plebs who pound their own pedals. ‘Twas ever thus’ you might think.
But there is hope for the future: our current Prime Minister (David Cameron) and the current the Mayor of London (Boris Johnson) are both cycle commuters – and it is hard to see Prince Charles as anything other than a postmodern liberal tory. Nick Clegg could buy a bike too. It’s a pity about the Queen but she does belong to another era and Windsor Castle remains the best symbol of what the best historian of French Gardens (Kenneth Woodbridge) saw as the Norman strand in British life. The Normans conquered England in 1066 and despite their origin in a tribal and pagan region (Scandinavia), what they brought to England was the centralist administration and palace civilization of West Asia (as modified by the Macedonians, the Romans, the Franks and the French). This may add up to a historical justification for banning cyclists from Windsor Great Park. But I hope Prince Charles removes the ban, when and if he acceeds to the British throne. It was the Norman Tendency which converted Anglo-Saxon-Viking England into the imperial power we know as Great Britain and it remains the case that more-recent immigrants think of themselves as ‘British Asians’, ‘Black British’ etc rather than ‘English Asians’, ‘Black English’ etc. ‘Civis Britanicus sum’ may be embedded in their psyches. Though also descended from immigrants, I feel more English than British – possibly because I do not like imperialism. Dunno.
Historians may view the UK’s 2010 election as a key event in the re-birth of the Liberal England. George Dangerfield said it had died (in a 1935 book on The Strange Death of Liberal England). Re-birth would please admirers of John Locke, John Russell, William Cobbett, William Gladstone and David Lloyd George. And it would please me. Liberalism is the grand theme of English politics – and of English garden design in the last 3 or 4 centuries. The best garden and landscape design has often had political themes. So it is very appropriate that English liberalism was reborn in a rose garden – despite the irony of roses being associated with Mary Gardens, Medieval Marianism and Catholic Toryism.

‘What passes for optimism is most often the effect of an intellectual error.’

Note The word ‘warden’ reached England in the early 13th century. It means ‘one who guards’ and derives from the Old Norman French wardein and from the Frankish warding, which derives from wardon ‘to watch or guard’. In about 1300 warden came to mean ‘governor of a prison’.

Sustainable management of grass in Islamic gardens

Sustainable management of grass in Islamic gardens This lovely photograph was taken by Michael Lancaster c1968. My first thought, on finding it this morning, was that is showed a sustainable approach to cutting grass. But do the water buffalos emit more C02 than the small amount of hydrocarbon a motor mower would use? Perhaps. But the buffalo C02 would be endlessly re-cycled and the fossil hydrocarbon would be transferred from the earth’s crust to the earth’s atmosphere. Another point evident from Michael’s photograph is that this is not how the greenspace should be managed. It ought to be a lush area of fruit and flowers.

The Landscape Man: Matthew Wilson at Hedingham Castle

Hedingham Castle in Essex was the subject of the second Landscape Man series.The owner’s wife, Demetra Lindsay, a garden designer, thought ‘something a little more formal would be a bit of contrast’. So they converted the swimming pool into ‘formal pond’ and put in a semi-Islamic water channel edged with granite cadged from a sponsor. Granite is of course a traditional material – for tomb stones. Matthew Wilson made the un-profound remark that the grounds were being ‘restored to their former glory’. The owners’ design objective was to generate dosh by letting the place as weddings venue. The estate also contains a really fine Norman keep (dating from 1140) as well as a decent eighteenth century mansion. What should they have done? Something better: less costly, more imaginative, more beautiful, more romantic, more appropriate – and designed to create amazing opportunities for wedding photographers.

Courting the lawn

It is always a challenge when considering heritage how to respect the past while accommodating the new. The houtongs in Beijing are now facing the predicament of a modernising city. Traditional society and lifestyles have changed. Consumer demands are different.

So the traditional courtyard house is being reinterpreted…and in some instances modernism and tradition are facing each other quite literally.

However, there is much to be gained from understanding the tradition of the courtyard house and the patterns of life which gave rise to it. The garden of the courtyard house seems to have been predominantly a place for trees.. but perhaps also for lawn?

Parks now?

It is interesting to see parks within their urban setting to start to understand the relationship between urban fabric and parkland. Apparently Olmsted‘s Central Park faced something of a crisis in the 1970s and was revived in the 1980s through a major restoration project.

So the times change and people demand new things of their parks? After the French Revolution fortuneately the true value of Versailles was recognised…So hopefully designers and the public will be able to recognise the value of the past when refurbishing green spaces for the future.

Wither Chinese landscape and garden design in the twenty-first century?

Where are garden design and  landscape architecture in China heading?

Where are garden design and landscape architecture in China heading?

With over 3 months till the closing date for the Tiananmen Square landscape architecture competition, and many Chinese competition entries to admire, it is worth asking some questions about the direction of garden design and landscape architecture in 21st century China. The classically dressed beauty with the coy smile, above, seems puzzled as she looks out from a towering block in Shenzen. She knows that her country has a brilliant garden tradition and she knows that her country has to modernize. But, she wonders, ‘does our future really lie with the evocation of dreary Holywood sets from the 1920s? – is Hearst Castle really the best source of inspiration for modern China? – is there nothing of value in the past 5000 years of Chinese art, architecture and gardens? – or is the problem that too much Chinese landscape design is inspired by American models and implemented by thoughtless automatons working in sweatshop conditions outside China?’. Still, she reflects, ‘at least the garden doesn’t have a Spanish Theme – and at least it is my Dad who owns the penthouse with the roof garden’. Then, I hope, she will decide to study garden design and landscape architecture so that she become an expert in context-sensitive design. As a small encouragement, I will be happy to give her a copy of my book on Asian gardens: beliefs, history and design – and will be content if she reads its last sentence ‘The farther back you look, the farther forward you are likely to see.’ It is said to be a quotation from Winston Churchill – but it may only be the sort of thing he might have said when half-way through a case of claret – so she may prefer Confucius’ observation that ‘When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.’

Bagh-e Fin garden in Iran – restoration and conservation plan

Bagh-e Fin garden in Kashan, Iran

An interesting conservation resulted from shoving myself into the wall of a garden pavilion in order to take this photograph of the Bagh-e Fin garden in Kashan, Iran



When visiting the Bagh-e Fin, on 15th June 2004, one of the curators noticed me in a painful position outside his office. I was taking a photograph. He asked why I was doing it. I said I was interested in garden history. He asked if I thought the Bagh-e Fin was of equal historical importance to the great gardens of Europe. I said ‘Yes – probally more so, because it is the best surviving example of the world’s oldest garden design tradition, originating in the Fertile Crescent’. But, I said, it could be looked after even better than was then the case. ‘What should we do?’, he asked. I said I would make a proposal and send it to him. As we drove north into the desert, I sketched in the back of the car. A friend translated my comment into Farsi and we posted it to him. A reply is still awaited. In case the Bagh-e Fin Conservation Plan has been mislaid, it is now  published it on the Gardenvisit website.

A Persian garden pavilion, with Ardashir and Gulnar

Ardashir with a slave girl, Gulnat

Ardashir with the slave girl, Gulnat, who loved him

I wish Iran would devote less effort to enriching uranium and more to enriching Iranian gardens and conserving  Persian gardens. Persia was one of the central powers in garden history, drawing upon and influencing Mesopotamia, Central Asia, India and Islam. My own modest proposal for conserving the Bagh-e Fin will be the subject of a future blog post.
Omar Khayyám (1048-1131), born in Nishapur, was an astronomer and a garden poet. The Rubiayat of Omar Khayyam, 1120 CE, begins:

I

Wake! For the Sun behind yon Eastern height
Has chased the Session of the Stars from Night;
And to the field of Heav’n ascending, strikes
The Sultan’s Turret with a Shaft of Light.
Awake Morning: For the sun behind yon eastern height.]
II
Before the phantom of False morning died,
Methought a Voice within the Tavern cried,
“When all the Temple is prepared within,
Why lags the drowsy Worshipper outside?”
III
And, as the Cock crew, those who stood before
The Tavern shouted – “Open then the Door!
You know how little while we have to stay,
And, once departed, may return no more.”
IV
Now the New Year reviving old Desires,
The thoughtful Soul to Solitude retires,
Where the White Hand of Moses on the Bough
Puts out, and Jesus from the Ground suspires.
V

Iram indeed is gone with all his Rose,
And Jamshyd’s Sev’n – ring’d Cup where no one knows;
But still a Ruby gushes from the Vine,
And many a Garden by the Water blows.

A hypothesis concerning the origin of Christian monasticism and cloister gardens

An Indian Rishi or Yogi or Holy man

Indian Rishi or Yogi or Holy man, today and yesterday

It is known that Homo sapiens sapiens evolved in Africa and migrated into Asia but remained an entirely nomadic species until c10,000 BC. Christ was born in 1 AD and monasticism was unknown in Christianity until the end of the third century, with St Anthony of Egypt (251-356) one of the first Christian hermits. The practice of retreating into natural landscapes was much older. It is found in the Bon religion, in Hinduism and in Daoism. Buddhist monks developed monastic communities after 400 BC. One can therefore hypothesize that the roots of Christian monasticism extend back to the habit of retreating into the wilds in Central Asia, as does the architectural practice of arranging residential cells around a square of grass. It is likely that the central square space was a symbol of The Earth, just as a circle was  a symbol of Heaven. Should this hypothesis be correct, there is a powerful case for managing cloisters as green voids with grass and wild flowers. See posts on Certose Cloister, Canterbury Cloister and Salisbury Cloister. If correct, the hypothesis supports the contention that early cloisters were not used as gardens or for any kind of gardening activity.

(The left image is the cover of the Indian Gardens eBook. The right image is a montage of a rishi onto a photograph of Egypt).

Certose di Pavia Cloister Garden

Certose di Pavia Carthusian Cloister Garden

The cloister of the Certose di Pavia is not a place for the simple life: it is a place of luxury

The Carthusian Order was founded in the Chartreuse Mountains in the French Alps. ‘Charterhouse’ is the English name for a Carthusian monastery and ‘Certosa’ is the Italian name. Their motto is ‘ Stat crux dum volvitur orbis’ (‘The Cross is steady while the world is turning.’) A Charthouse was ‘a community of hermits’. Each member had his own cell and his own garden, in which to lead a simple life of work, prayer and gardening. But, like other monastic orders, there was a tendency for the order to turn, as the world changed, towards luxury. Simple cloister garths became richly ornamented gardens, as at the Certose di Pavia.
One could argue that the creation of beauty is a way of praising the Lord. But this does not accord with the founding principles of monasticism and one cannot imagine that St Anthony, St Benedict or St Bruno would have approved. Yet the world does change. So would anyone support a modern equivalent of a renaissance parterre at Salisbury Cathedral or Canterbury Cathedral or Westminster Abbey? A contemporary interpretation of an Italian cloister garden is planned next to St Andrew’s Cathedral in Glasgow.

(Image courtesy Kenya Allmond)

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.


Canterbury Cathedral and the social use of cloister gardens in English monasteries

Canterbury Cathedral Cloister garden

Domestic use of Canterbury Cathedral Cloister is appropriate, but I do not think it should have been used as a graveyard


Canterbury Cathedral has beautiful cloisters. They were rebuilt in the fifteenth century on the site of the eleventh century cloisters built by Archbishop Lanfranc (c. 1005–1089) for Christ Church Canterbury. Lanfranc was born in Pavia (Italy) and brought to England by William the Conqueror. A water system was installed and a plan of the cloister drawn c1165. ‘This is a bird’s-eye view of the entire convent, drawn in accordance with the artistic methods of the time, and exhibiting the cathedral and monastic offices, viewed from the north. The water-courses are minutely shewn, with all their arrangements from the source to the convent, and its distribution to the monastic offices, supplying lavatories, cisterns, fish-ponds, etc., and finally flowing, in conjunction with the rain-water from the roofs and the sewerage of the convent, into the town ditch. As the drawing was probably made after the system was completed, we may for convenience assume its date at 1165, two years before the death of Wibert, and five years before the murder of Becket’. But what was the cloister used for? We can discover something from The monastic constitutions of Lanfranc By Lanfranc (Archbishop of Canterbury), trans David Knowles and Christopher Brooke:

p. 27 After their meal they shall sit in the cloister until the servers leave the refectory.
p. 35 There shall be a precession through the cloister as usual on Sundays.
p. 49 On Maundy… the cellarer and almoner and others appointed shall lead the poor into the cloister and cause them to sit
p.65 When all have received Communion the board shall be struck and the evening prayer take place. When this is done they shall go out into the cloister and wash their feet in warm water, and put on their day shoes.
p. 75 On Rogation Days… no sleep is taken in the afternoon… but at a fitting hour the masters shall waken the children as quietly as possible, and when these are reading in the cloister those who are still abed shall rise without delay p. 109 If it be an abbot who is received, he shall stand before the dore of the chapter-house and kiss the bretheren as they come out.
p. 131 Whossoever wishes to speak with the abbot, prior or any monk of the cloister shall use the guestmaster as his ambassador.
p.139 On other days when there is talking in the cloister, he who needs to he shaved may, by permission of the abbot or prior, be shaved in the cloister.

Note1: Technically, the ‘Cloister’ is the part of a monastery to which the public do not normally have access. The ‘Garth’, or garden, was the green space we now call a cloister.

Note2: in view of the appalling revelations of what catholic priests did to children in the 20th century, one worries about how much worse things were in earlier centuries. Rogation Days were set apart for solemn processions to invoke God’s mercy.


Garden archaeology has much to teach conventional archaeological exploitation


A Bronze Age Reconstruction which does much good and no harm




Pompeii would be in much better condition today if had never been excavated – and the same is true of a great many archaeological sites. Too many archaeologists are paid to publish papers or to support the tourist industry. They talk about conservation, endlessly, but they do far more good than harm. Since garden archaeologists have so few ancient gardens to damage, they should set an example to the archaeological profession by making reconstructions of ancient gardens. Images, text and digital reconstructions are all useful but nothing is as good as a 1:1 reconstruction near, but never on, the archaeological remains.  The lake dwellings in the above photographs are reconstructions of dwellings from the Bronze and Stone Ages. (at the Pfahlbau Museum Unteruhldingen, Germany).  Image courtesy Derek



White commuting is another reason for wanting cycletubes in urban areas

It snowed yesterday. About half London took the day off and my cycle to work took twice as long. When I set off  home the back roads were covered with icy ruts. After about 20 minutes of precarious travel I came level with a bunch of 25 teenagers wearing hoods. They moved into the road and surrounded me as I drew level. Then they pelted me with icy snowballs. I wobbled, stayed upright and had to stop to dig the snow out of my ears. My wife asked why my voice sounded hoarse when I got home.  ‘Too much bad language at full volume’ I explained. The kids, no doubt,  were just having fun – relieving the ennui of urban life – but they made me wish God would release a sheaf of thunderbolts. Sadly, the morning news had nothing about lightning-strikes on groups of hoodies in South London – so I have another reason for wanting cycle tubes for green communters. Meanwhile, I will learn the rest of the poem:

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rides the poor cyclist.

Set for a King – 200 years of gardening at the Royal Pavilion Brighton – book review

Humphry Repton's design for the grounds of the Brighton Pavilion surives and could be an influence on the layout of the gardens

Humphry Repton's design for the grounds of the Brighton Pavilion surives and could be an influence on the layout of the gardens

Written by Mike Jones and published in 2005, this is a beautifully produced book on the Royal Pavilion in Brighton. Jones was head of Conservation and Design in Brighton and has contributed a remarkable set of flower paintings to the book. It gives a full account of the original project and of the restoration project. One could hardly ask for more but, for me, the project raises a question: was the decision to restore the Nash garden design right? John Nash designed the garden but his ‘inspiration’ undoubtedly came from his former partner, Humphry Repton. Repton published a full account of his own garden design ideas and they were much better than Nash’s scheme. So isn’t there a case for implementing Humphry Repton’s design?

Green vegetated roofs in the theory of landscape and architecture

Ecological space + a little social space: Green roof on California Academy of Sciences

Ecological space + (a little) Social Space (Green roof on California Academy of Sciences)

In Germany, vegetated green roofs are often classified as:

  • intensive (ie treated as a garden, typically with exotic plants, irrigation, turf and social use)
  • extensive (ie treated as habitat, without irrigation or maintenance)

I prefer to look at green roofs from a more Vitruvian standpoint and consider their roles as:

  • visual space [Delight]
  • ecological space [Firmness]
  • social space [Commodity]

Image courtesy clickykbd.  The California Academy of Sciences designed by Renzo Piano and ‘The Living Roof´s 1.7 million native plants were specially chosen to flourish in Golden Gate Park´s climate.’  There is a small terrace for viewers but the predominant role of the green roof is Ecological Space.

Visual space+ social space: Singapore School of Art Media and Design

Visual space+ Social Space (Singapore School of Art Media and Design)

” This 5 story facility sweeps a wooded corner of the campus with an organic, vegetated form that blends landscape and structure, nature and high-tech and symbolizes the creativity it houses.”  The  green roof is open to the public and, like the roof of Australia’s Parliament Building in Canberra, is surfaced with mown grass. Image courtesy teddy-rised It is  not ecological space:  the grass is irrigated and  mown. The building was designed by CPG Consultants.

Ecological space only: University of Illinois at Springfield

Ecological Space only (University of Illinois at Springfield)

The Springfield Illinois green roof is ecological space, only. It is not visual space or social space. Image courtesy jeremywillburn,

Visual space + Social space: Roof on the HQ of the American Society of Landscape Architects

Visual space + Social space:Roof ( HQ of the American Society of Landscape Architects in Washington DC)

The green roof on the American Society of Landscape Architects is visual space and social space but not ecological space – at leasst not as shown in this photograph (the roof has other eco-friendly characteristics).  Image courtesy drewbsaunders.


Triclinium Roman dining tables

A re-created Triclinium at Fishbourne Roman Garden

A re-created Triclinium at Fishbourne Roman Garden

How did they do it? Romans ate on ‘three couches’ (a triclinium) with a table separating them (see Wiki on triclinium). There is a garden re-creation of a triclinium at Fishbourne Roman Garden and one can find some photos on the web of students eating this way. When I first came across the idea, I assumed the couches were only for orgies, so that you could eat yourself sick and misbehave at will. But no, a triclinium seems to have been the normal way for wealthy people to eat. I tried arranging the sofa to eat in this way. It was not good for my digestion,  drinking was  difficult and I did not explore my earlier ideas. The only advantage I discovered was that if one was eating sloppy food without a knife or fork then it was easy to get one’s mouth vertically above the plate, as one still does for spaghetti. I remain puzzled, but here are some German students with a foodless triclinium and here is a painting of a Roman banquet.