Monthly Archives: June 2009

Stonehenge as a woodland site

The stones at Stonehenge may have been placed in a woodland glade, as in the above photomontage

The stones at Stonehenge may have been placed in a woodland glade, as in the above photomontage

If Stonehenge was built in a woodland clearing, this photomontage gives an impression of how it might have looked, more like Japan’s sacred rocks (iwakura) in a sacred place ( niwa) in a forest  than like the ‘English Acropolis’ Stonehenge was once conceived to have been.

Stonehenge was made at the height of the Neolithic forest clearance which converted England from a forest land to a partly-agricultural land. Clearings symbolized the presence and the work of man. There are no records of Neolithic vegetation cover on Salisbury Plain but it ‘must’ (as bad historians say) have been part-open and part-woodland. The photomontage shows that the Stones in the Henge would have looked beautiful  in a woodland clearing, as would the Cursus and the Avenues. The Stonehenge Riverside Landscape Project, led by Mike Parker Pearson, has emphasised the fact that the henge was not an isolated  ‘monument’ in the sense that war memorials are isolated monuments. Stonehenge was a complex feature in one of the earliest man-made landscapes in North Europe. It was, one might say, a context-sensitive design!

Richard Rogers 'Sustainable' design for Chelsea Barracks

Left: my drawing of a sustainable city. Right: Rogers' drawing for Chelsea Barracks

Left: my drawing of a sustainable city. Right: Rogers' drawing for Chelsea Barracks

The above image shows my drawing of a sustainable city, left, and Richard Rogers design for the Chelsea Barracks, right. The upper part of Rogers’ drawing shows Ranelagh Gardens and the site of the Chelsea Flower Show.  I am of course mildly flattered that Richard Rogers has copied my idea but would like to point out that (1) the decent thing in cases like this is to acknowledge one’s sources, or offer a copyright fee (2) my drawing was a caricature, intended to show what should not be done in the name of sustainability (3) Rogers omitted the two redeeming features of my scheme: the green roofs were devoted to urban food production and the cyclist-friendly nature of the design proposal.

I was therefore very relieved to hear that,  after some caustic remarks by Prince Charles, the Qatari Royal family have decided not to go ahead with Rogers’ context-insensitive design. It makes ‘Plan Voisin’ mistakes without Corbusier’s flowing, if ill-conceived, parkland.  Rogers’ blocks are far too close together and  would have created some horribly narrow passageways.

Roger’s response to Prince Charles’ intervention has been to accuse him of constitutional impropriety. On this occasion, it is Rogers and his buddies from the architectural mafia, who have gone bonkers. It would be a sad day for democracy if the future King of England were banned from speaking his mind on the urban landscape of his capital city. What’s more, Prince Charles is very probably ‘speaking for England’ in the sense that more people hate than love Rogers’ paltry plagiarism of my idea. See Hugh Pearman’s blog for more details of this sorry affair. I am wondering if I should ask the University of Greenwich to withdraw the honorary doctorate it awarded to Richard Rogers, though he gave a good speech and was a very pleasant lunch guest.

Hemel Hempstead Water Gardens are a National Disgrace

The Water Gardens, designed for Hemel Hempstead New Town, are decaying. They should be Listed as a Grade 1 landscape and garden design.

The Water Gardens, designed for Hemel Hempstead New Town, are decaying. They should be Listed as a Grade 1 landscape and garden design.

The very best of Britain’s First Generation New Town plans was Geoffrey Jellicoe’s design for Hemel Hempstead. He was invited back to design the Water Gardens. Susan Jellicoe did the planting plan and they both saw it as their most successful project. I went there last year and again this week. The Water Gardens are in terrible condition and it is very depressing. The beds are full of weeds. The pleached limes are unclipped. The benches are smashed up. The canal is so over-stocked with ducks that the edges have eroded. The concrete bridges are crumbling. Some idiot has painted the steel railings green, instead of ‘Festival of Britain’ white.
Though I can’t find it, I wrote an article about New Towns for the TCPA Journal (c1980) and described the Hemel Hempsted Water Gardens as the space which best captures the spirit of the British New Towns. They used  the photograph on the front cover of the journal. If writing another article on the New Towns I would re-take the photograph and used it lament the sad demise of an excellent idea. The Landscape Institute should gird its loins and call for the New Towns Act to be brought back into operation. It is a much better way of managing urban growth than constant expansion of villages into small towns, of small towns into large towns and of large towns into conurbations. The fact that Gordon Brown’s Eco-Towns policy came to nothing demonstrates the need to do things properly, by bringing the New Towns Act back into use.

Surrey Garden Tours

Summerhouse at Millmead, designed by Lutyens

Summerhouse at Millmead, designed by Lutyens

Once upon a glorious sunny day (actually last Tuesday), I braved a rather gruesome M25 to join Joy and Jane in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty for one day of their garden tour visiting rarely accessible gardens designed by Gertrude Jekyll.

We were shown round each garden by the gardener, starting with Jekyll’s own garden at Munstead Wood. She began creating the garden in 1883 and commissioned her friend Edwin Lutyens to design the house.  There is something very casual and comfortable about the garden and it is easy to feel very at home there. The triangular Summer Garden, also called the Three Corner Garden, was densely populated with blooming foxgloves, iris, lupins and dhalias. Both Munstead Wood itself and adjoining The Quadrangle (Jekyll’s experimental garden) are adorned with elegant Munstead White foxgloves, with beautiful green mottling and slightly shiny leaves.

At the restored Quadrangle you can see an experiment that Jekyll never got round to herself.  She suggested that a lovely border could be created backed with redcurrant and Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus) – and now it has been. David Austin Roses introduced a rather lovely crimson rose in 2007 called Munstead Wood and I had the opportunity to admire some fine specimens.

Later, we visted another Jekyll and Lutyens collaboration – Millmead. It is a dignified terraced town garden with a charming summer house, that has been recreated in the Jekyll style garden at Godalming Museum.

Guests stay in either Heath House (Joy’s B&B) or Nurscombe (Jane’s B&B) which I can only imagine is a very great pleasure. I popped into Nurscombe for a quick look round and had lunch at Heath House. Joy is a fine cook and even made an ice bowl embedded with flower petals to serve dessert.  I have every intention of having a go at making one myself.

I would strongly recommend booking yourself a place on the next tour (dates are 7th-10th September 2009) – see Surrey Garden Tours for more information.

Thames Estuary Airport proposed by Boris Johnson

A pilot's landing view of the Thames Estuary Airport. The sun is coming out and he can see the lido where he will relax before his next flight.

A pilot's landing view of the Thames Estuary Airport. The sun is coming out and he can see the lido where he will relax before his next flight.

Boris Johnson has proposed a new Airport in the Thames Estuary. It is a great idea but it needs to be much more than an airport plonked  in the Thames estuary if it is to get built. It should be a sublime feature in the landscape which also forms a new Thames crossing, a downstream flood barrier to protect Europe’s largest and richest city in the coming era of rising sea levels, a great lido facility and a wildlife habitat creation project. This is the proposal from Eleanor Atkinson, a MA Landscape Architecture graduate from the University of Greenwich – see her Thames Estuary Airport website for further details.

A friend’s father criticised the first proposal for an airport Maplin in the Thames Estuary: BROMHEAD, PETER The Great White Elephant of Maplin Sands – -the neglect of comprehensive transport planning in government decision-making Paul Elek, London, 1973. His case was well argued but, I believe, Eleanor’s proposal would overcome his objections. She has designed a Great White Swan instead of a tawdry white elephant. Her airport plan is comprehensive  and fits very well with the Channel Tunnel Railway and the Thames Gateway Development, both launched since Bromhead’s 1973 book.  Above all, her ‘ Swan Plan’ for an Estuary Airport is landscape architecture led. This gives it the best possible chance of overcoming the muddy waves of objections which greet any large development proposal in England.

The lower Thames Estuary can have a glittering splendour when the sun shines but it is NOT the most beautiful part of Britain. And when the new airport is built it will cure West London of the terrible curse of airport noise – and release a fabulously valuable development site. An intelligent approach to context-sensitive landscape design is the royal road to voter-support in England. I am pleased to report that the design has been sent to the Mayor of London’s office and they have passed the design concept to their consultants. A decision is expected.

NOTE: if you would like to see more of this proposal, and other excellent landscape architecture projects for London, they will be on Exhibition at the Menier Street Gallery near London Bridge 53 Southwark Street London SE1 1RU 10am-5pm from 22-26 June 2009.

Plan of the Thames Estuary 'Boris Johnson' Airport, showing the river crossing, flood barrier and habitat creation areas

Plan of the Thames Estuary 'Boris Johnson' Airport, showing the river crossing, flood barrier and habitat creation areas

Garden Hotel or Garden B&B?

An India-inspired pavilion in the garden of the Corner House B7B in Maiden Bradley

An India-inspired pavilion in the garden of the Corner House B&B in Maiden Bradley

The latest Newsletter recommends holidays at home for this year of recession – and with the best summer weather for several years (so far!) the idea is working well in the UK.

I too have been visiting a lot of English gardens this summer – and looking for places to stay. My preference, always, is for accommodation with interesting gardens. Grand garden hotels, like Cliveden and Ston Easton, are luxuriously OK but not in keeping with the recession theme, or my arrive-late-leave-early habits – or my budget.

So what about B&B accommodation? I had some intersting experiences ten years ago, with greasy food, greasy carpets and odd landladies. But the property development boom of the last decade has produced some very comfortable places run by charming people with an interest in garden design. For example, I have stayed recently in Millgate House and, last week, in the Corner House in Maiden Bradley where I was very interested in the Indian garden. Most people’s idea of an Indian garden, especially in India, is an Islamic garden. But the Hindus and Buddhists had a far older and far more Indian approach to garden design – which involved roofed pavilions, garden shrines and pools.

Please email us if you run or can recommend, good accommodation with  interesting gardens, and we will put together a list.

Burial Mounds

Winterbourne Stoke Barrows









Martina’s comments on ways of commemorating the dead bring us full circle to the Stonehenge site which has amazing burial mounds all around the surrounding countryside. Many have been ruined by the plough but as the English Heritage site above shows there are still some beautiful landforms.



Hyde Hall RHS Garden in Essex

Hyde Hall RHS Essex Planting

Hyde Hall RHS Essex Planting

The Hyde Hall garden was begun by Dr Robinson in 1955 and given to the Royal Horticultural Society in 1993. Dr Robinson was no designer and the RHS has been struggling with his legacy. They employed good consultants (Colvin and Moggridge) but the place is still disappointing. The planting is much improved but the underlying spatial structure is, as it always was, dreary. This summer I made my third visit since the RHS took over and the really surprising thing was how popular it has become. So the design is a success from this point of view, just as McDonalds is a very  successful restaurant chain. But, from my standpoint, McDonalds needs a plenipotentary Chief  Chef and Hyde Hall needs a plenipotentary Resident Designer. My strong impression is that good design consultants are not enough. The garden manager needs to be a trained designer, as well as a manager. This is how most of history’s great gardens were made: by owne- designers or by patrons who worked hand-in-glove with a designer, as Louis XIV did with Le Notre. Making a good garden is a hands-on job. You need drawings but you cannot do the job with drawings alone. You have to live in the garden, to see it every day of the year and to have the requisite authority to change the layout and the planting.

In Britain, most gardens open to the public are now managed by managers who are not designers. This is a great mistake. To create or maintain a good garden, or park, you must be a designer. A formal training is not essential, though it is a great advantage. But design talent is essential. It must guide every decision, from the smallest to the largest. Committees cannot possibly undertake this role and it is rare for someone with only a horticultural training to have the necessary skill-set.

Hyde Hall RHS Essex spatial and construction design

Hyde Hall RHS Essex spatial and construction design

National Trust Flag flies at Charlecote Park

National Trust Flag flies at Charlcote

National Trust Flag flies at Charlecote

I was shocked to see the National Trust flying its flag over the Charlecote gatehouse in May 2009. Have they conquered the place? Wikipedia reports that ‘The Lucy family, who came to England with William the Conqueror, has owned the land since 1247. Charlecote Park was built in 1558 by Sir Thomas Lucy, and Queen Elizabeth I stayed in the room that is now the drawing room.’ So why can’t we have the Cross of St George flying over Charlecote? ‘White for purity and red for valour’. The colours would be better, the symbolism far better – and the pulse would beat faster. Does the National Trust associate England’s ensign with lower class football hooligans?

GF Watts Physical Energy in Kensington Gardens

George Frederick Watts Physical Energy in Kensington Gardens

George Frederick Watts Physical Energy in Kensington Gardens

I like the way GF Watts’ rampant Physical Energy seems to wave at the gilded statue of Prince Albert. Wikipedia reports that ” the 1902 large bronze statue Physical Energy, depicts a naked man on horseback shielding his eyes from the sun as he looks ahead of him. It was originally intended to be dedicated to Muhammad, Attila, Tamerlane and Genghis Khan, thought by Watts to epitomise the raw energetic will to power.” Prince Albert was an active spirit but, luckily, not on this scale.

An architectural approach to landscape

The architecture of landscape, in Deptford Creek

The architecture of landscape, in Deptford Creek

It is a pleasure to find a really successful instance of an architectural approach to landscape design. The Laban Centre in Deptford, London, was designed by the Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron and won the Stirling Prize for Architecture in 2003. The sculptured landforms create a sense of place and work well with the mirror glass. Children love running amok on the grass.

The pity of the scheme is that it is not integrated with the intriguing landscape of Deptford Creek.  It lurks behind steel fencing, like a business park. So, reluctantly, I classify it as context-insensitive design – but the blame probably rests with the health and safety and security brigade.

Stonehenge Riverside Landscape Project

The River Avon, near Durrington Walls and Stonehenge, might have been as sacred as the River Ganges at Varanasi

The River Avon, near Durrington Walls and Stonehenge, might have been as sacred as the River Ganges at Varanasi

ITV’s Timewatch broadcast a very good programme on the Stonehenge Riverside Project. Led by Mike Parker Pearson, from 2003-9, it studied the landscape setting of the monument. Parker Pearson presented the argument with brilliance, acknowledging other views and gaps in the evidence. This contrasted with other theorists (eg of Stonehenge as an astronomical observatory or a healing centre) who have seemed too partisan. As the name suggests, the Stonehenge Riverside Project theory is that the riverside was the key feature in the prehistoric landscape and that it was used for the disposal of ashes from the cremation of those who had died during the year. This gives a comparability with Varanasi and Hindu culture. Parker Pearson also argued that Durrington Walls (Britain’s largest henge circle, a few miles from Stonehenge) was ‘the land of the living’ (a settlement) while Stonehenge was ‘the land of the dead’ and that there was a processional route between them, along the River Avon. This gives a comparability with Thebes, though Egyptian processions crossed the Nile, and leads to the question (to which my answer is ‘Yes, definitely’) ‘Should Stonehenge and Durrington Walls feature in the history of garden and landscape design?’

One thought left in my mind by the programme was how much more dignified ancient funeral rites were than their modern equivalents. Britain has a ghastly collection of semi-secular-municipal-multi-faith ‘chapels’ with maudlin decor and tawdry music systems. I would much rather be cremated on an open fire and have my ashes strewn in a wild and beautiful landscape, without the taint of municipal officialdom or a level of  ‘funeral parlour hucksterdom’ which makes Varanasi seem efficient, fair and well-run, as well as spectacularly beautiful and profoundly spiritual.

George Harrison of the Beatles was cremated and his ashes were cast into the Ganges.


i wanted to draw your attention to an interesting project i came across via landscapeandurbanism – a park being grown along a disused stretch of the elevated railway in New York. the planting schemes are byb Piet Oudolf and it makes good use of the existing features and the sense of disuse and abandonment , while introducing several interesting new features and artworks. i think its going to be a landmark landscape project

Home Office landscape architecture

TV crews waiting for Jacqui Smith to resign on 2 June 2009. Note the coloured light on the paving, from a rooftop brise soleil

TV crews waiting for Jacqui Smith to resign on 2 June 2009. Note the coloured light on the trees and the paving, from a rooftop brise soleil

Last time I stopped to take a photo outside the Home Office two security men rushed out to say ‘You can’t – it’s a government building’.  ‘Why not?’ I asked ‘Has Jacqui Smith brought in the porno videos her husband bought on expenses?’ They laughed and let me take my photos. Today there were half a dozen TV crews outside the office.’ Huh’, I thought, she must be resigning at last. No one stopped me taking the photo and I got home to find she had half-done the decent thing: she is resigning as Home Secretary but hopes to cling on as an MP. Let’s hope her constituency does do the decent thing. Home Secretaries should inform their underlings that members of the public are 1000% within the law when taking photographs from a public place.

Note: I believe DLP, formerly known as Lovejoys, were the landscape architects but could not find the project on their website. Geoffrey Jellicoe was asked to do a design for the site before the offices were re-built and said it could not be done, because the buildings were so ghastly.