Monthly Archives: June 2009

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.