Category Archives: garden history

Gardens of the Château de Vullierens

The gardens of Chateau Vullieren

The gardens of Chateau Vullierens have been influenced by the styles of several periods in garden history: Medieval, Baroque, Romantic and Modern

We are pleased to welcome the gardens of the Château de Vullierens to the Gardenvisit guide. Just inland from Lac Lemen (Lake Geneva) it looks south to the Alps and Mont Blanc. Four important styles of garden design have influenced the layout. When first built, as a strongly fortified house, it was set in a classic medieval walled enclosure. One can speculate that as with many medieval gardens, it was used for growing sweet smelling and medicinal herbs. Perhaps it had a turf seat and a rose bower in which the ladies of the house could enjoy the sun, do their embroidery and listen to minstrels.
When rebuilt, as a baroque style ‘Little Versailles’ the old uses are likely to have continued. The ladies and gentlemen of the house will have walked with family and guests on the elegant terrace, stopping to enjoy the sun and watch their children and pets play on the grass. In the nineteenth century, again following Europe-wide fashions, the gardens will have taken on more of a horticultural flavour and, to use English terms,  in a gardenesque and mixed styles.  In the mid-twentieth century Doreen Bovet, the owner’s American wife, began the fabulous iris collection.

Seven restoration projects of garden history importance – two in Greenwich Park

Historic garden restoration projects

A proposal for 7 historic garden restoration projects in the preface to the first edition of Tom Turner’s English Garden Design

I proposed 7 garden restoration projects in 1986, and reported on what had happened in 1998:

The Preface to the 1986 printed edition of this book made ‘ a personal plea for some restoration projects which would be of special historical value as examples of poorly represented styles’. The plea had no influence upon events but the following update may be of interest to readers: (1)  The semi-circular parterre at Hampton Court, known as the Fountain Garden, has not changed. But the nearby Privy Garden has been restored with the greatest possible care for historical accuracy. I believe this was an error of judgement: the Privy Garden is an unremarkable as a Baroque parterre but looked good in its picturesque 1986 condition. The Fountain Garden remains rather ugly but would have been very splendid – if restored in the manner of the Privy Garden. (2)  The Giant Steps in Greenwich Park have not been restored. The Royal Parks Agency commissioned a design for a Baroque water cascade on the site. It was opposed by the local people. I can see a strong case for restoring the original steps which would have been like Bridgeman’s theatre at Claremont Landscape Garden. Or one could make a respectable case for a new design on the site. But ‘restoring’ a cascade which never existed would have been illogical. (3)  The Leasowes is now run as a country park. (4)  Nothing has been done about the parterre at Melbourne Hall or the ornamental farm at Great Tew (5)  Gertrude Jekyll’s garden at Munstead Wood is, I am delighted to report, being restored.

It’s time for another update:

  1. The semi-circular parterre at Hampton Court has not been restored and the Privy Garden still lacks the aesthetic quality it had before it was restored
  2. ‘Restoration’ of the Giant Steps in Greenwich Park is under consideration and may well happen – I will do a blog post about this soon
  3. The Leasowes is still run as a country park and with little regard for the outstanding importance of William Shenstone’s conception
  4. Nothing has been done about the parterre at Melbourne Hall
  5. Nothing has been done about  the ferme ornée at Great Tew
  6. Good restoration work has been done at Munstead Wood and it is open to the public by appointment
  7. I suggested ‘some full-scale Gertrude Jekyll borders with colour schemes based on J.M.W. Turner’s colour theory’
The herbaceous border in Greenwich Park is not a national disgrace

The herbaceous border in Greenwich Park is not a national disgrace

With regard to the 7th suggestion, I was thinking about the long border in Greenwich Park but did not mention it because the Giant Steps seemed more important. In 2013, The Royal Parks appointed Chris Beardshaw to ‘completely redesign the border’. I have often admired his work at Chelsea and am sure he did a good job for Greenwich. But there are lessons to be learned:

  1. The quality of the long border is poor. This may because you can’t just ask an expert to design a herbaceous border. You need to expert to have responsibility for its management and review the design very frequently. It’s best to have the expert working on the border and thinking about it all the time. Is this plant doing too well? Why is that plant suffering? Would it be better if those two plants were not side by side? do those colours go together?
  2. The Royal Parks Agency (as it used to be) lacked expertise in the design and the design history of parks, gardens and landscapes. So they probably did a poor job in briefing Chris Beardshaw.
  3. The Royal Parks are really bad at involving volunteers in the management of parks and gardens. This is a tragic wasted opportunity for bringing in resources of mind and brain and involving the community.
Gertrude Jekyll's brilliant idea for the colour planning of herbaceous borders has never yet been deployed at the large scale and superb viewing conditions Greenwich Park could provide

Gertrude Jekyll’s brilliant idea for the colour planning of herbaceous borders has never yet been deployed at the large scale and superb viewing conditions Greenwich Park could provide

Wanstead Park proposed regeneration, restoration and Ghost

This Wanstead Park footpath suggests an easy way of marking the lines of the old axial lines on the forest floor

This Wanstead Park footpath suggests an easy way of marking the lines of the old axial lines on the forest floor

Wanstead Park used to be one of the greatest late-Baroque gardens in England. It survives with half the land used as a golf course and the other hand cared for by the City Corporation, which merits its great reputation as a benevolent land owner and manager. Wanstead was purchased as part of Epping Forest in the 1880s. It is now managed as what might be called a forest park. Could it restored? Should it be restored? The Friends of Wanstead Park have a good answer: ‘In recent years the Friends of Wanstead Parklands and the City of London Corporation have formed a partnership to reveal the ancient landscape and make the park more accessible to the local communities and those from further afield’.

The Ghost of Wanstead Park

The Ghost of Wanstead Park

But what would this involve? With no great house, a different use, no significant resources and only half the site, it can’t go back to the early 18th century? My suggestion is to celebrate The Ghost of Wanstead Park. This is how she might look. Her face is gone forever. Her shadow sleeps on the forest floor.

To give her life, I suggest:

  1. placing a structure at both ends of the main axis, to give her eyes
  2. sharpening the edges of the main axis, which is formed by trees and by the edges of the canal
  3. placing logs on the forest floor to mark the positions of the old axes

The two plans, below, show the Wanstead Park in its prime and Wanstead Park with a Ghost sleeping on the forest floor for the curious to meet.

Plans of Wanstead Park with proposed Ghost

Plans of Wanstead Park with proposed Ghost

English lawns in 1964

Lawn and Adirondak Chair (Guardian, 1964)

Lawn and Adirondack Chair (Guardian, 1964)

The Guardian has just reprinted a 1964 article on lawns by Moira Savonius, who also wrote books on fungi and on flowers. She sees lawns as a ‘cult’. My impression is that grass cutting has declined in public parks and stately homes but that the area they occupy in private gardens is but slightly diminished – and maybe not at all if you allow for fact that motor mowers were , relatively, much  more expensive in 1964 and so many more people ‘neglected’ their grass in the suburbs. A curious feature of the black and white photo accompanying the article is the Adirondack Chair – I believe they were most uncommon in 1960s Britain.

Michelham Priory Medieval Garden

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!

Michelham Priory Medieval Garden

The ‘flowery mead’ in Michelham Priory Medieval Garden

Capability Brown: Lenses on a Landscape Genius Exhibition 22 June – 29 July 2016

Capability Brown designed the landscape park at Blenheim Palace

Capability Brown designed the landscape park at Blenheim Palace

The Landscape Foundation has organised an exhibition of photographs of Capability Brown’s work. It will be on show at the Building Centre, Store Street, London WC1E 7BT, from 22 June to 29 July.
Brown’s reputation has been in flux. Sky-high at the time of his death and at the time of his 300th centenary, in 2016, it had a profound slump from late 18th century to the early 20th century. For artists and novelists, this is not uncommon and re-examinations can be done by examining their original works. For works of landscape architecture, this is scarcely possible, because they are in constant change. So a photographic exhibition is an excellent idea. We can examine Brown’s work at one point in time.
See also
Capability Brown in Kent – book review by Tom Turner
Was Lancelot Capability Brown a landscape designer of genius?