Category Archives: Historic garden restoration

Impressive gardens: revisiting the Golden Age in America

‘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.

Perhaps she danced to the classic‘I wish I could shimmy like my sister Kate’, said to be a charleston/belly dance fusion, and which inspired The Beatles to release a song of the same name in 1962?

The prospects for an International Society for Garden Archaeology

This is not a disused railway siding in Birmingham. It was once the grandest garden court in Europe's grandest palace: the Palace of the Emperors on the Palatine Hill in Rome. Something should be done. But what?

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

Please protect the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities

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

Tirtagangga water garden: the garden that time forgot

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.

The classical gardening ideal of George London, Henry Wise and Virgil's Georgics

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. .

Gardening on the dole: workfare, punishment or pleasure?

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.