‘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?
A interesting garden typology which seems to be given more attention in recent times is the museum garden, such as the garden at Giverny ‘The Museum of Impressions’. The garden museum was conceived to give visitors an experience of the Seine valley on the impressionists trail and to complement the art gallery experience of viewing impressionist paintings. The museum building is described as “topped by roofs landscaped in heather…inscribed into the natural slope of the land, allowing the minimum of opague walls.”
For the garden traditionalist there is the Musee Rodin in Paris which captures something of the atmosphere of the outdoors indoors and has a an inspiring sculpture garden.
Perhaps an even more interesting possibility with this trend is the potential for the museum-in-the-garden. The museum of life and science in North Carolina demonstrates the potential of the museum outdoors.
Where better to experience and learn about art, physics and the natural world?
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.
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.
Long viewed as a Celtic or Roman god, a very disappointing 1973 theory (by John Hutchins) sees the giant as a political cartoon cut on the instructions of Denzil Holles in the 1640s to represent Oliver Cromwell. Denzil Holles hated Cromwell but I admire him and, if the history is correct, would see the Cerne Abbas cartoon as that of a man who felt that only the excercise of force could restore the virility of English democracy.
A Populus opinion poll ( for The Times in July 2009) found ‘overwhelming public support’ ( from 74% of those questioned) for a change in the law to allow medically assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. Since the UK parliament continues to oppose the measure, I think we need a new Cromwell to explain to MPs that their job is to carry forward the will of the people. He or she could use make two quotations from Oliver Cromwell:
“I beseech you in the bowels of Christ think it possible you may be mistaken.”
“You have been sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of god, go!.”
If the reminders do not achieve the necessary result, MP’s should be clubbed – for the crime of not respecting the known wishes of the electorate.
PS as a god-fearing man, Cromwell is likely to have opposed assisted suicide. Since many of its members are elderly, one might assume the National Trust, which cares for the Cerne Abbas Giant, to be in favour of the measure.
A 'Sissinghurst Border' at Hardwick Hall, built 1590-7 and famous for being little changed
Graham Stuart Thomas knew lots about flowers
So the National Trust gave him unlimited powers
Every Head Gardener was bullied and cursed
“You must make your garden more like Sissinghurst”
This verse was inspired by Marian’s quotation from John Michell and by many visits to NT gardens. Graham Stuart Thomas was the National Trust’s first gardens advisior. I don’t have much evidence but I suspect him of making NT gardens too similar – by applying the tradional, and wretchedly simplistic, theory that all you really need for a good garden is some informality, some formality and good flowers from a good nursery.
If the National Trust was more like a cultural organization and less like a commercial organisation then its website would be less like the website of a hotels chain and more like the brilliant Touregypt website. For example, compare these entries: Philae and Prior Park and Gilpin Lodge Country House Hotel. Which two are the most alike?
Note: one can be as sure they did not have herbaceous borders in 1590 as of any most other details in the history of planting design.