The Landscape Guide

Creative Conservation and Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe


Conservation movement - Garden conservation - Comparisions - Education - Garden historians - Data collection - Garden Archaeology - Data storage - Data processing - Conservation plans - Case study

As a historian, Jellicoe is poles apart from Harvey. He had an eye for detail and a proper concern for scholarship, but he was a broad brush scholar. Around the time Harvey’s book was published, he and Jellicoe had an involvement with the landscape courses at the University of Greenwich (then Thames Polytechnic). I am sure they knew and admired each other’s work. I do not think they met at the University and I guess Harvey would have excluded Jellicoe’s work from the following comment, but I cannot be sure:
Owing to the predominant part played in the teaching of landscape architecture by ‘design’, it is an unfortunate fact that many professionals are positively handicapped by the very qualities which have won them distinction. As with the parallel case of historic buildings, relatively few of the qualified practitioners are able to put off their modern individuality of approach, and hence have great difficulty in making their work harmonize with genuine old remains’ (p 15-16)
Jellicoe was a highly individual designer and in the course of a long career became involved with many historic gardens. The best summary of his experience, and his views on the subject, are in the Guelph Lectures on Landscape Design. The following passage comes from his section on Creative Conservation. It is an important passage and is quoted in full. A commentary follows.
Between the Middle Ages and the early twentieth century the history of gardens and landscape in England is one of continuous change. After leaving the security of’ castle or monastery and venturing outwards, gardens began as walled rooms without ceilings, as at Bingham’s Melcombe. The pure English pleasure garden reached its zenith under the Elizabethans and Jacobeans, the wild garden being added to the formal. Then came overwhelming foreign influence, culminating at the end of the seventeenth century in vast lay-outs laid stiffly on the soft countryside. This classical yoke was thrown off abruptly in the eighteenth century, its place being taken by the indigenous romantic English School, a landscape art independent of architecture. There was a happy confusion of styles in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, drawn from the past by other countries as well as Britain, and generally termed “neo”.
This rich domestic heritage can be preserved in two ways: either frozen as a national masterpiece of a fixed point or points in time, or conceived as a continuum. This lecture is based on the idea that however static the architecture of an historic house or mansion may be, the gardens in which it is set can respond to changes, not only those normal and predictable in nature, but those less predictable that arise from a present owner. The resolution of the ethos of past history with that of present owner is perhaps the most interesting and compelling challenge in garden design.
The creation of a new garden in an old setting is not unlike the painting of a portrait on and within a canvas and frame that already exist. Sometimes the frame can be such as to dominate the painting; at others it may scarcely exist. At all times, however, it is the sitter and his/her unspoken feelings that are paramount, and these the artist will endeavour to penetrate, understand, portray and integrate with the setting. In landscape he will discover that in general the love of intricacies, enclosed places and flowers is a feminine instinct traceable back through the Picturesque and the mediaeval ladies’ garden to the original forests; and the love of open spaces and grandeur is the male instinct traceable back through Capability Brown to the hunting savannahs. Apart from generalisations such as this there seems no rational clue to the origins in each individual of those mysterious, incomprehensible yearnings whose recognition is in fact essential to the making of an original landscape.
The thesis of this lecture is that as a study primarily in individual psychology transferred to landscape it is the first step, but only the first step, towards an understanding of the collective subconscious from which the great public landscapes of the future will emerge. (p.1)
Jellicoe’s points may be summarised as follows:
English gardens have been subject to continuous change since the Middle ages.
Historic gardens can be preserved in two ways (1) frozen as a national masterpiece of a fixed point or points in time (2) conceived as a continuum
Gardens can respond to change while the architecture remains static
Resolution of the ideas of past owners with those of present owners constitutes ‘perhaps the most interesting and compelling challenge in garden design’
An analogy can be drawn with painting a new portrait on an old canvas in an old frame – but the interests of the sitter are paramount
Approaching a historic garden in this way is a step towards understanding the collective subconscious.