Broughton Castle

Tucked away in beautiful countryside just a couple of miles from Banbury is one of the most perfect houses in the country: Broughton Castle.  The Historic England site description does nothing to convey the surprise the visitor gets when they turn into the park and gradually the house comes into view. It’s not an obvious statement of power,  more a natural assumption of it.  It is “olde England” at its best.

That feeling persists in every aspect of the house and grounds, and rightly so.  The last time it was sold was 1377 when it was bought by William of Wykeham, the Bishop of Winchester.  It eventually passed by inheritance to the Fiennes family who have lived there since 1447.   But don’t just take my word for the fact that Broughton is rather special. Commentators as diverse as Henry James, Alan Bennett, Simon Jenkins  and Patrick Taylor all think it one of the “best” houses in the country… and the gardens aren’t bad either. Read on to find out why…

The Gatehouse and part of the border       David Marsh, August 2016

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Lilac Time…

Glyn Philpott, Lilacs, Gallery Oldham

The spring has caught up with my garden and the lilacs are beginning to bloom. The first I knew was as I opened the doors into the garden the other morning and caught the scent well before I could see the biggest bush which stands just out of sight on the corner of the house.

For some reason I always think of Lilac as an old-fashioned plant – with overtones of the perfume loved by little old ladies like my grandma – which flourish in overgrown vicarage gardens, rather romantic but also rather chocolate-boxy. I wonder if that’s anything to do with memories of paintings like this Tissot or poems and songs like Lilac Time?

The Bunch of Lilacs, c.1875 by James Tissot,  Photo © Christie’s

Come down to Kew in lilac time, in lilac time, in lilac time,

Come down to Kew in lilac-time (It isn’t far from London!)

And you shall wander hand in hand with love in summer’s wonderland,

Come down to Kew in Lilac time (It isn’t far from London!)

from The Barrel Organ, by Alfred Noyes (1906) and turned into a song…[click on the link above to listen to it sung by Carmen Hill in 1923]

So…. the other day I did just that and went to Kew thinking  this would be a good opportunity to investigate the history of lilac, in our gardens and even as a cut flower, and  maybe even change my preconceptions…

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Kip and Knyff : Part 2 Kip

from The history of nature, in two parts : emblematically express’d in near a hundred folio copper-plates , 1720

For someone whose work is so well known it’s surprising how little biographical information is recorded  about Johannes Kip,  the topographical engraver. He is  best known for Britannia Illustrata, his work with Leonard Knyff, which has illustrations of the estates of late 17thc and early 18thc England,  but he was also a prolific book illustrator with a sideline in selling prints  from a shop in his house at Westminster.

detail from View and Perspective of London, Westminster and St James’s Park c.1727

Today’s post is a quick look at the range of his work, and then a closer look at his enormous engraving of St James Park in London first published in 1720.  Continue reading

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KIP & KNYFF: Part 1: Knyff

To most people “Kip & Knyff”  sounds like a bit like a Victorian music hall act, but say “Kip and Knyff” to a garden or architectural historian and they will instantly  picture a bird’s eye view of a great English house and estate from the late 17th or early 18thc.

“Kip and Knyff” always seem to “go together like a horse and carriage” as the song would have it, but although they had much in common and are often spoken of in the same breath they were not in fact a regular business partnership or even usual working companions and seem to have had little to do with each other apart from their most famous collaboration, Britannia Illustrata Or Views of Several of the Queens Palaces, as Also of the Principal seats of the Nobility and Gentry of Great Britain, Curiously Engraven on 80 Copper Plates  the first volume of which was published 1707.

The only obvious ‘joint’ biographical facts are their Dutch origins and the fact that they were also of a similar age and longevity, Knyff being born in 1650 and Kip 3 years later, and both were to die in London in 1721.

Knyff’s signature on a still life painting in a private collection from

So, as a result I’m writing two separate posts about them – one each! And this week its the turn of Leonard Knyff…

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Portrait of Mary Mitchell, by James Peake. Image from Catherine Horwood’s Potted History, p.53

At this time of year my favourite smell is hyacinths. Close packed into every conceivable sort of container they made ideal presents for Christmas,  but they are still be available for sale everywhere to bring a wonderful touch of spring scent and colour whatever the weather. I love to have them all over the house so that when I come home I get an instant uplift as I open the door.

Hyacinthus orientalis L. [as Hyacinthus orientalis caeruleo] Passe, C. van de, Hortus floridus (coloured plates), fasicle 1. vernalis, t. 10, fig. 1 (1614)

Hyacinthus orientalis L. [as Hyacinthus orientalis caeruleo]
from Crispin de Passe, Hortus floridus  (1614)

But do you know where the name comes from? And who first discovered that they could be ‘forced’ to flower early, and how this was best done?  And although we’ve all heard of tulip mania in the 17thc did you know there was an almost equally wild passion for hyacinths in the 18th and 19th centuries? And at the end of the post there’s a link to info about Britains only commercial hyacinth grower.  Read on to find out more… Continue reading

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Clarence Elliott: garden writer and alpine specialist

Clarence Elliott from Illustrated London News xxxx

Clarence Elliott                                          from Illustrated London News,                 Jan 11th 1958

This post was inspired by an information board in the Alpine Garden area of Wisley. But unless you’re an alpine plant aficionado  or a fan of gardening columns in long-defunct magazines, you probably haven’t heard of  the person mentioned on it: Clarence Elliott.  He was a founder member of the Alpine Garden Society and began the popularisation of sink and trough gardens. If you hadn’t heard of him you may well have heard of the nursery he founded, and in particular one or two of the plants he introduced to cultivation.

Information board in the Alpine Garden at Wisley, Januray 2016

Information board in the Alpine Garden at Wisley, January 2016

But Clarence Elliott wasn’t just a gardener but a naturalist and plant hunter too. He collected for both Kew and Edinburgh botanic gardens.

And after he ‘retired’ he began contributing a weekly column to Illustrated London News which he continued to write until well into his 80s.

Read on to find out more about this influential and far-sighted horticulturist ….

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A conversation with Arthur Devis

portrait of Sarah Lascelles, Mrs Christopher Lethieullier,(c) National Trust, Uppark; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

In the early 18thc a style of portraiture developed, known as the conversation piece, which often depicted the sitter or sitters outside in a garden or parkland setting. 

The greatest exponent of this style was Arthur Devis, who painted the rising gentry and professional classes of Georgian England at ease in and around their own homes and estates. 


Given that we are used to using paintings of gardens and landscapes as good evidence for the appearance of a site when the picture was undertaken,  can these conversation piece portraits be trusted to give us a truthful idea of the 18thc garden?

Read on to find out more about Devis, and the reliability [or maybe not!] of his work as useful evidence…

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Sir Charles Isham: “A Gulliver amongst the Lilliputians”

Although this post is about Sir Charles Isham, it’s also about garden gnomes.  If you didn’t smile at the thought of  a whole blogpost about twee garden ornaments in dubious taste, you probably grimaced or shuddered at the prospect because gnomes do seem to have the ability to cause strong and divisive reactions.     Indidentally why is it gnomes and not elves, sprites, pixies, boggarts, goblins, or leprechauns who live by the side of garden ponds, or lurk in our shrubberies?

There are plenty of  books and websites about gnomes – which of course are now quite  big business – but generally they are not really interested in their history and make little reference back to any documentary or material evidence. That’s a great pity as the real story of their introduction to Britain  is fascinating.  So,  if you haven’t worked out the connection yet between the little men in red hats and Sir Charles read on and  find out more about the origin of the gnome in our gardens…

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Come into the garden Maud…

I was looking for a lighthearted piece to counter some of my more recent serious ones, and shortly afterwards happened to be passing the house where Marie Lloyd, the music hall star, used to live. One of her set pieces was the sentimental song “Come into the garden Maud” and I thought it might be fun to research that a bit more and find out why Maud was being invited, and indeed if she ever did end up at the garden gate?

Come into the garden, Maud,
      For the black bat, night, has flown,
Come into the garden, Maud,
      I am here at the gate alone;
And the woodbine spices are wafted abroad,
      And the musk of the rose is blown.
The author...not their usual look. Any idea who?

The author…but not their usual look. Any idea who?

Whatever was I thinking? Light-hearted is the last word you would use to describe the background to Maud. It’s not about wannabee  illicit cuddles in the shrubbery as one might imagine from the better known song extracts, but a story based around insanity, sexual frustration, hallucinations, premature death and even murder amongst other joyful themes. Read on if you want to be depressed by the real story behind the song, although there are also some more cheerful comments about the author’s garden.

from an 1877 edition anon

from an 1877 edition of Maud, anon artist

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Marion Cran

I often start these posts with a comments such as ‘here’s someone else you won’t have heard of”,  although there’s often a good reason for the subject’s lack of fame … but today’s subject is someone who really has been unjustly neglected.

Marion Cran was the first woman gardening broadcaster as well as a highly successful and popular garden writer.  You can judge how well she was  renowned at the time by her inclusion, along with the still ‘famous’ Beverley Nicholls,  in a comic rhyme by Reginald Arkell in 1934.

Beverley Nicholls and Marion Cran

Hadn’t been born when the world began

That is the reason I must confess

Why the Garden of Eden was not a success

md12604509946Marion travelled widely writing about gardens abroad as well as Britain in 15 gardening books, and also produced a couple of novels, and assorted other books.

She created two interesting gardens, one of which is still basically intact and being restored  in keeping with her ‘spirit’. Yet her success there wasn’t matched by a similar success elsewhere. She often had financial problems and her private life was something of a mess with 3 husbands and a child out of wedlock – hardly a proper state of affairs for a respectable vicar’s daughter in the early 20thc.

Coggers at Benenden, phoo by Louise and Colin, 2014,

Coggers at Benenden, photo by Louise and Colin, 2014,                   

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