A Garden of surprises: Upton House

deatil from Upton House from the South by Arthur Devis, Photo credit: National Trust,

deatil from Upton House from the South by Arthur Devis, Photo credit: National Trust,

Upton is a surprise: let me correct that, Upton is a series of surprises. I happened to be passing reasonably close by and was looking for somewhere to break the journey. So I checked the  flash new National Trust website to see what the gardens  (and the tearoom) had to offer.   I discovered that Upton had been the country house of the Samuel family, and that in 1939 they moved themselves out and  moved their family bank and its staff from London in.   The house is currently transformed back to the 1940s so that you can see how the staff lived and worked for the duration of the war.   It’s a great idea and quite rightly has won awards.

A little more digging on the website and I discovered that Walter Samuel, 2nd Viscount Bearsted, whose father had founded Shell, and his wife Dorothea Micholls, were not only immensely wealthy, but great philanthropists and  perceptive  and discerning art collectors.  The house is effectively a mini National Gallery  with the  extraordinary range of internationally important pictures that they collected. Upton should be on every art lovers itinerary. But what has it to offer to a garden enthusiast?

The Graden Front of Upton House David Marsh, August 2016

The Garden Front of Upton House
David Marsh, August 2016

Well, apart from one short piece about Kitty Lloyd-Jones [of whom more in next weeks post]  the National Trust website contained nothing obvious relating to the gardens, and certainly nothing to make  you want to  visit, so I wasn’t expecting anything other than a bog standard lawn and a few run of the mill borders, tacked-on  to prettify the setting of the art collection.  So read on to find out why I’m bothering to write, and write enthusiastically, about  what I originally supposed would be a nondescript sort of place… Continue reading

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John Abercrombie

detail from the frontispiece of Every Man His Own Gardener, 1800 edition

detail from the frontispiece of Every Man His Own Gardener, 1800 edition

John Abercrombie was one of the 18th century’s most prolific gardening writers, although he was initially shy of his talents and didn’t really start writing until he was 50 and even then under someone else’s name.  But from there he went from strength to strength publishing  a string of  books, all based on his lifelong experience as a practical hands-on gardener.  From our point of view its sad they are all virtually unillustrated but they  continued to be popular, running into dozens of editions and in print for  decades after his death. 

At the age of 72 he was shown   in gentlemanly dress holding a large spade in the new engraved frontispiece for the 16th edition of his most famous book Every Man His Own Gardener first published in 1767.

He was not just a gardener and a writer but also a chain-smoking, tea drinking vegetarian, so read on to find out more… Continue reading

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William Sawrey Gilpin

detail fromWilliam Sawrey Gilpin (English, 1762–1843) Trees and Castle, ca. 1790–1810.https://www.indiana.edu/~iuam/provenance/view.php?id=650

detail fromWilliam Sawrey Gilpin 
Trees and Castle, ca. 1790–1810. https://www.indiana.edu/~iuam/provenance/view.php?id=650

My trip to Westonbirt last month introduced me to the theories of the early 19thc landscape designer William Sawrey Gilpin, who I’d heard of, but who had never really figured on my garden history radar.

Gilpin had a career as an artist before at the age of 58 launching himself into landscape gardening. He quickly became  the greatest exponent of the Picturesque school of landscape design, and effectively the historical intermediary between Humphry Repton and Sir Charles Barry.

from Observations on the River Wye (1782)

from Observations on the River Wye (1782)

So read on to find more about this elusive man and his work…

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Achille Duchêne @ Blenheim

Version 2A drizzly overcast day in mid-November might not be the ideal time to see the gardens at Blenheim but I was taking advantage of an offer of free entry to the gardens and park via my RHS membership, so a drizzly overcast day in mid-November it was!   As the coachloads of Japanese tourists set off to tour the palace we pulled up our coat collars and set off. A few minutes later  we stopped in amazement as we walked through a passageway from the entrance court and emerged on the edge of the  water gardens designed by Achille Duchêne for the 9th Duke of Marlborough between 1925 and 1931.

dscf6085

How ironic that a palace built to honour the military triumphs of John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough, over Louis XIV, should later be so gloriously ornamented by gardens created in the grandest of French styles by one of the grandest of  French designers.

David Marsh, Nov 2016

All the photos are by David Marsh, November 2016 unless otherwise stated. Read on to find out more….

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Gardens on the Wall part 1: John Baptist Jackson

Classical 'arch and pillar ' pattern 1760s, Bourton V&A

Classical ‘arch and pillar ‘ pattern 1760s,V&A

There are several ways of gardening indoors and several of gardening on walls but this post is about a way of doing both at once: wallpaper.

Wallpaper has long used floral motifs. We’re all familiar with flowery wallpaper – some good, some indifferent and some hideous enough to give you nightmares.  We’re probably all familiar too with the wonderful Chinese wallpapers featuring exotic flowers and birds imported by the East India Company in the 18thc, but did you know that there is also a long tradition of  landscapes and garden features being depicted on other wallpapers?

It’s amazing any of these have survived  because wallpaper is so fragile, ephemeral and its so easy to replace it or paint over it  to keep up with trends in fashionable decor. The vast majority of old wall hangings have disappeared without trace or can only be glimpsed as the background in a print or painting, so perhaps as a result  the V&A believes that wallpaper usually been has been the poor relation of the decorative arts.

from Old time wall papers, by Kate Sanborn, Kate, 1905

from Old time wall papers, by Kate Sanborn, 1905, https://archive.org/details/oldtimewallpaper00sanb

Read on to find out more, especially what wallpaper can tell us about our gardens! Continue reading

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Westonbirt & the Holfords

The Italian Garden http://www.ngs.org.uk

The Italian Garden
http://www.ngs.org.uk

Everyone’s heard of Westonbirt Arboretum, one of the most extensive and beautiful collections of trees in the country. But how about the other gardens at Westonbirt? Perhaps not. Yet like the arboretum they were created by the same visionary, Robert Stayner Holford,  are just across the road and are open to the public, although they now form the grounds of Westonbirt School.

I had the chance to see  them when I went down to Gloucestershire for  a day conference – Protecting Historic Parks and Gardens: ‘It’s a Piece of Cake’ – organized by the Historic Landscapes Project which is part of The Gardens Trust. It was held in the school and because the Historic Landscapes Project is such an impressive  resource [despite being run on a shoestring] I’d have signed up for the day even without the cake!

The programme was lively and informative [with the cake an added bonus] and  included a tour of the grounds led by Margie Hoffnung, The Gardens Trust’s Conservation Officer, who had also been the leading volunteer in the gardens at Westonbirt.   What an eye-opener that proved to be. Westonbirt was, and largely still is, a Victorian masterpiece and it’s no wonder that the gardens as well as the house are Grade 1 listed.

David Marsh, Oct 2016

David Marsh, Oct 2016

I’m very grateful to Margie for letting me have access to her notes and for checking through the post – any errors are mine and not hers. Continue reading

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Peas, perfect peas

Fildes, Luke; Girl Shelling Peas; Warrington Museum & Art Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/girl-shelling-peas-104014

Girl Shelling Peas, by Luke Fildes, Warrington Museum & Art Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/girl-shelling-peas-104014

Move over Capability Brown, you have to share your year of fame with peas!  It has probably slipped your notice (as I confess it did mine) but the United Nations has declared 2016 to be the ‘International Year of Pulses’ (IYP) , so here’s a post to celebrate one of our most popular vegetables.screenshot

 

 

In the search for perfection modern peas have, like so many other plant crops, been industrialized.  Varieties have been selected that ripen at the same time, and grow on dwarf plants that are easy to harvest mechanically.

Clarence Birdseye from Britannica.com

That has advantages of course, especially in terms of economics, but the downside is that it means that most people will never have the chance to sample the  huge variety of tastes and textures that once existed on a commercial scale but now only cling on as heritage varieties.

And if you don’t recognize the man  in the photo or know what he has got to do with peas then read on…

screenshot

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Bodiam Castle

 

from flickr, copyright irezumi13 2010

Bodiam                                                                        from flickr, copyright irezumi13 2010

Bodiam in Sussex has been described as the most written about and photographed  castle in the whole of Britain. This is not just because it’s a wonderfully photogenic site with opportunities to show off even an amateur’s camera skills.

Bodiam doesn’t  figure on our database because its not a park or garden in the traditional sense but for the last 30 years it has been at the centre of a vigorous academic debate as to its purpose and function which is perhaps not as obvious as you might think.  In short its been a debate about whether Bodiam is just a castle in the traditional sense or something much more elaborate and significant: an entirely artificial mediaeval landscape.

Read on to find out more…

Aerial photo of Bodiam Castle , from 1800 feet Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved] © Copyright Phil Laycock 2007 and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Aerial photo of Bodiam Castle , from 1800 feet
 © Copyright Phil Laycock 2007 and licensed for reuse underCreative Commons Licence.

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A Halfpenny-worth of Chinese

 a Building for the Termination of a Walk in the Chinese Taste, from rural architecture in the Chinese Taste.

A Building for the Termination of a Walk in the Chinese Taste, from Rural Architecture in the Chinese Taste.

It was hard not to smile when, whilst researching for a lecture on Chinoiserie in the garden, I flicked through the pattern books published by William Halfpenny,  a virtually unknown 18thc architect.  

Very little of his work appears to have survived, although what does is impressive and suggests that perhaps he has been under-rated. In particular the recent re-creation of the Chinese bridge that he designed for Lord Coventry at Croome Park is an elegant reminder of his ability.

But really his fame, such as it is, now mainly rests on a series of  books of architectural designs for garden structures and other features, which are often whimsical when they are not pure comic fantasy.  Halfpenny clearly had a vivid imagination so read on to find out more and, I hope, be at least mildly amused…

from Rustic ARchitecture in the Chinese Taste

Plan and Elevation of a Temple or Summer House on a Tarrass in the Chinese Taste, from Rural Architecture in the Chinese Taste

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Carters Tested Seeds.

Carters Tested Seeds, Catalogue 1915

In a recent post we saw Carters establish themselves as the premier seed company in Britain and then one of the leading seed brands globally. This prominence continued throughout the first half of the 20thc, but then things started to go slightly awry until  suddenly in the late 1960s the company was sold up and gradually descended into limbo.

To catch up on the previous post see http://wp.me/p4brf0-zr7

Then read on to find out more about the good times and then about the surprising decline and virtual disappearance of James Carter’s once global enterprise….

screenshot

from Carter’s 1939 Blue Book

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