Two Essex Girls & the exotic: Ella & Florence Du Cane

Azaleas from Flowers and Gardens of Japan by Ella and Florence du Cane, 1908

My title is a bit unfair. The Essex Girls I’m going to talk about are not those caricatured on TOWI or in popular comedy but two aristocratic young ladies from the county who not only created gardens there but also travelled the world and wrote and illustrated a series of travel books. These were mainly about gardens and introduced a touch of the exotic and colour, to their British readers.

Aristocratic women in the 19thc were conventionally taught to paint and draw but few made a living out of it. That would have been thought shocking. But one woman who did was Ella Du Cane. The daughter of a Tory MP and colonial governor, after the death of her father, she set off with her elder sister Florence to travel the world.

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The Picturesque Traveller discovers the Lakes

Lakeland Landscape, unknown artist,  York Museums Trust 

Last week’s post about Anthony Devis showed how our understanding and appreciation of the landscape has changed radically over the centuries.  Until the beginning of the 18thc wilderness and untamed nature, was generally unappreciated with most art, literature and aesthetic taste focused on the tranquillity of pastoral scenes.  However philosophers like the Earl of Shaftesbury then began to take more interest in wild nature.

Sir George Beaumont and Joseph Farington painting a waterfall,by Thomas Hearne, 1777,           Wordsworth Trust

This developed as the century progressed and saw the emergence  of a new aesthetic category which explained how wild and untamed  scenery could evoke a response which was not the displeasure associated with ugliness, but pleasure mixed with fear.

Previously unregarded parts of the country  such as the Lake District, the Peak District, Wales and Scotland began to attract visitors. As transport and roads improved so more and more travellers  toured the country  seeking “picturesque beauty” and “the sense of the sublime” in nature.

Who for instance, would previously have thought that Windermere, looking like an outpost of  the North Atlantic coast in a force 9 gale, would be a suitable subject for a painting?

Belle Isle, Windermere, in a Storm,  Philip de Loutherbourg, Lakeland Arts Trust


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Anthony Devis: Georgian topographical artist

No it’s not a repeat. It’s true there was a post about the 18thc artist  Arthur Devis a few month ago but this one is about his half-brother Anthony.  While Arthur specialised in conversation piece portraits Anthony turned to topography and became one of the country’s first successful landscape painters.

The Old Hall from the Park, TableyHouse, Cheshire.  

Anthony’s career spanned more than 60 years and unlike his half-brother he managed to adapt his style to changing Georgian taste and fashion both in painting and appreciation of landscape.  Read on to discover how his works  give us an insight into the changing perception of nature and the countryside in the 18thc.

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On Don and Don and Don and Don…

I know Monty may be the only Don you’ve heard of but this is not  a post about him. Instead its about some of his 18th and 19thc ancestors who were also well-known horticulturists and botanists.  The family came from the county of Angus, then known as Forfarshire, in eastern Scotland where George Don had a nursery and what he called a botanic garden,  before rather unexpectedly ending up as Superintendant of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh.

He had five sons who all followed him into gardening, and two of whom became celebrated in their day. The eldest, George junior, went plant hunting for the  Royal Horticultural Society  before becoming a botanical writer.  David, the second eldest, after working in a nursery became the Librarian at the Linnean Society  and then Professor of Botany at Kings College. 

Read on to find out more about this extraordinary family and their legacy.

George Do's signature from

George Don’s signature  Linnean Society


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“Fresh Air & Fun”: Ada Salter and the Beautification of Bermondsey

Ada Salter

London is a city of great surprises and has many hidden corners and almost unknown treasures. I thought I knew it fairly well but there are always surprises and I’ve just found two of them in the same patch.  Did you know, because I certainly didn’t,  that  the remains of one of Edward III’s favourite country houses still survive on the banks of the Thames?   Perhaps the reason I didn’t know it is because it’s in a district which long had a reputation for slums and poverty, and being more than a bit rough around the edges.

The remains of Edward III’s Manor House on Bermondsey Wall, David Marsh May 2017

Of course over recent years nowhere in London is safe from gentrification and this area is no exception.  A new tube station and proximity to central London – that’s an understatement since its within a few minutes walk of Tower Bridge – have led to massive amounts of redevelopment.  So I finally corrected my ignorance of Bermondsey  by going on a guided London walk with Sue McCarthy of Capital Walks. [Highly recommended – and no she’s not paying me to say that!]  You can read a short photo report of what the walk covers here.

The view from Ada’s statue which stands just across the road from Edward III’s manor house.

It focussed on the life and work of Ada Salter, a pioneer of ethical Socialism  who was elected the first woman mayor in London, and first Labour woman mayor in Britain.  Read on to find out more about her radical – and successful – campaign to improve health and housing, provide gardens and beautify Bermondsey.

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Boys Toys and Shanks’s Ponies

What on earth is this? And what’s it got to do with cutting the grass?

Sitting on the terrace overlooking my garden a few weeks back in the heat wave I was watching the lawn go yellow and then brown, except of course for all the pesky weeds which continued to grow cheerfully and provided a bit of height and colour. Now autumn has arrived it’s all change and I’m sitting at my desk  watching the rain pour down for the third day running and watching the lawn turn green again, with all the pesky weeds looking even happier. So as soon as it stops it will be time to cut the grass again…

Trust John Claudius Loudon to be the first to notice  the solution that will save me having to get out the scythe…

from The Gardener’s Magazine 1831, p.611


So today’s post is an as-little-technical-jargon-as-possible look  at one of the first “boys toys”: Edwin Budding’s  lawn mower  and some of  its descendants… Continue reading

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Coleton Fishacre: The Garden by the Sea

detail from A Bird’s-Eye Map View of the Kingswear Peninsula by by George Spencer Hoffman.  © National Trust Images

Imagine sailing gently along the coast of Britain and spotting a nice little steep-sided valley running down to the sea…no buildings in sight, just a few sheep and wizened wind-battered trees… deciding that would make a good place for a house… buying the land and building a mansion.  These days it would be impossible, even the idea would be laughable.

fom Country Life, May 31st 1930

If I told you it had happened you might think  it must have been in the dim and distant past – perhaps when some marauding baron was looking for a defensive site after the Norman Conquest.  In fact it happened less than a hundred years ago in Devon and it wasn’t a marauding baron but the son of a London theatre impresario and hotelier. The result was the wonderfully romantic Coleton Fishacre.

A Bird's-Eye Map View of the Kingswear Peninsula with a Wind Dial by George Spencer Hoffman © National Trust Images

A Bird’s-Eye Map View of the Kingswear Peninsula with a working Wind Dial, which is over a fireplace in the house. by George Spencer Hoffman.  © National Trust Images

Coleton Fishacre, said Christopher Hussey in Country Life in May 1930, “belongs to the sea… here is a retreat from land-sickness, a spot where hurries and worries and work do not come.”

Read on to find out about one of the great houses and gardens of the age [now listed Grade 2], and the people who built it…. Continue reading

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An unlikely Michaelanglo: John Buonarotti Papworth

Sketch for a vase  for the pedestals of the gate piers, Oxford Lodge, Basildon Park, RIBA

The wonderfully named John Buonarrotti Papworth, was an architect , interior and garden designer and a near contemporary of John Claudius Loudon, Humphry Repton and Frederick Crace.  You may not have heard of him, or if you had, maybe like me you hadn’t realised how ubiquitous and influential he was. He spans the difference  in taste and fashion between the late Georgian and the  early Victorian periods  and  I hope this post will help raise awareness of his importance.

John Buonarotti Papworth
by William Brockedon, NPG






Papworth’s clients were, like Repton’s largely “new” men – bankers, industrialists, and businessmen— who wanted designs for  their estates, villas, and business premises. He was successful,  able to combine architecture with  internal furnishing and decorations and crucially, as far as we are concerned,   gardens.

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John Weeks: Horticultural Architect

Advert from Lodge’s The Peerage and Baronetage of the British Empire as at present existing.. 1861

I’m always amazed by the way that some now fashionable upmarket residential areas have a different, more working class past  often with horticultural connections. Belgravia, for example, is built on the site of the Neat Houses, once London’s largest concentration of market gardens. Chelsea too was once home to market gardens but also to a large number of commercial nurseries for ornamental plants.

I’ve already written about Joseph Knight’s Exotic Nursery on the King’s Road and today’s post was intended to be about another of these once great, but now largely forgotten, establishments, John Weeks and Co. However, as usual, the research proved diverting… and so, as usual, I allowed myself to be diverted Continue reading

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Cardiff Castle

John Patrick Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute (1847-1900),         Bute Museum

I hardly ever watch television but my eye was caught recently by a programme on John Patrick Creighton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute, who was one of the wealthiest men of his day, but one with a social conscience and a sense of humour  as well as an eye for beautiful things. He was responsible for commissioning William Burgess the eccentric architect and designer to help him create or redesign some of the most wonderful – and bizarre –  buildings in Britain including Cardiff Castle.

I’d visited a couple of years back with the Garden History Society but, as so often happens on organized trips, there just wasn’t enough time to explore it and neighbouring Bute Park  properly so the programme made me think its time to go back to Wales and take another look.

Read on to find out why…

screenshot from Bute: The Scot Who Spent a Welsh Fortune, BBC2 8th July 2017

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