Oudolf Field, Bruton

Echinacea, or coneflower in Oudolf Field, Hauser & Wirth, Somerset

Located in the tranquil Somerset countryside, Hauser & Wirth’s arts centre just outside Bruton is a destination both for modern art – and its gardens.  Landscaping for the entire site has been designed by Piet Oudolf, and the Oudolf Field, described as a one acre perennial meadow, is its centrepiece.

Entering the Field, grass paths of varying widths weave through the dense planting, allowing visitors to experience the immersive effect of bold blocks of grasses and flowering perennials.  Nearest to the gallery buildings is a concealed pond area which was attracting dragonflies on the day we visited in August, and at the top of the Field is a pavilion designed by Smiljan Radic.

Here in this meadow garden, created by one of the world’s best known landscape designers for an international art gallery, it seems like a good moment to consider the status of gardens as an art form.  In that context, the Oudolf Field feels very much like a living installation.

The term ‘meadow’ suggests planting that is loose and informal, and this introduces an immediate conundrum for the visitor.  The detail of Oudolf’s design is very tightly controlled, and while in August the overall effect of the mature planting is one of meadow-like irregularity, this belies a rigidity that underpins the design.

The perennial plants are placed and ordered with great precision – much as they might have been in a 17th century parterre.  But unlike a parterre garden, this design is not symmetrical,  and instead of being clipped into artificial patterns, the plants  are chosen for their wilder character, and allowed to keep their natural shapes.

Beds edged with corten steel meet manicured grass or gravel pathways, providing the crisp edges we’d expect in a traditional formal garden. This contrast between formality and informality is one of the trademarks of Oudolf’s style, working best when all the elements are meticulously maintained – which is certainly the case at Hauser & Wirth and a great credit to the skill of their gardeners.

Oudolf uses lots of contrasts in his planting, and some of these create almost painterly effects.  Hazy fine textured grasses are a favourite, as are the diffuse patches of green and yellow produced by perennial plants like Amsonia hubrichtii.  This interesting plant carries small pale blue flowers in May and June on stems covered in fine needle-shaped leaves.  These turn yellow and orange in autumn, providing intense splashes of colour amongst the paler grasses and forming a backdrop for flowers with an upright habit, such as veronicastrum and agastache.

In other areas, blocks of perennial flowers with rounded shapes like sedums (Hylotelephium), echinacea, helenium and various umbellifer species form a pleasing contrast with the flower spikes of persicaria, lythrum and perovskia.

Oudolf’s gardens are designed to reach their peak from late summer through autumn, and the plants are left to die back naturally – their structures providing winter interest and acting as a seedbank for birds.  In February and March everything is cut back to ground level and the growth cycle begins again.  Perhaps it is not intentional, but sculptor Richard Long’s Stone Circle (1980) located close to the pavilion seems to echo this circle of life theme.

Well worth a visit when travel becomes possible again – some links to Hauser & Wirth and Piet Oudolf’s website below:

Fine cut leaves of Amsonia hubrichtii turn from green to yellow in August, forming a hazy backdrop for late flowering upright spikes of pink veronicastrum and Eryngium agavifolium

Yellowing leaves of Amsonia hubrichtii form a striking contrast to the upright blue spike of agastache

Contrasting shapes of Hylotelephium (sedum) in the foreground with blue spikes of Perovski (Russian sage) directly behind

Detail Hylotelephium (formerly sedum)

Lythrum (centre) with Dianthus carthusianorum, or Carthusian pinks in the foreground

Contrast of texture and colour with purple Hylotelephium (sedum) in foreground, the yellow grass Carex elata ‘Aurea’ behind

Heleniums in flower

The pond at Oudolf field was attracting dragonflies on the day we visited. The flowering rush Butomus umbellatus in the foreground

Damera peltata, sometimes called the umbrella plant, in the pond area.

The Radic Pavillion

Plan of Hauser & Wirth, Somerset showing a simplified design of the Oudolf Field

Detail of corten steel edge to the borders juxtaposed with gravel and lawn

A large clump of yellow and orange heleniums provides a block of colour amongst the paler grasses and perennials

Oudolf’s design for the gallery courtyard. The late season grass Sesleria autumnalis brings a freshness to the planting

Further reading:

Hauser & Wirth, Somerset

oudolf.com

All about the show

Chrysanthemum ‘Mrs. Warren G. Harding’ at the US Agriculture Department’s Chrysanthemum Show, October 30th 1923  (all images via The Library of Congress)

A flower show can encompass anything from a local amateur competition in the village hall, to a huge event attracting a national audience.  These remarkable photographs from the Library of Congress record an annual exhibition of chrysanthemums hosted by the US Department of Agriculture and held in Washington in the early part of the 20th century, generally in November.

Commercial photographers from the Harris & Ewing studio attended the event over a period of years producing a varied record, including visitors from the top tier of American political society, members of the public, a gardener at the glasshouse, and details of the plants themselves.

Negotiating the narrow pathways of the glasshouse with its banks of fragile flowers, whilst persuading VIP guests to be photographed, cannot have been easy.  While some appear happy to pose, others are less enthusiastic.  But the candid expressions of the guests capture the event’s atmosphere perfectly, allowing the viewer privileged access to the show.

What of the chrysanthemums on display?  A close inspection of the glasshouse signage reveals the banks of smaller flowered plants closest to the walls are ‘pompons and single varieties for outside planting’ while the spectacular blooms in the central aisle are ‘Japanese and Chinese varieties for greenhouse cultivation’.  Each of these plants, grown individually in terracotta pots, is carefully staked to support the flower and labelled.  All the plants are staged in rows on a structure increasing in height like steps, showing all the flowers to their best advantage.

Originally from China, chrysanthemums have been cultivated in China and Japan for centuries, both for decorative purposes and for their medicinal properties.  The plants were introduced to Europe in the late 18th century, and by the mid 19th century, when The National Chrysanthemum Society was established in London in 1846, their popularity was well established.

In the United States greenhouse varieties imported from Japan started to become fashionable by the 1860s alongside the garden types.  By the time the Agriculture Department’s events were in their heyday, the latest varieties from American breeders were the stars of the show – often named after celebrities of the day, from Grace Coolidge to military figures like General Pershing and Admiral Beatty.  Another is named for the Garden Club of America.

Chrysanthemums bloom late in the season and their colours, from shades of yellow and bronze, to rusty reds and purples mirror the tones of autumn leaves.  Others come in shades of pink and even pure white.  Their forms are wide ranging, including single, semi-double, pompons, incurving where the florets or petals form a ball shape, or reflex where the florets curve downwards and overlap.

The early part of the 20th century was a golden period for chrysanthemum shows on both sides of the Atlantic, when gardeners working at large houses and estates were still employed in sufficient numbers to grow the large bloomed varieties that required glasshouse cultivation.  Aside from gardener Martin Graner photographed in 1913, the multitude of gardeners who raised the magnificent plants for the Department of Agriculture’s show, and displayed them so beautifully are undocumented, but the quality of their work lives on in this extraordinary record.

Alice Roebling, Mrs. Robt. Roebling, Chrysanthemum Show, November 3rd 1926

1916

1915

1917

from the show of 1922

Mrs. Wm. M. Jardine and Mrs. Coolidge, Chrysanthemum Show, November 5th 1925

Sec. Jardine and Mrs. Coolidge at Chrysanthemum Show, November 5th 1925

Mrs. Kellogg, Mrs. Jardine, Mrs. New, Chrysanthemum Show, November 3rd 1926

Martin Graner, gardener, inspects Chrysanthemum ‘Jessie Wilson’ (1913)

Chrysanthemum ‘Jessie Wilson’ (1913)

Chrysanthemum ‘Grace Coolidge’ (1924)

Joffre, Joseph Jacques Cesare. Marechal of France 1916. Chrysanthemum ‘General Joffre’ (1917)

Japanese seedling 1917. General Pershing (1917)

Chrysanthemums at the Annual Dept. of Argric. Show, Wash., that have been named after celebrities. Lft. to rt. Grace Coolidge, Gen. Pershing, Princess Nayako, Secy. Meredith, Admiral Beatty. 1924

between 1915 and 1923

This over-exposed photograph from 1921 shows how much light streams in through the glasshouse roof even in November

Further reading:

Harris & Ewing Photographers

NCS USA  Chrysanthemum classifications from the National Chrysanthemum Society, USA

NCS UK  National Chrysanthemum Society, UK

Embracing the Seasons

The Juvenile Almanack, or, Series of Monthly Emblems published by Hodgson & Co, 10 Newgate Street, London between 1822 – 1824.  University of California Libraries, via archive.org

The varied changes of the year
Within this pretty book appear:
Winter robed in mantle white,
Spring bedecked in flowers bright,
Summer rich in waving corn,
And Autumn with its plenteous horn.

As British Summer Time officially ends this coming Sunday, it seems like a good time to consider our relationship with the seasons.  Those who find this a melancholy time of year, with its diminishing day lengths and the inevitable descent into winter, will perhaps draw some comfort from this modest book – a celebration of each month of the year.

Published almost two hundred years ago, The Juvenile Almanack, or, Series of monthly emblems encourages children to observe the sights and take delight in the experiences offered by every season.  Taking inspiration from traditional English almanacks, containing information about phases of the moon, the tides, and all important weather predictions, vital for agriculture, The Juvenile Almanack adapts this format for the young reader.

Coloured illustrations draw the reader into each monthly scene, making children central characters in the seasonal pattern.  Focusing on small everyday details, we learn about the weather, the activities of people working in the fields, and seasonal games and pastimes to look forward to.

Starting in snow covered January, boys skate on a frozen pond, while February affords opportunities to watch birds feeding on crumbs near to farm buildings.  Signs of spring are evident in March with the sun at last bringing some warmth to a tender houseplant on the cottage windowsill, and in April people begin to venture out to their gardens, looking for early flowers like snowdrops and crocus.

By June and July, the hay meadows are ready for cutting, followed by the wheat harvest in August, with workers crowding the fields, and gleaners gathering the last remains of the harvest.

As the last of the crops are cleared in September the hunting season begins, and in October fruit is gathered.  We see Hodge, a colloquial name for a farm labourer or rustic worker, with a ladder propped against the tree, picking apples.  November brings bonfire night and December a welcome break from school for the holidays.

Each evocative illustration in The Juvenile Almanck shows details of the vernacular landscape in this period; the cottages, their gardens, fences, haystacks (here, covered in canvas against the winter weather) and style of clothes worn by both adults and children.  It’s a community in close harmony with the seasonal rhythms of England.

If we are looking to re-connect with the seasons, working outside in the garden is one very effective way to do this, as we learn to find pleasure in the gradual changes each month brings.  Now we are mid-way through October, the signs of autumn are unmistakable – it’s windier, colder, the leaves are changing colour, and this great season is truly underway.

Link to The Juvenile Almanack below:

Further reading:

The Juvenile Almanack

Over one hundred English and British almanacs at archive.org

Almanacs at Archive.org

Views of Versailles

La Terre by Massou, Versailles.  (Metropolitan Museum of Art, Wikimedia Commons)

Towards the end of his life, photographer Eugène Atget made repeated journeys from his home in Paris to the palace of Versailles.  His photographs of the gardens, in particular their sculpture and ornaments, evoke a strong sense of the unique atmosphere of this place in the 1920s.

People are noticeably absent in Atget’s Versailles, giving the gardens a slightly mysterious feel.  But closer inspection shows a flower bed has been stripped out and awaits new planting – suggesting that gardeners have recently been at work here.  And what of the abandoned chairs which frequently appear next to the statues?  The sculptures form a strange but intriguing juxtaposition with these domestic scale chairs, and Atget seems content to leave the chairs randomly placed, as he finds them, allowing them to suggest a narrative.  Who last sat here?  And how did one of the chairs come to be overturned?

Atget’s photographs also explore the relationship between the sculptures and their background of trellis and foliage.  In summer, the whiteness of the stone looks crisp against a dark background of leaves, but against the natural shapes of the bare winter trees the sculptures start to seem less confident in their setting, and secondary to nature.  The monumental Arc de Triomphe, celebrating France’s victories in battle, looks melancholy covered in autumn leaves, the face of one of the heroes cast in almost total shadow.

A pioneer of documentary photography, Eugène Atget (1857 – 1927) is best known for his photographic survey of the rapidly disappearing streets of old Paris, as swathes of the city were re-developed by Haussmann in the 19th century.  Trained as an actor, he explored a career as a painter, but eventually took up photography in the 1880s.  In the early 1920s he became financially independent after selling thousands of his negatives, and so was able to pursue personal photographic projects.

Atget referred to his photographs as ‘documents’ and marketed his services to artists, providing location views of landscapes and buildings – useful source material to plan angles and perspectives.  To some extent, this explains the emotional detachment in his work, and the emphasis on the subject rather than the creator.  A rare biographical photograph of his studio shows ordered shelves housing the equipment and paraphernalia of his trade, but little suggestion as to the character of the man himself.

Atget’s detached style seems appropriate for Versailles, faithfully recording its scale and grandeur, but sometimes in the details revealing tensions and doubts, introducing a counter-narrative to the royal wealth and power on display.

More information about Eugène Atget and his work in the links below:

(Metropolitan Museum of Art, Wikimedia Commons)

(Metropolitan Museum of Art, Wikimedia Commons)

(Metropolitan Museum of Art, Wikimedia Commons)

(Metropolitan Museum of Art, Wikimedia Commons)

Bassin de Midi, Versailles. (Wikimedia Commons)

Steps next to the Orangery, Versailles. (Metropolitan Museum of Art, Wikimedia Commons)

(Wikimedia Commons)

Grille du Chateau, Versailles (Wikimedia Commons)

Ironwork from Le Grand Trianon, Versailles (Wikimedia Commons)

Le Grand Trianon, Versailles (Metropolitan Museum of Art, Wikimedia Commons)

Le Petit Trianon, Versailles (Yale University Art Gallery, Wikimedia Commons)

(Wikimedia Commons)

Coin de Parc, Versailles. (Wikimedia Commons)

Coin de Parc, Versailles (Wikimedia Commons)

Bosquet de l’Arc de Triomphe, Versailles (Wikimedia Commons)

Bosquet de l’Arc de triomphe by sculptors Coysevox, Tuby and Prou (Wikimedia Commons)

Cour du Parc, Versailles. (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Atget’s studio with contact print frames (Metropolitan Museum of Art, Wikimedia Commons)

Further Reading:

Eugene Atget on Wikipedia

Eugene Atget MoMA

Johann Hermann Knoop’s Pomologia

Pomologia, dat is, Beschryvingen en afbeeldingen van de beste soorten van appels en peeren by Johann Hermann Knoop. (1758)  Pomologia, that is, descriptions and pictures of the best varieties of apples and pears (The Getty Research Institute via archive.org)

Caroline d’Angleterre, Witte Ribbezt, Spaansche Guelderling, Peppin d’Or, Calville Blanche d’Hyver – what do these names have in common?  All are European apples, grown in the mid-18th century and recorded by Johann Hermann Knoop in his spectacular book, Pomologia, that is, descriptions and pictures of the best varieties of apples and pears (1758).

Exceptional coloured engravings reveal the immense variety in the shapes, scale and colour of these fruits.  Some of the apples have elongated shapes like plums or melons, looking quite different from those available today.  Others, like the Bruindeling and Reinette de Montbron, are exceptionally dark shades of brown, while the skin of the Reinette Grise appears to have a slightly rough texture, as well as its unusual colouring.

The pears are just as diverse.  Some, like the Bergamotte d’Oré and another, simply named Parfum, are small and round like apples.  Bourdon and Muscat-Fleury are conventionally pear shaped, but miniature.  The appropriately named Grande Monarche is a huge green pear, with a touch of redness on the side of the fruit that was exposed to the sun while growing on the tree, and ready to eat in February and March.

Born in Germany, Knoop (early 18th century – 1769) followed his father into horticulture and began his career as gardener at Marienburg, near Leeuwarden in The Netherlands.  By 1747 the estate had lost its status as a royal residence, and not long after this Knoop left his position there, with a suggestion that alcoholism might have been a factor in the termination of his employment.

Whilst still at Marienburg, Knoop’s interest in science resulted in his first publication in 1744 – an update of an existing handbook for engineers and surveyors – but it was the publication of Pomologia in 1758 that brought him wider recognition.  After Pomologia Knoop published Dendrologia (about garden trees) and Fructologia discussing fruit trees such as cherries and plums, and these three publications were sometimes sold bound together as an encyclopedia.  Reflecting Knoop’s breadth of interests, further books on subjects as diverse as heraldry and architecture followed.

Knoop’s ambitious survey of apple and pears covers varieties from the Low countries, Germany, France and England.  Information about each of these is organised in chapters to accompany the numbered plates, and includes details of the size and vigour of the trees as well as the relative merits of the fruits, such as flavour and keeping qualities – especially important before modern refrigeration.  It also served as an identification manual for readers to match fruits from their gardens to illustrations in the book.

According to the university of Utrecht, the engravings for Pomologia produced by Jacob Folkema and Jan Casper Philips were hand coloured by the daughters of the publisher, Abraham Ferwerda.  The skillful use of shading in the engravings conveys a sense of weight and solidity, while the depiction of irregularities and blemishes on the skins of the fruits lends both charm and a sense of authenticity.

Are any of the apples and pears from Knoop’s work still cultivated today?  A brief search reveals the apple Calville Blanche d’Hiver for sale at specialist growers Bernwode Fruit Trees.  Bernwode notes the cooked fruit keeps its shape and that, ‘Victorian gardeners grew the trees against a wall or under glass, for the best flavour and because chefs valued the fruit so highly.’  Calville Blanche d’Hiver can also be used as dessert apple.  The pear Jargonelle is available, and the Poire d‘Angleterre, or Engelse Beurré, with its reddish-brown skin, the flavour described as ‘melting, very juicy flesh, sweet and rich’.

Links to Pomologia (1758) and a French translation (1771) below, plus links to the universities of Delft and Utrecht for biographical information about Knoop published on their websites.

Calville Blanche d’Hyver is the green apple at the bottom right of the page.

The pear Jargonelle is seen at the bottom of this page.

The beautiful brown Poire d’Angleterre appears at the top right of this page

Further reading:

Pomologia (1758)

French translation published in 1771 Pomologia (1771)

Biography of Knoop from University of Utrecht

Discussion of Knoop’s career from Prof Cor Wagenaar, University of Delft

Bernwode Fruit Trees

Changing moods at Montacute House gardens

One of a pair of garden lodges at the original entrance to Montacute House, Somerset with yew hedging and topiary in the foreground.

Yew in all its various forms underpins the planting of the garden at Montacute House, in Somerset.  Twin rows of yew topiary line the drive to the Grade 1 listed house, while hedges of various styles and heights divide spaces and define paths and walkways.  Constructed out of local Ham Hill stone, with its deep, golden hue, Montacute House was built in the late 16th century by Sir Edward Phelips, and passed into National Trust ownership in 1927.

Under the direction of head gardener Chris Gaskin, much of Montacute’s yew is being re-shaped, bringing the plants back to a more manageable size and to a scale that is in harmony with the house and its surroundings.  This has involved some drastic pruning, reducing their height and spread and thinning the centre of the plants to bring in light and air.  Fortunately, yews respond remarkably well to this treatment, having the ability to re-generate from old wood, and are already showing fresh green growth on the cut branches.

The re-instatement of the parterre garden is also part of the plan for re-modelling the garden.  Situated on the north side of the house, this large rectangular area of lawn is sunken, with a fountain at its centre.  Stone steps on each side lead up to a surrounding walkway, providing views of the parterre and the parkland beyond.

The first step in this enormous task has been for the gardeners mark out the shape of the parterre, which they’ve done by mowing paths in the lawn.  These pathways will eventually be covered with gravel and the beds planted with flowers.  It’s expected this project will take ten years to realise – perhaps longer – as the effect of Covid-19 on the National Trust’s funding situation continues to be felt.

Towards the end of the afternoon when most of the visitors had gone home, we had the opportunity to ask two of the staff about their experience of Montacute in lockdown.  With no visitors and hardly anyone at the house, weeds started to grow up through the paving.  Without their foliage, the newly pruned yew trees looked like wooden torches and the faint outline of the parterre in the grass contributed a haunting feel to the garden.  With a bit of imagination, it felt like an abandoned place, in the process of being reclaimed by nature and pulled back into wilderness.

Although the people have now returned, this feeling has not completely disappeared – the un-mown parterre beds were full of wildflowers growing through the grass and children running along the grass pathways were delighted by the challenge of following their geometric shapes.

The lawn in front of the original entrance to the house is flanked by long flower borders and the view over the estate is framed by two matching garden lodges.  Now a tranquil space, this area would once have been a bustling courtyard, with estate traffic and guests coming and going.  It’s a reminder of how plants can create a special atmosphere – sometimes an impression of permanence and sometimes a sense of order slipping away.

More about the history of the house and gardens in the link below:

The row of yews lining the drive to the 18th century entrance before pruning. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

A line of yew trees being re-shaped. The encroaching trees behind the yews have caused them to lean towards the light and grow out of shape.

A line of yew trees being re-shaped. The encroaching trees behind the yews cause them to lean towards the light and grow out of shape.

new growth appearing on the pruned trees.

Cloud-pruned yew hedge.

The parterre garden at Montacute before restoration work. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The parterre garden

The shape of the parterre, based on a 19th century design, has been laid out by mowing pathways through the lawn.

Some of the yews are quite characterful – these look as though they are about to make off into the parkland together.

Lady’s bedstraw (Galium verum) in flower in the unmown sections of the parterre.

Steps down to the sunken parterre garden.

Rear elevation of Montacute House. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

A pair of lions with human faces hold the crest above the original front door to Montacute House.

Most of the roses had finished when we visited.

Visitors (with deep pockets) can stay in this exquisite gatehouse building at the Montacute estate, managed by the National Trust. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Further reading:

Montacute House on Wikipedia

Montacute House National Trust

Late Summer at Forde Abbey

Glasshouses in the kitchen garden at Forde Abbey, Somerset

Last week temperatures soared, making the south of England feel almost Mediterranean.  Shade becomes invaluable in a heatwave, as we seek the relief of a garden seat carefully placed on a woodland walk, or close to the cooling sound of a stream.

Both trees and water are major elements at Forde Abbey gardens.   We arrived just as the Centenary fountain was due to be activated – at certain intervals in the day, a single jet of water powers 160 feet into the air, making this the tallest fountain in the UK.  Although the air was relatively still on the day we visited, the plume of water is sensitive to any variation in the direction of the breeze, changing its shape continually, and covering the surrounding area in a fine mist – a welcome effect in the 90 degree sunshine.

The Great Pond at the southern boundary of the garden was established over 800 years ago by Cistercian monks, and by means of channels, water from this source supplies the more recently added canal and ponds.  The gardens have been developed by a succession of owners over the centuries, including the most recent, the Kennard family, who installed the fountain.

The impressive walled kitchen garden was constructed in the 19th century and is now planted in a colourful, contemporary style against a background of traditional stone walls and glasshouses.  Sweet peas are trained against a tunnel made of rustic poles, covering a central pathway, and alongside the array of vegetables and fruit is a profusion of flowering plants.  Whether grown for cutting, or encouraging crop pollinators, all the blooms contribute to the sense of abundance and generosity which characterises the entire garden.

The large growing beds are edged with low box hedges.   Sometimes, hedging around smaller vegetable beds can look fussy as well as being a lot of work to maintain.  But here, and on this scale the box looks perfect, and has a practical purpose, in some areas acting as a retaining barrier for the soil which has been built up higher than the paths with the addition of compost over years of cultivation.

Permanent crops such as asparagus, rhubarb and peonies are planted in rows alongside annual sowings of brassicas, squash, courgettes and salad vegetables.  Orange flowers always seem to feel at home in a kitchen garden and there are many examples here, including French marigolds (tagetes), alstroemeria and Tithonia rotundiflora.

The outer walls of the kitchen garden form the backdrop for a spectacular herbaceous border and it was here that, rather unexpectedly, we met Alice Kennard, working in a large brimmed hat alongside her gardeners.  Alice tells us that the border is at least fifteen feet deep – about five paces from the wall to the lawn edge.  Ordinarily, without the complications of Covid 19, much of the produce from the walled garden would be used in Forde Abbey’s kitchens catering for visitors and events, but this year much is for sale in the estate’s shop and staff are encouraged to take home what they can.

In the intense heat, I found a few precious pockets of shade in the walled kitchen garden, from which these photographs were taken.  Forde Abbey’s Grade 1 listed buildings currently remain closed, but the 30 acre garden is open daily.  More photographs of the gardens and information about Forde Abbey’s history and opening times here: Forde Abbey   Some of the covetable plants seen in the herbaceous borders are available from the Abbey’s excellent plant nursery.

Low box hedges surround the growing beds

Aramanth ‘Red Army’

Sweet peas on a rustic framework

Rhubarb in a cooler section of the garden

Beautiful clematis on a shady wall

The peach house

Tithonia rotundiflora

A ripening squash

Further reading:

Wikipedia entry for Forde Abbey: Forde Abbey on Wikipedia

Gertrude Jekyll’s Cottage Gardens

Cottage porch from Old West Surrey (1904) by Gertrude Jekyll (University of California Libraries)

Gertrude Jekyll’s Old West Surrey Some Notes and Memories (1904) represents something of a departure from her vast output of books and articles about plants and garden design.  This study of the locality around her home at Munstead Wood reveals an enthusiasm for all aspects of vernacular architecture and the rural way of life in this part of southern England, which was rapidly disappearing at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Illustrated with dozens of Jekyll’s photographs, details of farm buildings and cottages, trades, furniture, tools and everyday household articles are documented – and, of course, the people she encountered on her travels.  Jekyll dedicates a whole chapter of her book to the cottage garden, praising both the skill of the cottage gardener, and the dedication needed to maintain the displays of flowers over the season.

This style of gardening, with roses framing the front door and a profusion of flowers in the borders, was a favourite of Jekyll’s and examples of cottage gardens regularly appear in her other published works.  These gardens are still deservedly popular, despite associations of sentimentality and nostalgia, perhaps because this unpretentious style of planting complements smaller houses so well.  Any meanness in the scale of the building is softened and the cottage front garden, in particular, lifts the spirits of passers-by as well as providing pleasure for the owners themselves.

Here follow Jekyll’s photographs of cottage gardens from Old West Surrey together with some of her observations about them.   Her detailed knowledge of plants makes this a useful resource for anyone wishing to re-create a cottage garden from this period.  Links to the text below:

‘The most usual form of the cottage flower-garden is a strip on each side of the path leading from the road to the cottage door.  But if the space is a small one, it is often all given to flowers.  Sometimes, indeed, the smaller the space the more is crammed into it.  One tiny garden I used to watch with much pleasure, had nearly the whole space between road and cottage filled with a rough staging.  It was a good example of how much could be done with little means but much loving labour.  There was a tiny green-house, of which the end shows to the left of the picture, that housed the tender plants in winter, but it could not have held anything like the quantity of plants that appeared on the staging throughout the summer.  There were hydrangeas, fuschias, show and zonal geraniums, lilies and begonias, for the main show; a pot or two of the graceful francoa, and half-hardy annuals cleverly grown in pots; a clematis smothered in bloom, over the door, and, for the protection of all, a framework, to which a light shelter could be fixed in case of very bad weather.  

It must have given pleasure to thousands of passers-by; to say nothing of the pride and delight that it must have been to its owner.’

‘There is scarcely a cottage without some plants in the window; indeed the windows are often so much filled up with them that the light is too much obscured.  The wise cottagers place them outside in the summer, to make fresh growth and to gain strength.  These window plants are the objects of much care, and often make fine specimens.’ 

‘The deep-rooting Everlasting Pea (Winterbean is its local name) is a fine old cottage plant, and Nasturtiums ramble far and wide.  Nowhere else does one see such Wallflowers, Sweet-Williams, and Canterbury Bells, as in these carefully-tended little plots.’

‘Here and there is a clipped yew over a cottage entrance; but this kind of work is not so frequent as in other parts of the country.’

‘China Asters are great favourites – ‘Chaney Oysters’ the old people used to call them – and Dahlias, especially the tight, formal show kinds are much prized and grandly grown.

Sweet smelling bushes and herbs, such as rosemary, lavender, southernwood, mint, sage and balm, or at least some of them were to be found in the older cottagers’ garden plots.’

From Wood and Garden, first published in 1899.

Quintessential cottage garden from Wood and Garden first published 1899.

Further reading:

Old West Surrey

Official Website of the Gertrude Jekyll Estate

Celebrating Fairlop Friday

The Fairlop Oak surrounded by the crowed gathered to celebrate the Fairlop Friday Fair. From A Curious Account of the Origin of Fairlop Fair: with an entertaining description of the motley multitude who assemble on that occasion, published by W. Darton 1811 (images courtesy University of California Libraries, via archive.org).

On the first Friday of July,
Then people meet together,
Regardless of the summer fly,
And fearless of the weather.

The summer has always been a time for all kinds of outdoor celebrations.  While seasonal events like harvest festivals were celebrated by communities all over the country, other festivals had a specifically local character.

One of these is the Fairlop Fair (still celebrated today), a day-long event focused around the once famous Fairlop Oak in Hainault Forest, Essex.  Many English festivals have ancient roots, but the Fairlop Fair appears to be a relatively modern invention, a gathering of London workers wishing to escape the city for a rare summer holiday in the countryside.

The Fairlop Fair, which took place on the first Friday in July, was established in the early eighteenth century.  Its continuing popularity is reflected in A Curious Account of Fairlop Fair; with an entertaining description of the motley multitude who assemble on that occasion, a book for children published in 1811 by William Darton.

The book’s plentiful illustrations and verse describing the day out capture the character of the ‘motley multitude’ of Londoners travelling to Hainault.  From the packing of refreshments to sustain them through the day, to their late night meanderings home, Darton’s vivid portraits of everyone from typical family groups to revellers packed onto carts and coaches conveys the rambunctious nature of Fair’s visitors.

The Fairlop Oak is well documented in paintings and prints, (many examples of which can be seen on the Hainault Forest website) and these images record the tree’s gradual decline over the years, showing its hollow trunk and dying branches.  In its heyday the Fairlop Oak’s trunk measured more than thirty feet in circumference, while its canopy was said to cover an acre of ground.  Although the tree was all but dead by the time Darton records the Fair, the event still drew in crowds of visitors.

The celebration was started by Mr Thomas Day, a boat-builder from Wapping, and Darton explains to the young reader how Day and his friends would travel to the Fairlop Oak in a horse-drawn boat.  The boat, filled with musicians, would be paraded around the old tree.  This spectacle gradually attracted more and more people, and so the Fair began.  Some fascinating photographs on the Hainault Forest website show that a boat on wheels still travelled by road to the Fair from the East End of London as late as 1901.

There’s a sense in which Fairlop Friday with its music, crowds, and copious alcohol mirrors the supposedly more genteel garden gatherings at venues in central London from this time, at Vauxhall and Ranelagh.  The Fair also anticipates the immense popularity of today’s outdoor music festivals like Glastonbury.

Sadly, most of these festivals are unable to go ahead this year due to Covid-19, and judging by the unusually large crowds of people in my local park, enjoying the sun and picnics in the shade of the plane trees, they’re much missed.  There are links to the Hainault Forest website and Darton’s book below.

A family gets dressed for the fair, with their coach waiting for them outside.

Thomas Day, founder of Fairlop Fair drinking and smoking with his friends at the foot of the oak – whilst musicians entertain them.

Thomas Day’s extraordinary boat.

Thomas Day is said to have taken a branch of the Fairlop Oak with which to fashion his coffin.

A festival atmosphere greets visitors to the Fairlop Fair.

This carriage is over-loaded with travellers – many of whom are drinking heavily.

Outdoor events are at the mercy of the weather – here revellers are rained off.

The return to London – the dome of St Paul’s is visible across the fields. Many travellers look the worse for wear.

Further reading:

A Curious Account of the Origin of Fairlop Fair

Hainault Forest website – Fairlop Oak

Hainault Forest website – Fairlop Fair

Trellis work from The Netherlands

Illustration from Den Nederlandtsen Hovenier, or, The Dutch Gardener (1669) by gardener Jan van der Groen.  The reader is invited into the garden to learn the secrets of Dutch horticulture – including some fabulous trellis work. The Getty Research Institute via archive.org

If you look closely, images of 17th century gardens often reveal glimpses of elaborate trellis and lattice work.  Styled to echo architectural features, they provide shaded walkways and privacy for visitors, as well as year round structure in the garden.  Openings in the trellis work frame views of the garden, softened by the foliage and flowers supported by their frameworks.

Frequently, however, it’s hard to see from illustrations exactly how the trellis work was constructed – the plant cover might be too dense, or the structure is too far in the background to be able to see much detail.  While many gardening books from this period contain patterns for knot gardens it’s more unusual to see designs for trellis structures, so I was delighted to find some contained in Het Vermakelijck Landt-leven (1669) which translated from the Dutch means The Pleasurable Country Life.

This book brings together several texts – two about gardening and others about household medicine, bee-keeping and cooking.  A gardener’s calendar explains about plants and seasonal tasks while Den Nederlandtsen Hovenier, or, The Dutch Gardener by Jan van der Groen, a gardener to the Dutch royal family, contains illustrations of some of the country’s finest gardens together with dozens of designs for parterres – and trellis.

According to Lenneke Berkhout at the University of Groningen, Jan van der Groen married into a family of stadholder gardeners, who managed gardens belonging to wealthy households, and by way of this connection he was able to build his career.  Berkhout notes that Van der Groen’s father grew and supplied plants to stadholder gardens alongside his main profession as a broom maker, which might have sparked his son’s early interest in horticulture.

In Dutch society, a stadholder gardener had the status of an overseer, and was part of the middle class, probably owning their own property.  In the mid-17th century there would have been many such stadholder gardeners employed in the Netherlands, but Van der Groen was remarkable in that he wrote a book about his experiences.  Berkhout says, ‘Ultimately, it was the publication of his book that set Van der Groen apart from his peers.  No other court gardener ever penned such a work.’

As you’d expect from a gardener to royalty, many of the trellis structures featured in Van der Groen’s book are extremely complex.  Some of the porticos are crowned with globes and pyramids, and have alcoves for statuary – others have trees incorporated into the structure, their tightly clipped canopies emerging from a trellis vase at the summit.

However, in the last two pages of illustrations the designs are less complicated and smaller in scale.  Constructed out of lateral lengths of wood, these include a charming arbour with a seat, some gateways and a simple colonnade.  As with some of the patterns for knot gardens, these trellis designs could be scaled according to space and budget.

When re-constructing period gardens today the choice of appropriate plants is important, of course, but these striking images show that features like trellis also play a crucial part in creating a space that possesses an atmosphere of the past.

Links to Het Vermakelijck Landt-leven below:

Lattice work in the shape of pyramids, a pillar and a vase designed to incorporate a standard tree growing through it. One of the structures reveals wooden spikes at the bottom to fix it into the ground.

Rosa x alba ‘Alba Maxima’ (A) or the white rose of York grown on an arbour constructed of hazel poles in the 17th century garden at the Geffrye Museum (2016)

Further reading:

Het Vermakelijck Landt-leven

As ever, David Marsh at the Gardens Trust has explored this subject comprehensively – link to his blog : Treillage

Lenneke Berkhout’s article about royal gardener Jan van der Groen