Category Archives: Garden History

A Cottage and Garden

from An Account of a Cottage and Garden in Tadcaster. Sir Thomas Bernard, 1797 (Wikimedia Commons)

Picturesque cottages might be so disposed around a park, as to ornament and enliven the scenery with much more effect, than those misplaced gothic castles, and those pigmy models of Grecian temples, that perverted taste is so busy with: but it is the unfortunate principle of ornamental buildings in England that they should be uninhabited and uninhabitable.

This impassioned call for landowners to reject the fashion for ornamental garden structures and build cottages on their estates instead, to address a rural housing shortage caused by inclosure, comes from the social reformer Sir Thomas Bernard’s fascinating text An Account of a Cottage and Garden in Tadcaster (1797).  It was published for the Society for Bettering the Condition and Increasing the Comforts of the Poor, a charity which Bernard helped to found.

The picturesque cottage garden is a powerful motif in English garden history.  The cottage garden represents a modest beauty, simplicity, a place of domestic production, supplying fruit, flowers and vegetables to the owners; perhaps some eggs, or honey.  It is unpretentious, a sanctuary, in harmony with nature and its surroundings; it possesses an essential integrity born out of hard work and self-reliance.  All these qualities are attractive, of course, and the cottage garden style is one many aspire to re-create today.

The first garden Bernard discusses belongs to Britton Abbot.  At the age of 67 Abbot is still working as an agricultural labourer.  The interview with Abbot takes place on a Saturday afternoon – his wife is sent to fetch him from a field where he is working a mile or so away.  Abbot’s fortunes had nearly collapsed when his previous house and land were enclosed.  He appealed to a local landowner, who gave him a strip of land upon which he was able to build his current house and establish the garden.  Without this generous assistance, it is likely Abbot and his family would have faced ruin.

Abbot’s garden is about a quarter of an acre and has a hedge enclosing the garden.  Cultivated by his wife and noted for its neatness, the garden contains, ‘fifteen apple-trees, one green gage, and three winesour plum-trees, two apricot-trees, several gooseberry and currant bushes, abundance of common vegetables, and three hives of bees’.

The produce the Abbots would expect to harvest annually from the garden amounts to, ‘about 40 bushels of potatoes, besides other vegetables; and his fruit, in a good year, is worth from £3 to £4 a year.  His wife occasionally goes out to work; she also spins at home, and takes care of his house and garden’.

Bernard appeals to other landowners to give land to working people to be used in the same way:

The quarter of an acre that Britton Abbot inclosed was not worth a shilling a year. It now contains a good house and a garden, abounding in fruit, vegetables, and almost every thing that constitutes the wealth of the cottager.  In such inclosures, the benefit to the country, and to the individuals of the parish, would far surpass any petty sacrifice of land to be required.  FIVE UNSIGHTLY, UNPROFITABLE, ACRES OF WASTE GROUND WOULD AFFORD HABITATION AND COMFORT TO TWENTY SUCH FAMILIES AS BRITTON ABBOT’S.

The second case study, contained in an Account of the produce of a Cottager’s Garden in Shropshire (1806) features Richard Millward’s garden.  Millward is a collier, and his wife Jane cultivates agricultural land, and a garden, which together amount to just over an acre.

The wife has managed the ground in a particular manner for thirteen years with potatoes and wheat, chiefly by her own labour; and in a way which has yielded good crops, and of late fully equal, or rather superior, to the produce of the neighbouring farms, and with little or no expense; but she has improved her mode of culture during the last six years.

Jane Millward has introduced the new cultivation method after becoming frustrated waiting for local farmers to have the time to plough the larger part of the garden for her.  Now she and her husband do all the work themselves.  In October, she sows wheat straight into the ground where potatoes have been, so the wheat over-winters in the ground.  Then the ground which has grown wheat in the previous year is dug for planting potatoes the following spring.  This excerpt gives an impression of the sheer hard work involved planting the potatoes:

The ground is dug for potatoes in the month of March and April, to the depth of about nine inches.  This digging would cost sixpence per pole, if hired.  After putting in the dung, the potatoes are planted in rows, about twelve or fourteen inches distant.  The dung is carried out in a wheelbarrow and it takes a great many days to plant the whole, generally ten days.  Her husband always assists in digging, after his hours of ordinary labour.

In the vegetable garden Jane plants peas, beans, cabbages and early potatoes for the family plus turnips which she boils for their pig.  Both accounts give us an unusual amount of detail about the gardens and the way they were arranged and used.

Sir Thomas Bernard (1750 – 1818) spent much of his working life on social projects to improve conditions for the poor.  He helped to establish the Society for Bettering the Condition and Increasing the Comforts of the Poor and was treasurer of the Foundling Hospital in London.  He also established a school for the blind.  He was an advocate of vaccination, rural allotments and was instrumental in obtaining consents for the building of the Regent’s Canal.

Below is a link to the 1806 version of Bernard’s text which is very short and well worth reading.  Also some contemporary images of rural scenes and cottage gardens and a link to Margaret Willes’s The Gardens of the Working Classes – an extraordinary survey of gardens belonging to ordinary working people in the UK.

An Account of a Cottage and Garden in Tadcaster. Sir Thomas Bernard, 1797 (Wikimedia Commons)

Account of Britton Abbot’s cottage and garden : and of a cottager’s garden in Shropshire : to which is added Jonas Hobson’s advice to his children, and the contrast between a religious and sinful life. 1806 (Biodiversity Heritage Library)

The Natural History of Selborne 1789 (The Wellcome Library)

Hanging Washing with Pigs and Chickens 1797 Thomas Bewick (Wikimedia Commons)

Wheat, beans, peas

published by Yale University Press

Account of Britton Abbot’s Cottage and Garden 1806

(from the Biodiversity Heritage Library)

Sir Thomas Bernard

The Gardens of the British Working Class

Gardens for Small Country Houses

June borders of lupin and iris in the Garden at Munstead Wood from Gardens for Small Country Houses

Between the first edition of Gardens for Small Country Houses published in 1912, and the fourth which appeared in 1920, the world had changed.  The effects of the Great War on the population and economy of the UK were profound and those whose wealth and status had insulated them in the past faced the challenges of a new economic and political climate.

But change brings opportunity.  In the preface to the fourth edition, a collaboration between designer Gertrude Jekyll and Lawrence Weaver, architectural editor of Country Life, they anticipate the rise in popularity of the small country house, both with wealthy down-sizers and new owners.

Without seeking to fill the role of gloomy prophet, we cannot escape the belief that the changes in social life and habit, which are the mark of our economic troubles, are striking at the maintenance of great gardens, as of great houses, in this pleasant land. But if those who have built up, kept, and loved so well their spacious gardens, must needs be content with smaller houses, and if, as seems likely, the wider distribution of wealth will lead to-morrow to the creation of many more small country houses, the art of making gardens for such houses will increase in importance.

Clearly, to the Country Life reader a ‘small’ house was, by modern standards, quite substantial.  See below for an example of a building Jekyll and Weaver describe as a small cottage:

In the book Jekyll and Weaver suggest how a harmonious relationship between house and garden might be created in terms of its scale, features, planting and placement the wider landscape.  Their expertise ensures that the case studies used for approaches for garden design in various locations in the UK are still illuminating today, even if our tastes in garden styles might have moved on.

Jekyll identifies both medieval and Tudor gardens as inspirations for the ‘new’ gardens she and others were making in England at this time.  Both Jekyll and Weaver admired the hillside garden at Owlpen Manor in Gloucestershire (now a hotel), an example of a formal garden where large, bold yew topiary and hedging are used to anchor the house to its surroundings.

.. with what modesty the house nestles against the hillside and seeks to hide itself amidst regiments of yews. Great skill has been shown in their planting, for they emphasise the drops between the existing levels of the terrace, even though they partly veil them.

Using photographs and plans Jekyll and Weaver explain how the changes of level have been used.  Without this terracing and the dramatic yew planting, the house might appear to be about to fall off this steep hillside, but actually looks secure and intriguing, partly obscured by foliage.  The repeated yew also also echoes the mass of the woodland above the house, which otherwise might feel oppressive.

Owlpen: view from north-west from point B (see plan)

 

Curved entrance stairway at Owlpen Manor

The climber on walls of the house has been clipped very precisely at different levels (below the window on the right of the picture and above on the left).  These solid blocks of foliage help to reinforce the formal feel of the planting.  The dark yews contrast with the pale stone of the house and also form a backdrop for the beautiful gateway with its curved steps.

Curved stone steps appear as a design feature in many new gardens shown in this book, including those pictured below at Highmount, in Surrey.  Also located on a steep slope, these curved steps were used by Jekyll as part of an ambitious design for the garden of a new house.

Jekyll explains,

The garden ground, all on the southern face of the hill .. had already been laid out to a certain degree when the garden designer took it in hand.  Tennis lawn, croquet lawn and bowling green had been levelled and made; but the steepness of the remainder composed of grassy slopes between clumps of shrubs and flowers of no particular design, was found to be incommodious, and great need was felt for something more restful and systematic.

Jeykll’s solution was to dig into the chalk hillside to create a large level space, and install retaining walls to provide some shelter in this exposed site.  She acknowledges that this solution was expensive and applauds her client’s willingness ‘to face the necessary outlay, by no means a slight one’.

Highmount, Guildford: General Plan

One of the features of Jekyll’s general plan of the garden is a rose garden, at the bottom of the slope with a water lily tank at one end, and a six foot high retaining wall running along the entire length, the top of which was planted with plants that would tolerate the free draining and exposed position.  Jekyll says,

The wall is in full sun, and the good plants and sub-shrubs we have from the Mediterranean region – lavender, rosemary, santolina, othonna and so on, with pinks, stonecrops and several of the rock loving campanulas of the Alps (to name only a few of the plants utilised) – rejoice in the full southern exposure and the brilliant, unveiled light of the high elevation.

Photographs of the garden (taken two years after planting) show the extent of the works.

From the middle of the rose garden. View point C on general plan.

Circular tank and steps at west end of rose garden. Point of view “A” on general plan.

The west end of the pergola, from view point “G” on general plan.

The garden-houses, from view point “F” on general plan.

Many of Jekyll’s planting plans are reproduced in the book, showing her method of planting in drifts, using groupings of the same plant to amplify their effect.  For Highmount Jekyll talks about the importance of having a coherent planting scheme to define each section of the garden.

Offering to the eye one clear picture at a time they rescue the beholder from the distracting impression of general muddle and want of distinct intention that is so frequent in gardens and so wasteful – wasteful because a place may be full of fine plants, grandly grown, but if they are mixed up without thought or definite scheme they only produce an unsatisfactory effect, instead of composing together into a harmonious picture.

Planting plan of borders of West Walk. See general plan.  Jeykll describes the colour scheme as ‘mostly of yellows, with tender and brilliant blue’.

The mixed borders of the west walk (above) featured golden privet, box and elder and a single yellow rose ‘Jersey Beauty’ as well as rudbeckia, helenium, anthemis, verbascum, tansy and yellow snapdragon.  Splashes of blue were provided by lavender, delphinium and campanula.  Nothing if not colourful.

Gardens for Small Country Houses

Gertrude_Jekyll

Lawrence Weaver

Parkinson’s Tulips

Autumn is the time to plant tulips, so it seems strangely apt that John Parkinson (1567 – 1650) should describe a yellow tulip grown in the early 17th century as having the colour of a dead leaf;

     A sullen or smoakie yellow, like a dead leaf that is fallen, and therefore called, Fuille mort

He describes other yellow tulips just as evocatively,

     A faire gold yellow

     A Strawe colour       

     A Brimstone colour pale yellowish greene 

     A pale cloth of gold colour

     A Custard colour a pale yellow shadowed over with a browne ..

Written in English, Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris (1629) (or, Park-in-Sun’s Terrestrial Paradise) by apothecary and botanist John Parkinson describes how English gardens were cultivated in the early 17th century. Divided into three sections Parkinson discusses the flower garden, kitchen garden and fruit garden with instructions how to ‘order’ or set these out, as well as giving advice about improving the soil, garden tools and the cultivation of plants.  Most of the illustrations were original woodcuts by the German artist Christopher Switzer. Parkinson was apothecary to James I and royal botanist to Charles I.  His garden was in Long Acre, London, close to Trafalgar Square.

In the book Parkinson lists well over one hundred varieties of tulip then available, including the striped, feathered and flamed tulips that were so popular in 17th century.  Amongst them Parkinson lists white tulips with purple edges, a white speckled with a reddish purple which ‘holds its marks constant’, a ‘Crimson Fooles Coate, a dark crimson, and pale white empaled together’, a tulip of a ‘deepe Orenge colour’, ‘a red with small yellow edges’, and a Fooles Cappe, that is, with lists or stripes of yellow running through the middle of every leafe of the red..’

1. The early white and red Tulipa, &c. being of one colour 2. The early purple Tulipa with white edges or the Prince. 3. The early stript Tulipa 4. The early red Tulipa with yellow edges, or the Duke.

Parkinson could not have understood the process by which a viral infection causes the pigment in tulip petals to ‘break’, and produce the striped effect.  But he makes a remarkable observation connecting the spectacular patterns shown by these tulips with disease.  Parkinson notices a ‘weaknesse‘ or loss of vigour in some plants whose flowers start off as a solid colour, but over several seasons develop the characteristic white streaks, believing this to be caused by a ‘decay of the roote’.

He also links this beauty with transience, identifying the point when the diseased tulip will die, as the moment when the bloom is most beautiful:

       .. this extraordinary beauty in the flower, is but as the brightnesse of a light, upon the very extinguishing thereof, and doth plainly declare, that it can do its master no more service, and therefore with this jollity doth bid him good night.

1. The red Bolonia Tulipa 2. The yellow Bolonia Tulipa 3. The red or yellow dwarfe Tulipa 4. The leafe of the Tulipa of Caffa striped throughout the whole leaf 5. the leafe of the Tulipa of Caffa striped at the edges only 6. the Persian Tulipa 7. the Tulipa of Candie 8. The Tulipa of Armenia

1. The Fooles Coate red and yellow 2. The white Holeas without a bottome 3. The cloth of silver, or other spotted Tulipa 4. The white Fooles Coate 5. a white Holeas, &c. with a purple bottome 6. a red and yellow flamed Tulipa 7. a white striped and spotted Tulipa 8. another variable Tulipa

1. A Tulipa of three colours 2. the Tulipa of Caffa purple, with white stripes 3. A pure Claret wine colour variable 4. Mr Wilmers Gilloflower Tulipa 5. A Crimson with white flames 6. A kind of Zwitser called Goliath 7. A Tulipa called Zwitser 8. Another white Flambant or Fooles Coate 9. The Vermillion flamed 10. The feathered Tulipa red and yellow

The section describing mid-season yellow flowering tulips also contains some intriguing green tulips, one of which is called the Parret.

     Unto these may be added the greene Tulipa, which is also of divers sorts.  One having a great flower of a deep greene colour, seldom opening it self, but abiding alwaies as it were halfe shut up and closed .. Another of a yellowish or palish greene, paned with yellow, and is called, The Parret &c. with white edges. A third of a more yellowish greene, with red or purplish edges ..

Interestingly Parkinson’s parrot tulip does not seem to have the ruffled petals we associate with these flowers today, but it is parti-coloured, meaning that it consists of two or more different colours. This term is still commonly used to describe the plumage of parrots.

The first green tulip mentioned in Parkinson’s list sounds rather like a modern variety Tulipa ‘Evergreen’ which stays green throughout the flowering period.  Others sound like the Viridiflora tulips with the characteristic green bands on the petals.  Many of the modern parrot tulips still show some green colouration in their petals.

The parrots shown below (some of them green) are illustrated by John Jonston (1603 – 1675) and come from a natural history of birds published in 1657.  Psittacus minor looks very much like the ring-necked parakeet, originally from India and now resident in some parts of the UK.

Various parrot and parakeet species from Historiae Naturalis de Avibus 1657

Various parrot species from Historiae Naturalis de Avibus 1657

Leaf (Populus spp), straw, feather from ring-necked parakeet

Link to Parkinson’s text at the Biodiversity Heritage Library:

Paradisi in sole paradisus terrestris (John Parkinson)

Link to Historiae naturalis de Avibus libri 6. cum aeneis figuris Johannes Jonstonus, medicinae doctor, concinnavit 1657 (published in Amsterdam)

http://Historiae Naturalis de Avibus

Ring-necked parakeet

RSPB

 

Link

Other people’s houses (and gardens) have always excited our curiosity. Today’s books and magazines dedicated to the latest styles in domestic architecture, interior design and gardens give us ideas, inspiration, aspiration. As visitors they allow us into houses we will never live in, guests of owners we will never know. In these worlds everything is perfect; there is no dust, no unfinished decorating projects.

De Zegepraalende Vecht  (the triumphant Vecht) could be seen as an interesting precursor of the modern lifestyle publication. Published in Amsterdam in 1719 it records the most notable houses and gardens on the river Vecht, illustrated in meticulous detail by Daniel Stopendael.

The Vecht, a branch of the Rhine originating in Utrecht, was already home to medieval castles but in the 17th century became the place for the newly wealthy from Amsterdam to build lusthooven or recreational houses. Whilst not on the scale of a royal palace, these are grand houses, by most people’s standards, which would have been used by their owners in the summer months.

Daniel Stopendael (1672 – 1726) was an artist and engraver based in Amsterdam producing architectural drawings and maps.  His father Bastiaan followed the same profession.

In his book, we don’t see inside the buildings, but the exteriors and the layouts of the gardens give a fascinating insight into the styles of architecture and garden design that were fashionable in the Netherlands at this time.  Larger houses, such as Hoogevechts, command several pages depicting all the features of the garden, while smaller houses have just a single page.

The influence of French garden design is everywhere, in the formal avenues, parterres, the hedges, topiary and the symmetry. The captions at the foot of each illustration are in Dutch and French.  A commentary on Gunterstein (one of the smaller houses mentioned in the book) describes how the French born owner Magdelena Poulle would ‘use prints of the latest French gardens to create designs, garden furniture, statues and features’. It seems likely this book might have been used in the same way, by those looking for ideas for their gardens.

Alongside the gardens Stopendael supplies glimpses of ordinary life on this stretch of waterway; people fishing, travelling, visiting; sometimes gardeners can be seen at work.  Many of the gardens use water from the river which is diverted to form canals and feed elaborate fountains.

The symmetry of the double fronted houses is repeated in the design of the gardens, with their lines of trees, hedges, and spaced topiary. The planting is precise and controlled. The trees are spaced evenly and pruned so that their naturalistic shape is preserved, and their height is maintained in a close relationship with the house (at least, at this point in the garden’s development). The hedges and topiary are meticulously clipped into solid geometric shapes in contrast to the looser form of the trees.

Wooden trellis supporting a line of espaliered trees together with a gardener and wheelbarrow.

Climbing plants are supported by wooden trellis on the wall of the house and the roof of the smaller building.

Interesting wooden seats either side of the garden gates.

Do you think these animals were allowed off their rectangular island from time to time?

I’m intrigued by Groenevechts (pictured below) where the planting becomes an extension of the building. On either side of the house are green ‘walls’ with a parapet and openings suggesting windows and a door.  A man passes through one of the green doorways to the garden beyond.

This text can be found at archive.org where you can also enlarge the illustrations and inspect them more closely – link below:

De Zegepraalende Vecht

Many of these houses still survive and can be identified via http://rijksmonumenten.nl/

The ladies’ bee mentor

Have you noticed that employing a bee mentor is all the fashion right now amongst garden commentators like Monty Don and Alys Fowler?  It seems we are continually excited by the idea of keeping bees (especially if we live in urban areas) and each generation produces its new set of bee experts.

Samuel Bagster (1800 – 1835) was a printer and author, with a special interest in bees. His book The Management of Bees, with a description of the Ladies’ Saftey Hive (1834) describes the natural history of bees and discusses the current ideas of managing bees, with details of hive designs.

Bagster explains the disadvantages of the traditional straw hive, still used by cottagers. Although romantic, the thatched roof is impractical, soon rotting and letting in rain and pests; an upturned milk pan is seen as an improvement.  Better still is the bee house, a painted wooden structure a bit like a cupboard with shelves inside to house a number of straw hives. Bagster observes

Amateur holders of bees, who prefer “the way their fathers trod,” have improved on the out-door exposure to wet and insects by putting their hives into a bee-house, which in some gardens, is a very ornamental object. The purse generally regulates the beauty. These houses are built about eighteen inches deep from front to back, four feet wide and six feet high with three shelves; and are capable of containing nine good sized hives, three in a row. The front is a fixture, perforated with nine holes opposite the places where the nine hives stand on the shelves; and before each hole an alighting board.

straw hive with thatched roof

straw hive with improvised milk pan roof

 

 

the cottage bee house

Bagster discusses ‘storifying’ systems, where the hives are placed on top of each other to give colonies more space, Stephen White’s collateral bee boxes and Madame Vicat’s hive where four boxes are screwed together.  Chapters on swarming, fumigation and an evaluation of Thomas Nutt’s ventilating hive follow.

Bagster’s own invention, the ladies’ safety hive, was developed for his wife who was nervous of handling bees.  His wooden bee house, looking something like a doll’s house in cross section, incorporates multiple spaces for the bees, which they can expand into, and so prevent the loss of colonies by swarming.

His instructions for managing the bee house are detailed and particularly important points are written in italics or even capital letters: ‘Remember the instructions to capture all the queens; and one only is to be put into the hive before you put the bees into the centre.  I repeat, ONE ONLY.’  Got that, ladies?

The ladies’ safety hive

The ladies’ safety hive – interior

Bagster supplies detailed instructions for making the ladies’ safety hive, but it could also be bought ready made from a florist in Newgate Street, his company’s office in Bartholomew Close or, from his house in Shepherds Bush.  Bagster would also deliver the hive, complete with bees.

Biodiversity Heritage Library

Samuel Bagster the Younger

Alys Fowler discusses her bee mentor

Rabel’s Parterres de Broderie

Livre de differants desseings de parterres by Daniel Rabel was published in Paris, in 1630 and these plates show a series of designs for his elaborate parterres.

Daniel Rabel (1578 – 1637) was an artist whose work included portraiture, botanical illustration and set designs and costumes for ballet.  He also published several books and established a botanical garden in Blois in the Loire valley.

Rabel’s sophisticated designs are representations of intricate embroidery with plants used as coloured threads to create the overall appearance of a piece of richly decorated fabric.

The scrolling design of these parterres could be made out of low growing herbs; Rabel suggests rosemary, lavender, camomile and thyme.  Sand would have been used for the compartimens or spaces in between the planting. Planning and constructing one of these parterres would have been a major task, making them an option for the wealthy. The embroidery effect could best be appreciated from an elevated position, from the windows of the house (or palace).

The French broderie parterres were developed at the beginning of the 17th century by Claude Mollet. The style was brought to England by Henrietta Maria after her marriage to Charles 1 in 1625, when she employed Mollet to modernise the royal gardens.

Could Rabel’s designs be used as inspiration for a garden today?  Certainly they would be invaluable if you were recreating a parterre in a historic garden specific to 17th century France. But the formality and artificiality of the embroidery concept together with tight control of plants necessary to create such intricate patterns seems out of step with current taste which favours a naturalistic look and lower maintenance planting.

The charming, if romanticised, gardeners pictured at the front of the book have secured a good view of the parterre garden.  She seems to have been gathering fruit while he poses with a spade and other gardening equipment including a large scissors, small sickle, watering can, rake and a line.  He seems to be wearing loose cut culottes, a bit like plus fours.

http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/bibliography/33324#/summary

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Rabel

The Making of the English Gardener

John Rea’s Jewel Gardens

J Rea 01

To understand how a gentleman’s garden might have looked in the mid-17th century, John Rea’s book is a good starting point.  The gardens described are intended for the gentry and possibly the upwardly mobile, (maybe someone of the means and career trajectory of Samuel Pepys). Rea gives instructions for the construction of a fashionable garden to complement a country house, with areas for fruit, vegetables and flowers, which can be scaled up or down depending on the size of the building.

Rea describes himself as a ‘florist’; not an arranger of cut flowers as we understand the term today, but more of a horticultural expert who grew plants for sale and knew how to plant up gardens.

As well areas for growing plants, Rea recommends two essential buildings; an octagonal summer house for entertaining, sheltering from the rain, or sorting through tulip bulbs and a separate store for tools.

The ‘Draughts for Gardens’ which follow are designs for a flower garden, and show geometric beds (the darker areas, which Rea calls ‘Frets’), with gravel pathways between them.  The beds would have been edged with painted wooden boards or with French box, which Rea points out would take about three years to reach maturity and would need to have their roots pruned from time to time, to stop them taking too much goodness from soil and the rest of the plants.

For those who already have an enclosed garden, Rea explains that these designs can be altered to fit the space available

‘And because divers have Gardens already enclosed, that the measure of the forementioned Fret will not fit, I have therefore designed Draughts of several sizes, that every one may take that which best agrees with his ground, and is most proper for his purpose;’

Do the patterns suggested for the flower gardens have a meaning?  According to Rea the arrangement of the flower beds are supposed to represent jewel boxes, with the flowers as the jewels. Reas describes the ‘draughts’ as fashioned ‘in the form of a Cabinet, with several boxes fit to receive, and securely to keep, Natures choicest jewels.’  

Rea’s planting suggestions for the ‘jewel box’ gardens appear throughout his text and include the flowering plants that were most prized at this time.  Rea encourages the garden owner to consider the balance of plants when planting the beds.

‘Now for planting the Beds in the Fret, you must consider every piece, and place the Roots so as those of a kind set in several Beds may answer one another; as in the corners of each Bed the best Crown-Imperials, Lilies, Martagons and such tall flowers; in the middles of the five Squares great Tufts of the best Pionies, and round about them several sorts of Cyclamen; the rest with Daffodils, Hyacinths and such like: the streight Beds are fit for the best Tulips, where account may be kept of them: Ranunculus and Anemonies also require particular Beds; the rest my be set all over with the more ordinary sorts of Tulips, Fritillaries, bulbed Iris and all other kinds of good Roots, in such sort you will find directed where they are described.’

Could these designs be used as inspiration for a modern looking garden in a historical setting? The designs have a scale and authenticity which would match a 17th century house, and there’s no reason why the planting couldn’t be updated, using the perennials and grasses that we like now.  Or perhaps elements could be used; the edging of one of the designs could be introduced somewhere in a modern garden making a link back to the jewel gardens of the past.

JR Parterre 01

JR Parterre 02

JR Parterre 03

JR Parterre 04

JR Parterre 05

JR Parterre 06

JR Parterre 07

JR Parterre 08

A link to Rea’s book at the Biodiversity Heritage Library:

http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/bibliography/50878#/summary

Brian Stephens’ biographical essay on the life and work of John Rea:

http://www.wyreforest.net/2014/01/02/john-rea-florist-of-kinlet-1605-1677-brian-stephens/

The Fountains of Georg Andreas Böckler

¨¨¨¨¨architecturacuri00bock_0083

Georg Andreas Böckler (1617 – 1687) was a German architect and engineer. He also wrote about architecture and related topics such as hydraulics. Published in 1664, Architectura curiosa nova features dozens of designs for fountains, showing how water could be manipulated by means of hydraulics to create an extraordinary range of different effects.

The first section of his book discusses the internal workings of fountains, while these illustrations from the second section represent a small sample of the 71 fountain designs shown. By comparison to some of the fountains that follow later in the book they are relatively straightforward in their construction, with jets of water emanating from one central column or pedestal.

The effect of these seeming endless variations of fountain designs is rather like a plant catalogue showing different hybrid flower shapes; like a succession of dahlias with the rolled, pointed petals of the cactus varieties, or the pompons with their round, ball shapes.

Some of the fountain pedestals resemble domestic items, like candelabra; in others the water performs a trick; holding up a ball, or tells a joke, where the fountain rains down onto a figure holding an umbrella.  The texture of the water ranges from single jets sprays, to continuous surfaces, created by rows of jets placed next to each other.  When the jets are directed upwards in a circle, the water forms a bowl shape, or if the jet circle is perpendicular to the ground, a curious circular shape is formed, like a flower or a Catherine wheel, (although I don’t believe the mechanism would have spun around).

architecturacuri00bock_0097

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These jets seem to resemble a wheat sheaf

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Biodiversity Heritage Library

Georgian Gardens for Women

What kind of garden did women want in the late Georgian period?  Maria Elisabetha Jacson (1755 – 1829) thought she knew, and using a lifetime’s interest in botany, wrote this book about designing gardens. The Florist’s Manual, or, Hints for the Construction of a Gay Flower-Garden was published in 1816 and sets out the author’s philosophy of garden design with coloured illustrations showing model garden layouts and lists of plants that could be used in the borders.

The book, which ran to three editions, is aimed at women and Jacson encourages her readers to take an active role in directing how their garden should look, from the shapes of the borders to the choice of plants, rather than leaving it to their gardeners:

A Flower-Garden is now become a necessary appendage of every fashionable residence, and hence it is more frequently left to the direction of a gardener, than arranged by the guidance of genuine taste in the owner;

Two hundred years on, the book remains a valuable resource for information about the design of gardens in the late Georgian period, and which plants were available and fashionable. In terms of scale, these are not gardens for stately homes, but for the aspirational middle classes.

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Jacson’s recipe for successful planting is a ‘mingled flower-garden’ in which plant species are combined for their beautiful and naturalistic effect and for ‘a succession of bloom’. This a break with the common practice she describes of grouping the same species of plants together in formal beds. Jacson explains the disadvantage of this form of planting, which is that once the flowers are over there is a gap.

.. in some gardens this appearance of a whole is entirely destroyed by the injudicious taste of setting apart distinct borders for pinks, hepaticas, primulas, or any other favourite kinds of flowers;

.. these distinct borders, although beautiful in themselves, break that whole which should always be presented to the eye by the mingled flower-garden; as single beds, containing one species only, form a blank before that species produces its flowers, and a mass of decaying leaves when the glow of their petals is no more.

The book contains extensive lists of colour co-ordinated groups of plants with times of flowering from February to August so that readers could apply her plant selections to their own gardens.  From her list of plants ‘red shade from pink to scarlet’ we might choose Hyacinths and primulas for February to May followed by Cistus, Gaura (red and white striped flowers) and Mondara didyma from May to October.  Interestingly Jacson prefers to group similar colours together rather than mixing contrasting colours together.

Jacson suggests using groups of the same plant so that the planting scheme doesn’t look fragmented, advice which feels startlingly contemporary;

.. without frequent repetition of the same plant, it will be in vain to attempt a brilliant flower-garden

Jacson admits that designing a garden or border is quite a difficult thing to do successfully, which, for anyone who has tried, is hard to disagree with?

It is more difficult than may at first appear, to plan, even upon a small scale, such a piece of ground; nor perhaps, would any but an experienced scientific eye be aware of the difficulties to be encountered in the disposal of a few shaped borders interspersed with turf. 

The Florist’s Manual is available online at the Wellcome Library and The Biodiversity Heritage Library.

Wellcome Library

Biodiversity Heritage Library

 

Of the Marigolds of Peru

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from ‘The Herball, or General Historie of Plantes’ by John Gerard (1597)

To discover the range of plants that were available and grown in late 16th century gardens The Herball, or General Historie of Plantes is an invaluable resource.  The book records and illustrates plants known to European cultivation including trees, shrubs, plants grown for the kitchen and garden, herbs, wildflowers and weeds. At the same time the author John Gerard provides insights into contemporary domestic culture, such as the use of plants for medicine, decorating houses and even feeding caged birds, while his travels around London and beyond reveal the places where wild plants can be found.

To give a flavour of the book, here follows a selection of plants commonly known at that time as marigolds. Gerard makes this observation about sunflowers, then known as the Marigolde of Peru, expressing the wonder at their size that we still share today

The Indian Sunne or the golden flower of Peru, is a plant of such stature and tallnesse, that in one sommer being sowen of a seede in April, it hath risen up to the height of fourteene foote in my garden, where one flower was in waight three pounde and two ounces, and crosse overthwarte the flower by measure sixteene inches broade.

Gerard records three other plants that still bear the common name of marigolds. Calendula or the pot marigold appears illustrated in several double forms as well as a single and Gerard observes that, ‘The Marigolds with double flowers especially, are set and sowen in gardens’.  He also says that the marigold is called Calendula because of its long flowering season; ‘it is to be seene to flower in the Calends of almost everie moenth.’

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Gerard describes the African marigold as having ‘verie faire & beautifull double yellow flowers, greater and more double than the greatest Damaske Rose, of a strong smell, but not unpleasant’.

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Both the African and French marigolds described by Gerard are actually from the genus tagetes which originates mostly from North and South America.  The plants shown in these woodcuts are not dissimilar from the tagetes hybrids available today, mostly sold as summer bedding.  The woodcut showing the great single French marigold reminds me of Tagetes patula with single flowers of burnt orange which can grow up to 1m high. They look spectacular in the late summer borders at Great Dixter.

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Of both African and French marigolds Gerard says ‘They are cherished and sowen in gardens every yeere’. Today marigolds (and sunflowers) of all types look great in the kitchen garden or allotment – there is something about the yellow and orange flowers that blend especially well with brassicas.  As well as attracting pollinators it is thought that tagetes protects crops against pests such as whitefly.

Biodiversity Heritage Library