Archive for the ‘Gardens’ Category

How to build a ha-ha

February 17, 2015
A section of ha-ha being rebuilt at Croome Court. ©Shaun Wilkes/National Trust

A section of ha-ha being rebuilt at Croome Court. ©Shaun Wilkes/National Trust

The ha-ha, a ditch with a wall built along one side, was developed as an aesthetically pleasing way of keeping grazing cattle out of the pleasure garden. Even from a short distance the ha-ha is invisible, and its name is said to have been derived from the exclamations of surprise it provoked.

The ha-ha at Croome Court before repair and rebuilding. ©Shaun Wilkes/National Trust

The ha-ha at Croome Court before repair and rebuilding. ©Shaun Wilkes/National Trust

The ha-ha at Croome Court has been undergoing a rolling programme of repair and rebuilding. Previously it is was  in quite poor condition and it had even collapsed in places.

Sections of the ha-ha had completely collapsed. ©Shaun Wilkes/National Trust

Sections of the ha-ha had completely collapsed. ©Shaun Wilkes/National Trust

Advice was sought from a structural engineer in order to provide a more durable solution for the collapsed sections. A backing wall of concrete blocks was inserted first, which was then covered by historically appropriate bricks.

Stable sections were preserved. The large blocks further behind provide structural support to contain the earth. ©Shaun Wilkes/National Trust

Stable sections were preserved. The large blocks further behind provide structural support to contain the earth. ©Shaun Wilkes/National Trust

The sourcing of new, ‘old-look’ bricks proved to be quite challenging, as the colour and texture of the bricks of the original ha-ha varies considerably along its length. In the end different bricks and mortar mixes were used in different sections.

Concrete blocks provide the containment structure for the sections that had to be rebuilt. ©Shaun Wilkes/National Trust

Concrete blocks provide the containment structure for the sections that had to be rebuilt. ©Shaun Wilkes/National Trust

The stable sections of the ha-ha were preserved as much as possible and repointed with traditional mortar. As time goes by the new brickwork will further blend in with the old.

An original section of ha-ha is repointed. ©Shaun Wilkes/National Trust

An original section of ha-ha is repointed. ©Shaun Wilkes/National Trust

A significant proportion of the funding for this work was provided by Natural England.

 

William Chambers, Chinese design guru

January 22, 2015
Plate 4 from Sir William Chambers's book Designs of Chinese Buildings (1757). ©British Library

Plate 4 from Sir William Chambers’s book Designs of Chinese Buildings (1757). ©British Library

This evening I will be giving a talk on the Chinese designs of the architect William Chambers, as part of the seminar series on the history of gardens and designed landscapes organised by the Institute of Historical Reseach.

Plate 2 from Designs of Chinese Buildings. ©British Library

Plate 2 from Designs of Chinese Buildings. ©British Library

I cannot give a full preview of the talk here, but essentially it will be about the pervasive influence of Chambers’s 1757 book Designs of Chinese Buildings on the appearance of chinoiserie garden pavilions across Europe.

Plate 5 from Designs of Chinese Buildings. ©British Library

Plate 5 from Designs of Chinese Buildings. ©British Library

Chambers claimed to have written the book to correct European misconceptions about Chinese architecture which were being perpetuated by the authors of fanciful and frivolous ‘Chinese’ pattern books.

Plate 10 from Designs of Chinese Buildings. ©British Library

Plate 10 from Designs of Chinese Buildings. ©British Library

Ironically, the popularity of Chambers’s ‘correct’ book meant that his designs were quickly adapted by others and used to design yet more cheerfully fantastical pavilions, especially as part of the so-called jardins anglo-chinois which were popular in France in the 1770s and 1780s.

Plate 14 from Designs of Chinese Buildings. ©British Library

Plate 14 from Designs of Chinese Buildings. ©British Library

But in some ways Chambers had the last laugh, as his version of Chinese architecture became the ‘correct’ chinoiserie style for about the next hundred years.

Palladian or Chinese?

September 2, 2014

View of the Chinese bridge at Stourhead, with the temple of Apollo beyond, by Sir Richard Colt Hoare (1758-1838), 1780-1800. ©V&A Images

View of the Chinese bridge at Stourhead, with the temple of Apollo beyond, by Sir Richard Colt Hoare (1758-1838), 1780-1800. ©V&A Images

In response to the previous post about the garden at Stourhead, Andrew helpfully pointed us towards some images of the so-called Chinese bridge there, which was built around 1749 but was taken down again at the end of the eighteenth century. I thought I would feature some of the contemporary views of this piece of short-lived eighteenth-century chinoiserie.

Temporary recreation of the Chinese bridge at Stourhead set up by the structural engineering firm Mann Williams in 2005. ©Mann Williams

Temporary recreation of the Chinese bridge at Stourhead set up by the structural engineering firm Mann Williams in 2005. ©Mann Williams

Single-arch timber bridges were often called ‘Chinese’ in the eighteenth century, probably because they were reminiscent of the bridges shown on Chinese porcelain, lacquer, silk and wallpaper.

View of the Chinese bridge at Stourhead by Copleston Warre Bampfylde (1720-1791), 1770s. ©V&A Images

View of the Chinese bridge at Stourhead by Copleston Warre Bampfylde (1720-1791), 1770s. ©V&A Images

Strictly speaking, however, the use of this type of bridge in Europe goes back to a design in Palladio’s Third Book of Architecture (as noted, for instance by Professor Timothy Mowl in his 1993 book Palladian Bridges).

View of the garden at Stourhead from the Chinese umbrella, by Fredrik Magnus Piper (1746-1824), 1779. ©Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts, Stockholm, with thanks to John Harrison's Pinterest boards.

View of the garden at Stourhead from the Chinese umbrella, by Fredrik Magnus Piper (1746-1824), 1779. ©Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts, Stockholm, with thanks to John Harrison’s Pinterest boards.

Palladian structures sat happily next to Chinese and Gothic ones in mid-eighteenth-century British gardens and there was a considerable degree of stylistic cross-fertilisation. Some ‘Palladian’ arched bridges acquired ‘Chinese’ fretwork balustrades, whereas others kept their ‘Palladian’ x-shaped cross-braces, but were still dubbed ‘Chinese’.

Sino-Palladian bridge in the park at Wörlitz, Saxen-Anhalt, originally built 1772. With thanks to John Harrison's Pinterest boards.

Sino-Palladian bridge in the park at Wörlitz, Saxen-Anhalt, originally built 1772. With thanks to John Harrison’s Pinterest boards.

The popularity of the English landscape garden ensured that these Sino-Palladian bridges were also exported to other parts of Europe – a nice example of the circulation and reinterpretation of a design motif.

 

 

A late Edwardian lake at Mount Stewart

October 1, 2013

©Emile de Bruijn

Last week I visited Mount Stewart, in Country Down, where we were shown the inspirational conservation project underway in the house.

©Emile de Bruijn

©Emile de Bruijn

But I also had a chance to see part of the garden, and I was enchanted by the large lake surrounded by specimen trees and exotic plants.

©Emile de Bruijn

©Emile de Bruijn

This part of the garden was originally laid out by Charles Vane, 3rd Marquess of Londonderry (1778-1854), but it was further enlarged and embellished by Edith, the 7th Marchioness (1878-1959).

©Emile de Bruijn

©Emile de Bruijn

It has a wonderfully opulent Edwardian atmosphere, with masses of exotic plants and trees and many Italianate and Japanese touches.

©Emile de Bruijn

©Emile de Bruijn

I was there on an extraordinarily still late afternoon, the garden poised on the brink of autumn, with not even Basho’s proverbial frog jumping into the water to disturb the silence.

Norah Lindsay’s Welsh hats

February 8, 2013
'Welsh hats' in clipped yew, at Chirk Castle, Wrexham. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

‘Welsh hats’ in clipped yew, at Chirk Castle, Wrexham. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

I recently picked up a copy of Norah Lindsay: the Life and Art of a Garden Designer, by Allyson Hayward (2007). This book is an interesting reappraisal of a designer who created a number of influential gardens in the interwar period. After her death her work was rapidly forgotten, perhaps because her image as an upper-class social butterfly obscured the quality of her designs, and the sustained work that went into creating them.

The Formal Garden at Chirk Castle from above. ©National Trust Images/Stephen Robson

The Formal Garden at Chirk Castle from above. ©National Trust Images/Stephen Robson

Norah Lindsay was born in India in 1873. Her father, Major Edward Bourke, and her mother Emma were well connected among the British aristocracy, and Norah grew up in the company of assorted Wyndhams, Desboroughs, Grenfells and Rutlands. In 1895 Norah married Harry Lindsay, a younger son of the Earl of Crawford. As a wedding present the couple was given the manor house of Sutton Courtenay, then in Berkshire (now Oxfordshire).

The Parterre at Blickling Hall, Norfolk, which Norah Lindsay remodeled in the 1930s. ©National Trust Images/Nick Meers

The Parterre at Blickling Hall, Norfolk, which Norah Lindsay remodeled in the 1930s. ©National Trust Images/Nick Meers

At Sutton Courtenay Norah developed her gardening style, a mixture of formal clipped trees and hedges with informal planting in the style of Gertrude Jekyll. But the idyll ended at the end of the First World War, when Norah and Harry separated. From then on Norah had to earn her living as a professional garden designer, but the fame of her garden at Sutton Courtenay, as well as her network of friends and relations, stood her in good stead.

Detail of the Parterre at Blickling. ©National Trust Images/Nick Meers

Detail of the Parterre at Blickling. ©National Trust Images/Nick Meers

A number of gardens where Norah worked are now in the care of the National Trust. At Chirk Castle she reshaped the topiary and created a large herbaceous border. The distinctive topiary shapes at Chirk, consisting of cylinders surmounted by cones, and which she called ‘Welsh hats’, would become something of a Norah Lindsay trademark.

The Pillar Garden at Hidcote Manor, Gloucestershire. ©National Trust Images/Stephen Robson

The Pillar Garden at Hidcote Manor, Gloucestershire. ©National Trust Images/Stephen Robson

At Blickling Hall in the 1930s, working for the Marquess of Lothian, Norah once again combined topiary with flowering plants to transform the Victorian Parterre.

The Long Garden at Cliveden, Buckinghamshire, where Norah Lindsay advised in the 1920s and 1930s. ©National Trust Images/Clive Nichols

The Long Garden at Cliveden, Buckinghamshire, where Norah Lindsay advised in the 1920s and 1930s. ©National Trust Images/Clive Nichols

Norah knew Lawrence Johnston and often stayed at Hidcote Manor. Their respective gardening tastes, favouring combinations of formality and informality, green structure and floral abundance, were very similar.

The Water Garden at Cliveden, which Norah Lindsay surrounded with shrubs and trees for autumn colour. ©National Trust Images/Ian Shaw

The Water Garden at Cliveden, which Norah Lindsay surrounded with shrubs and trees for autumn colour. ©National Trust Images/Ian Shaw

Viscountess Astor, a close friend of the Marquess of Lothian, employed Norah at Cliveden, and evidence of her work can still be seen in the Long Garden and the Water Garden. During Ascot week she also helped to create the lavish floral arrangements in the house, which were changed three times a day.

The walled garden at Mottisfont Abbey, Hampshire. ©National Trust Images/Jonathan Buckley

The walled garden at Mottisfont Abbey, Hampshire. ©National Trust Images/Jonathan Buckley

At Mottisfont Abbey Norah designed a parterre for Maud and Gilbert Russell and also advised on the planting of the walled garden.

Socialite though she may have been, what comes across now is the quality and professionalism of her work.

A Regency Chinese garden

October 16, 2012

Leigh Park House, Hampshire, by Joseph Francis Gilbert, c. 1831. © Portsmouth Museums and Records Service, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

On the 25th of October Jodi Eastberg will be giving a talk about the Regency linguist, diplomat, merchant, politician and China scholar Sir George Thomas Staunton (1781-1859).

Lady Staunton with her son George Thomas Staunton and a Chinese servant, by John Hoppner, 1794, © School of Oriental and African Studies, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Jodi Eastberg is Associate Professor of History at Alverno College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She has done extensive research into British perceptions of China through the life of Sir George Thomas Staunton.

Sir George Thomas Staunton, by Martin Archer Shee, © Government Art Collection, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Jodi is working on a biography of Staunton and is currently in the UK researching his banking records with Coutts & Co. in London.

View of the the lake at Leigh Park with various chinoiserie structures, watercolour by Joseph Francis Gilbert, c. 1832

As I mentioned previously, Staunton learned Chinese at a young age and became an influential figure in the East India Company. His country house, Leigh Park, near Portsmouth in Hampshire, reflected his interests, with Chinese collections in the house and Chinese plants and pavilions in the garden.

The lake at Leigh Park from the east, showing the Chinese-style pergola, summer house, bridge and boathouse, and the Mughal-style pavilion, watercolour by Joseph Francis Gilbert, c. 1832

The garden, in particular, seems to have been an enchanting Regency-style chinoiserie fantasy, with Chinese or pseudo-Chinese structures including a bridge, a boathouse, a pergola and a summer house, as well as a pseudo-Mughal onion-domed pavilion. Although the house is gone some of the garden structures survive.

Recent photograph of the lake, now called Leigh Water

The talk will be at Staunton Country Park (as Leigh Park is now called) on 25 October, from 10.30-12.00. Places are limited and anyone interested is asked to contact Kerry Bailey on 023 9245 3405 or via kerry.bailey@hants.gov.uk.

Nymans in June

August 2, 2012

The topiary crowns and the Verona marble fountain in the Wall Garden at Nymans. ©National Trust Images/Clive Nichols

These images are from a recent photoshoot by Clive Nichols at Nymans, in West Sussex. Nymans is a grand and yet intimate Edwardian garden which has continued to evolve up to the present day.

A Japanese stone lantern appearing beyond a bank of santolina. ©National Trust Images/Clive Nichols

The garden was started by Ludwig Messel, a succesful stockbroker who had come to Britain from Germany and who bought Nymans in 1890. With the help of his expert head gardener, James Comber, and encouraged by other notable gardeners in the area such as Sir Edmund Loder  and William Robinson, he began to create an extensive garden full of rare trees and shrubs.

One of the views outwards into the countryside from Nymans. ©National Trust Images/Clive Nichols

Features from Ludwig Messel’s day include the pinetum, the rock garden, the heather garden, a Japanese-style pergola and stone lanterns, a lime avenue, a prospect platform and an enclosed Wall Garden. Exotic species such as magnolias and rhododendrons were introduced, many coming from plant-hunting expeditions in east Asia.

Yew hedge near the house, nicknamed ‘the Toblerone hedge’ by the current gardeners. ©National Trust Images/Clive Nichols

Ludwig’s son Leonard Messel and his wife Maud had the house at Nymans rebuilt in the 1920s in medieval manor house style. Maud created the rose garden and Leonard continued to add botanical rarities to the garden, many of which subsequently won prizes at Royal Horticultural Society shows.

The Forecourt. ©National Trust Images/Clive Nichols

Disaster struck in February 1947 when the house burned down, destroying the important botanical library. Some parts of the house remained inhabited, but others were left ruinous as a romantic garden feature.

View across the lawn to the picturesque ruins. ©National Trust Images/Clive Nichols

Nymans came to the National Trust following Leonard Messel’s death in 1953. His daughter Anne, Countess of Rosse, continued the family’s involvement, working with head gardener Cecil Nice. More Chinese plants came to Nymans through an exchange programme with the Ross family seat Birr Castle, in Co. Offaly, Ireland.

The dovecote. ©National Trust Images/Clive Nichols

The great storm of 15-16 October 1987 wreaked havoc at Nymans on its hilltop site, destroying many trees. But this disaster did also allow the new head gardener David Masters to rejuvenate the garden by opening up views and bringing in more light.

Hedge regularly clipped by Alistair Buchanan, which has almost come to resemble a Henry Moore sculpture. ©National Trust Images/Clive Nichols

Following Lady Rosse’s death in 1992 Ludwig Messel’s great-grandson Alistair Buchanan has been the family representative at Nymans. The current head gardener, Ed Ikin, has continued the tradition of innovation by introducing new species and successfully experimenting with a reduced watering regime in summer which encourages root growth. He recently published a book entitled Thoughtful Gardening on how to garden in harmony with nature.

Shugborough’s heterogeneous landscape

July 26, 2012

Copy of the Arch of Hadrian at Athens, 1761-1764, at Shugborough, based on an illustration in James ‘Athenian’ Stuart’s ‘The Antiquities of Athens (1762). ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

These recent images of Shugborough illustrate the surprising diversity in a mid-eighteenth-century British landscape garden. The Chinese style coexisted with the Greek and finished buildings were juxtaposed with deliberately contrived ruins.

The Chinese House at Shugborough, 1747. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Cattle roamed among the monuments to balance culture and learning with some refreshing rusticity.

The Tower of the Winds at Shugborough, completed about 1765, a copy of the Horlogium of Andronikos Cyrrhestes illustrated in Stuart’s ‘Antiquities of Athens’. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Thomas Anson developed the garden and park at Shugborough between the 1740s and the early 1770s.

The Ruins at Shugborough, with the remains of a statue of a Druid. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

He based many of the garden structures on designs by Thomas Wright and James ‘Athenian’ Stuart. The Chinese House, Chinese boathouse and the Pagoda (the last two no longer extant) may have been influenced by his brother Admiral Lord Anson’s visits to China in 1742 and 1743.

The Shepherd’s Monument at Shugborough, partly after a design by Thomas Wright and with a relief based on an engraving after Nicolas Poussin’s painting ‘Et in Arcadia Ego’. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Shugborough represents the ‘rococo’ moment in the English landscape garden, when cows roamed among Classical allusions and a Pagoda could tower over a Druidic ruin.

Cattle on the Shugborough estate. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The historian Dr Stephen McDowall is currently doing research into the development and meaning of the Chinese elements in the house and the garden at Shugborough, which will eventually be published as part of the East India Company at Home project.

A bridge with a view

June 15, 2012

View towards the Palladian Bridge at Prior Park and the city of Bath to the north beyond. ©National Trust Images/Charlie Waite

I have just spotted these results of a recent photoshoot by Charlie Waite at Prior Park, Bath. They show how the garden at Prior Park nestles in a little valley with expansive views over the city.

The Palladian bridge perched on a dam between two water levels. ©National Trust Images/Charlie Waite

Ralph Allen, who developed the garden in the 1740s and 1750s, was an entrepreneur who supplied the ‘Bath stone’ that was being used to build the elegant terraces and crescents of the burgeoning spa resort. He constructed an early railway right next to Prior Park that allowed blocks of stone to be brought down into the city from the quarry at Combe Down.

View through one of the arches of the Palladian Bridge. ©National Trust Images/Charlie Waite

The Palladian Bridge was built in 1755, elegantly hiding an otherwise pedestrian dam between two different water levels. This type of bridge – loosely based on designs by Andrea Palladio – was popular in England at that time, and other examples were built at Wilton House (1735) and Stowe (1738). 

Some of the historical graffiti on the Palladian Bridge. ©National Trust Images/Charlie Waite

Allen was acquainted with Viscount Cobham, the owner of Stowe, and his circle, and one of them, Thomas Pitt, seems to have had a hand in the design of the Prior Park bridge – yet another example of the ‘liquid networks’ I have written about previously.

The Palladian Bridge from the south. ©National Trust Images/Charlie Waite

After Allen’s death Prior Park was sold several times and eventually became a school. The main house is still in use by Prior Park College, but the National Trust acquired the garden in 1993, and has been gradually restoring its various features ever since.

Ascending in the Chinese manner

June 13, 2012

The chinoiserie staircase in the Pin Mill at Bodnant. ©National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra

This image of the chinoiserie staircase in a garden pavilion at Bodnant in Conwy throws up all sorts of questions. Why install a Chinese-style staircase? Who installed it at Bodnant and when? What does ‘China’ mean in the context of an Edwardian-style Welsh garden?

The present garden at Bodnant was created by Henry Davis Pochin and his descendants, the McLaren family, Lords Aberconway. Pochin was a Victorian industrial chemist who made his fortune by clarifying rosin, a component of soap, and by producing alum cake, then used in the manufacture of paper. He purchased the Bodant estate in 1874.

The Pin Mill at the end of the Canal Terrace. ©National Trust Images/Ian Shaw

Pochin’s daughter Laura married Charles McLaren, a barrister and politician who was created Lord Aberconway in 1911. She was a keen gardener and passed her passion on to her son Henry, the 2nd Lord Aberconway. 

During the time of the 2nd Lord Aberconway the garden was enlarged, a series of terraces was created and numerous plants were added, either through exchange with fellow garden owners or by subscription to plant-hunting expeditions.

Detail of the chinoiserie staircase at the Pin Mill. ©National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra

In the late 1930s Lord Aberconway bought a derelict garden pavilion from the Woodchester Park estate in Gloucestershire and had it dismanled and re-erected as a focal point on one of the terraces at Bondnant. The pavilion was originally built in about 1740 but had latterly been used as a pin factory and a tannery. For that reason it is still has the slightly incongruous (but no doubt consciously chosen) name of Pin Mill.

Originally there had simply been a ladder to get to the top storey, but Lord Aberconway commissioned the architect J.Murray Easton to design a chinoiserie staircase for it. It was made in the joinery shop of the shipbuilders John Brown of Clydebank, of which Aberconway was chairman.

Statue of a sphinx on the edge of the canal near the Pin Mill. ©National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra

It is revealing that the chinoiserie style was thought to be sympathetic to a Palladian pavilion – presumably Aberconway and Murray were aware that the Chinese style was popular in England in the middle of the eighteenth century and was often used in conjunction with the Palladian style.

A chinoiserie staircase of about 1740 survives at Boughton House, Northamptonshire, possibly designed by Henry Flitcroft for John, 2nd Duke of Montagu. Also, as part of the East India Company at Home project, Rachael Barnwell is currently researching a group of town houses on the Isle of Anglesey, Wales, which feature similar eighteenth-century ‘Chinese’ staircases. As Bodnant is relatively close to Anglesey, one wonders whether Lord Aberconway was aware of those local precedents.

View from the Lily Terrace to the Pin Mill and the wider landscape beyond. ©National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra

The Pin Mill is also an interesting example of the activities of wealthy connoisseurs in the Edwardian and inter-war years, who would purchase and reassemble historic furnishings and even whole buildings according to their taste. This was often done with great sensitivity, but also with a freedom that seems surprising nowadays. Henry Francis Dupont’s Winterthur, in Wilmington, Delaware, is probably the prime example of this kind of idealised historic country house and garden.

So the Chinese staircase at Bodnant is not what it seems, but is all the more fascinating for it.


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