This is not a garden; but a visitor attraction, not that there is anything fundamentally wrong with visitor attractions per se. A garden though is created as a personal folly in purely personal search for pleasure through the manipulation of nature, l can’t help but feel the motivation for Alnwick Garden was of a far more financial nature. That aside; the garden doesn’t work as a garden. The centre piece is the large and very elaborate waterfeature which is far too big for the site and is only missing the Disney Princess Castle at the top. Any large cascading water feature is going be compared to the Chatsworth cascade but if that was the inspiration behind this one the creator clearly didn’t understand how the one at Chatsworth worked. Any garden water feature has to be in scale with its surroundings and add to them not try to visually swap them. Why it was seen fit to chlorinate the water I don’t know but the smell of chlorine assails you before you reach the water. Such a move prevents any aquatic life, plant or animal, surviving in the water feature which says a lot about the attitudes of the people behind it.
The other dominant feature is the “poison garden” and much is make of the dangers this garden contains. The whole thing it treated with great drama even though most of the plants are common and normal practices, like washing your hands before eating and not eating any plants you are not sure of, have protected us all from for years. Somewhere behind the showmanship there are one or more valid messages but they are drowned out by the ringmaster!
There is no doubt that Alnwick Gardens are controversial, you only have to mention it to an UK nurseryman to see their blood pressure rise, the important question is; has it done anything to assist the development of gardens and the plants grown in them? Personally I can’t see it, which is a shame as the site has plenty of potential and a lot of money was spent on it.
Sculpture at Brodsworth Hall
Situated just 6 miles North West of Doncaster this is a garden you will find or hear little about which is a great shame as it is an excellent example of a garden of a wealthy English gentlemen in the mid-19th century. Funded as a result of a most peculiar will, the house and grounds were created for Mr Charles Sabine Augustus Thellusson in the 1860s and as a result of remaining the house remaining in the same family, all be it with a decreasing ability to afford it upkeep, meant it remained virtually untouched from the manner Charles Thellusson left it in.
This unusual history means we are left a rare glimpse of what a mid-Victorian garden might of look like. I say “might of” not as a criticism of its present owns English Heritage, who have done an excellent job of restoring the house and gardens, but because it is just one person’s garden and therefore their personal view of what a garden should look like at that time.
As it was Charles Thellusson chose what has been described as an Italianate style, with grass terraces linked by steps to the north and west elevations of the house along with the extensive use of statuary in the classical style. The house is not visible from the gates and is revealed as you approach it along a sweeping drive through a large lawn, in the manner of the early landscape movement but greatly scaled down. The majority of the garden lies to the north and east with a rose garden, rockery, bedding, topiary and wild garden each in its own allotted area. 50 years later the idea of compartmentalising a garden into areas or rooms fully matured with the creation of Hidcote.
Bodsworth Hall therefore shows a step in the evolution of the English garden from the sweeping vistas of the landscape movement towards what would become the arts and crafts gardens in the early part of the 20th century as gardens sort to accommodate the influx of plants from around the world.
Water feature at Chateau Cheverny
Cheverny is a 17th century chateau approximately 16 km south east of Blois in the Loire Valley but any sign of the geometric gardens of that period have sadly gone. The chateau itself is approached across a large expanse of plain gravel which contrasts well with the ornate building. Behind is a small garden with an arbour and an attractive pond which leads to a café. These have been carefully aligned with the axis of the chateau to provide an attractive view of the north elevation of the chateau as it is view from the cafe Each side of this central axis is planting and shady walk.
Though modern in origin the gardens are nice if limited and to the south there is a very nice wall garden though the contents is a little eclectic.
Sculpture on the cascade at Chatsworth House
One of the most famous gardens in England due to having to of its most impressive water features the Cascade and the Emperor Fountain. There is much more to the gardens than these and you could easily spend a full day going around the gardens and still not see it all. When you do go round them it is important to bear in mind you are in fact seeing the present incarnation of the gardens as this has been the site of a grand garden since the Elizabethan times and is still being developed by the present owners. This long history of occupation by one family has seen a complex garden develop with parts from over four century of garden styles, helped by the sheer scale at over 100 acres. This scale means large features have room without anything over bearing the garden or its neighbouring features. Thus though the cascade though very large doesn’t in any way over shadow the garden and seen in context it is just one facet of the bigger picture.
Monet’s waterlilie pond
This was the home of the painter Claude Monet for the last 43 years of his 89 year live and features in many of the most important paintings of the impressionist movement. Though now preserved due to its importance it was very much the product of a passionate gardener. The garden and his work as a painter often overlapped, never more so than his water lily pond and the iconic paintings of it. The whole garden is a rich tapestry of plants suited to the climate of northern France with little room for paths and lawns. The garden doesn’t rely on vistas and dramatic views so much as draws you into the plants which the garden is all about.
The garden is naturally divided into two distinct areas, the one adjacent to the house is more open and formal in its layout with straight paths. The other is across the road, now reached by a short tunnel, and it is here the water lily pond is found in a more informal setting. In the end this was a garden created, like all be best gardens, for the pleasure of its creator and it shows in both the garden and the paintings it inspired.
Planting details at Great Dixter
This was the home of one of the last centuries greatest garden thinks and writers, centred on a property remodelled and extended by Edward Luytens for his parents this was the lifelong home of Christopher Lloyd. Though initially he inherited the garden from his parents it became the practical extension of Lloyds thought experiments in horticulture. Christopher Lloyd was a plantsman first and foremost and this is demonstrated by the gardens reliance on plants with little importance in its layout to hard landscaping. His parents were very much of the Arts and Craft movement but he took this forward creating a plant centred garden at odds with the “outdoors Room” style which tends to prevail with its heavy reliance on paving and gravel.
With his death in 2006 the house and gardens passed to a charitable trust, he never married or had children, and his head gardener is now responsible for the garden. The nursery he ran from the garden is still trading and there is a continuity so the gardens future financially seems very sound. The question has to be what happens to the garden in the longer term, during Christopher Lloyd’s life it was in a constant state of development as he tried out new ideas but with his death that driving force has gone so is it to remain preserved as a lasting monument and national-trustified or will some very brave individual take it on evolve it into a new form; something a trust could never do.
Planting detail at Hampton Court
Over its 500 year history this was a royal palace for over 200 years from the Tudor through the Stuart and into the Hanover period. Each successive period saw the house and gardens develop with the combination of great wealth and a need to impress. At this time the monarchy set the style and the court followed. In an ironic twist George III decision to abandon Hampton Court as a palace allowed it to slip into a state of slumber as the house became grace and favour apartments and the garden was largely ignored until the 20th century. This meant a lot of the garden from the mid-18th century could be reconstructed in the 20th century as the land was still gardens and little had been done that couldn’t be undone.
The garden is in fact now a collection of different gardens each with its own history allowing to you see a collection of different periods of garden design side by side. More than that though it does have an excellent range of plants and a magnificent Broad Walk herbaceous border which at 580 metres long shows just how effective a herbaceous border can be. Also worth mentioning is the bedding to the east of the palace and the rose garden to the east which is a modern use of that part of the garden. Both are styles of planting now sadly seen less and less due to fashion, cost and practicality.
The reflecting pond at Hidcote
Few gardens have had the impact that Hidcote Manor has had and this is reflected in that not only was it the first garden to be acquired by the National Trust on the garden alone merit but it passed to the Trust prior to its creators death. Divided into compartments by hedges to form individual gardens it could become claustrophobic and inward looking but this is prevented by the use of vistas and borrowed views of the surrounding open countryside.
Much is said of the structure of the garden but Lawrence Johnson was a plantsman at heart and this structure was merely there to display the plants he gathered around him. Like all great gardens this was very much one man’s obsession; Johnson never married and was a quiet man about which little is known. His gardening philosophy he never discussed or recorded so why he design the garden in the way it is we can only speculate on bases in the garden he left.
Hidcote is very much a one off which you can comfortably spend hours exploring and which no one has successfully reproduced. It is often held up as an example of how dividing up a garden makes a small garden bigger but this shows a lack of understanding of how the garden works. For a start the gardens cover about 10 acres so each room can be on a human scale, which a smaller area would not allow. Also the garden makes use of long vistas out into the surrounding countryside.
Bog garden detail at Hillier garden
This garden started out as a small garden around the home of the late Sir Harold Hillier, of Hillier Nurseries. Here he set out to create as large a collection of woody plants that could be grown outdoors in southern England as he could and as the head of Hillier Nurseries, with its vast plant list, he had a good start. The garden has now grown to 180 acres and is now run as a trust by Hampshire County Council.
Initially referred to as a garden and arboretum it is far more than a living collection and covers all forms of ornamental plants. The gardens were very much Hillier’s belief of what a garden should be and that was to show off the beauty of plants. The garden is therefore the result of the rare combination of a passion for plants, a vast horticultural knowledge and the resources to bring his vision to reality.
The garden manages to be both a stunning garden and a valuable horticultural resource full of rare and important plants, holding several national collections.
Vegetable garden detail at Inverewe Garden
In 1862 the Mackenzie family purchased the 2000 acre Inverewe estate on the North West coast of Scotland and the 20 year old Osgood Mackenzie started to make himself a garden. He chose his site well; though 57° 46’ north, and so north of Inverness, the location benefits from the warming effect of the Gulf Stream. This wasn’t its only advantage as located at the southern base of the sea Loch Ewe providing shelter from the surrounding hills. To augment this McKenzie planted extensive wood lands to the east to shelter the site, an area which is now an important wildlife habitat.
This wise choice of location and its improvement allowed the garden to grow a vast range of plants that would not have otherwise survived the winters. This was helped by the early construction of the walled garden and the improvement of the land with large amounts of topsoil. The garden outside the walled area uses the shelter of trees which shelter the larger shrubs and these shelter smaller plants and so on down.
This garden demonstrates how both the local surroundings and careful improvement can be as big an influence on the potential of a site of a garden as the physical location on a map.