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2010

Changing fashions in the conservation and restoration of gardens in Great-Britain

Évolution des modes et des pratiques dans la conservation et la restauration des jardins en Grande-Bretagne
Brent Elliott

Résumés

La restauration des jardins historiques à leur état antérieur présumé a commencé à petite échelle au xixe siècle, mais le choix du siècle à retenir était déterminé par la mode du « revivalism » de l’époque. En Angleterre, dans les années 1950 et 1960, le National Trust commença à restaurer les jardins de certaines des maisons qu’il avait acquises. Le responsable des jardins, Graham Stuart Thomas, mit en œuvre une politique de restauration historique éclectique : chaque demeure devait disposer d’un jardin qui reflétait la période la plus importante de son histoire. D’autres organismes adoptèrent par la suite cette pratique qui est devenue aujourd’hui la norme pour la restauration des bâtiments historiques. Cette approche a néanmoins soulevé des débats ces cinquante dernières années alors que les normes de connaissance et de véracité historique sont devenues de plus en plus exigeantes.

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Notes de la rédaction

This article comes from a paper presented at the international seminar “Botany applied to historic gardens. State of knowledge” organised by Centre de recherche du château de Versailles at the Centre Culturel Calouste Gulbenkian in Paris on 3 and 4 December 2007, within the context of the research programme “Plants in the major European gardens in the modern era” (2007-2010).

Texte intégral

1In what follows I shall confine my attention to Great Britain, where garden restoration, in one form or another, has a tradition extending back two centuries. But garden restoration as we now know it — a widely publicised activity, affecting hundreds of gardens around the country, actively promoted for educational purposes, and providing a gallery of garden styles from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries — is largely a product of the last half-century. The first century and a half of garden restoration is a history of the dynamics of reputations, of design fashion, rather than of procedural or technical issues. In retrospect, one can see emerging in this period all the conceptual issues that have been thrashed out during the last fifty years — but only in embryo, as hints in theoretical writings, rather than in practice.

Choice of period

2Garden restoration began as a reaction against the English landscape garden of the eighteenth century. The rage for landscaping that swept over Britain from the 1750s saw the widespread effacement of the previous history of gardening: staircases and balustrades were demolished, gunpowder brought in to blow up terraces, and grounds contoured to suggest a seamless continuity of ‘natural’ landscape from the house, across the ha-ha, to the surrounding countryside.

  • 1 George Carter et al., Humphry Repton, Landscape Gardener 1752–1818 (Norwich, Sainsbury Centre for V (...)

3By the end of the eighteenth century, voices were already being raised in protest against the effacement of history. Sir Uvedale Price regretted that in his youthful enthusiasm he had blown up the terraces at his estate at Foxley, in Herefordshire. His rival Humphry Repton was commissioned to make a replacement terrace garden for Beaudesert in Staffordshire, and reported his satisfaction on being told by the oldest local residents that his terrace had the same dimensions as the one they remembered. (That was effectively the standard of evidence relied on at the beginning of garden restoration: anecdotal memory.)1

  • 2 Brent Elliott, Victorian Gardens (London, Batsford, 1986), pp. 58–9. Arthur Hellyer followed by sug (...)

4At Levens Hall in Cumbria, a topiary garden is still regularly described as a genuine survival from the end of the seventeenth century. This is a matter of some controversy. Twenty years ago I suggested, based on the fact that descriptions of Levens in the late eighteenth century make no reference to clipped bushes, that the topiary garden was a nineteenth-century creation, the work of Alexander Forbes, who was hired as head gardener in 1810, and almost immediately began ordering quantities of box to use as edging plants. Be that as it may, by 1831, when the great gardening journalist John Claudius Loudon visited it, the topiary at Levens was already passing for a genuine survival from c. 1700, and in the 1840s Joseph Nash published an illustration of the garden as it was supposed to have been in the late seventeenth century.2

  • 3 Reginald Blomfield, The Formal Garden in England (London, Macmillian, 1892), pp. 72–4; Graham Stuar (...)

5A similar story attaches to the garden at Packwood, in Warwickshire (fig. 1). Ever since Reginald Blomfield gave it publicity in his book The Formal Garden in England, in 1892, it had the reputation of a topiary garden from the middle of the seventeenth century. In 1941 it was given to the National Trust, and research among old maps in the 1970s showed that the topiary garden had been an orchard until the 1850s. Once again, a spurious antiquity was being proclaimed for a quite recent design.3 This sort of genial fraud, in fact, differs only in its rhetoric from what would now be considered more honest attempts at garden restoration.

Fig. 1: Packwood, Warwickshire.

Fig. 1: Packwood, Warwickshire.

© Brent Elliott

6Loudon called for genuine surviving examples of old formal gardens to be preserved as national monuments, but he was unable to provoke public interest in the idea — and little enough private interest. Examples abound throughout the nineteenth century of gardens being designed in historical styles, with greater or lesser degrees of accuracy, and opposing stylistic trends competed for dominance — we can distinguish the Italianate style, based on the observation of surviving Renaissance gardens in Italy, from a French style based on period illustrations of seventeenth-century box parterres — but none of this amounts to restoration.

  • 4 Royal Parks Historical Survey: Hampton Court and Bushy Park (London, Travers Morgan Planning, 1982) (...)

7The first true garden restoration to take place in public, so to speak, was that of Hampton Court. During the late nineteenth century, Hampton Court had been famous for its decorative carpet beds; these had been grassed over during the First World War, and when it was announced that they would not be reinstated, but that the grounds would instead be restored to something resembling their condition in the age of William and Mary, there was a press outcry, which resulted in what such outcries usually result in: nothing. More recently, in 1903, much of the formal garden had been planted as a wild garden. In 1919 a committee was instituted to advise on the treatment of the gardens: among its members were the architect Sir Aston Webb; the great gardener Ellen Willmott; F.R.S. Balfour, the proprietor of a great tree collection at Dawyck House, as the official representative of the Royal Horticultural Society; and Ernest Law, the historian of the Hampton Court gardens. The horticultural and architectural factions could not agree on their ultimate goals, and the result was a compromise: the reduction, but not the complete elimination, of flower beds and herbaceous borders, the clipping of the yews into topiary, and a proposal, not carried out at the time, for the further restoration of the Tudor garden.4

  • 5 Anna Pavord, ‘Gardens’, in Howard Newby, ed., The National Trust: the Next 100 Years (London, Natio (...)

8Other examples followed during the interwar years, but garden restoration did not become a significant part of the gardening world’s outlook until the end of the Second World War. This change was largely due to the work of the National Trust. The Trust had been founded in 1895 to acquire national monuments and areas of natural beauty to protect them from development; it received its first country house as a donation in 1907, but it was not until the 1930s that it began actively to purchase great houses that were threatened with demolition. After the Second World War, the Trust was asked for the first time to acquire a garden in order to secure its future: the garden was Hidcote in Gloucestershire (fig. 2), designed forty years earlier by Lawrence Johnston, who in his old age was trying to ensure the survival of his creation. A Joint Committee of the Trust and the Royal Horticultural Society was set up to determine which gardens were of sufficient importance to become properties of the Trust.5

Fig. 2: Hidcote, Gloucestershire.

Fig. 2: Hidcote, Gloucestershire.

© Brent Elliott

9The first gardens acquired under these terms — Hidcote, Bodnant, Nymans, and Sheffield Park — were not seen as historic gardens (though Sheffield Park had a design history stretching back into the eighteenth century, with Capability Brown and Humphry Repton contributing different stages of development); they were all famous for the landscapes and tree collections they had developed in the early twentieth century. So far was restoration from being an ideal of the Joint Committee’s that, having acquired Hidcote, they proceeded to disperse the collection of Regency garden furniture that Lawrence Johnston had built up, as inconsistent with current tastes.

  • 6 There has not yet been a biography of Graham Stuart Thomas (1909–2003).

10However, having a collection of gardens, the Trust needed someone to administer them, and the role of Gardens Adviser would naturally include the maintenance of the gardens the Trust had accidentally acquired along with the country houses it was adding with increasing speed to its list of properties. The first important Gardens Advisor was a well-known nurseryman and rosarian, Graham Stuart Thomas, (fig. 3) who was to become the single most important influence on garden restoration in Britain.6 Thomas soon came to advocate giving each of the Trust’s houses a garden of the appropriate period to complement its architecture, and by the mid-1960s a programme of eclectic revivalism was well established. By the time Thomas retired in the 1970s, the Trust’s gardens ranged from a late seventeenth-century parterre at Ham House created in 1976, to the great eighteenth-century landscape at Stourhead (where Thomas removed nineteenth-century clumps of rhododendrons), to Barrington Court and the work of Gertrude Jekyll, whom Thomas had met and been inspired by at the beginning of his career.

Fig. 3: Graham Stuart Thomas.

Fig. 3: Graham Stuart Thomas.

© Valerie Finnis (courtesy of RHS Lindley Library)

11Thomas, in his articles and lectures, emphasised the educational value of a comprehensive historical range of styles, and this assumption was quickly absorbed by other organisations with multiple properties: the National Trust for Scotland, English Heritage (created in the 1980s by dividing the Department of the Environment), and the various county gardens trusts set up in the 1980s and after, which advised local authorities on planning matters relating to gardens in their areas.

  • 7 Graham Stuart Thomas, ‘The restoration of gardens’, Landscape Design, no. 124, February 1979, pp. 1 (...)

12Thomas’s philosophy of garden restoration was summed up in two books: Recreating the Period Garden, an anthology he edited in 1984, and his Gardens of the National Trust (1979). Today, these works have an almost charmingly amateur air; they reveal a dependence on period illustrations and on a non-archaeological investigation of the site. Thomas, in an article on garden restoration published in Landscape Design in 1979, listed five actions that the Trust took before proceeding to practical repairs: (1) the search for records of the site; (2) holding processes, or remedial measures to ensure the stability of garden structures and the protection of trees; (3) calculation of the size of the restoration, to ensure that any project kept within the budget determined by existing resources; (4) ‘given quantities’, i.e. ‘the soil, the climate and all attendant matters’, defining the constraints within which any project had to work; and (5) consulting the ‘genius of the place’.7 He said nothing in particular about archaeological evidence. And yet in the same article he touched on the supreme achievement of his years with the Trust: the restoration of Charles Bridgeman’s early eighteenth-century landscape at Claremont in Surrey, where a long-forgotten landscape feature — the amphitheatre — was restored. But there is a sense in which that restoration was not properly archaeological at all. The outlines of the amphitheatre had been revealed during the clearance of invasive vegetation, which as Thomas said ‘had actually preserved the vast terraces of the amphitheatre and bowling green’. The possibility of restoration was revealed by accident.

Types of evidence: documentary

13We may now ask, what sorts of evidence have garden restorations been based on?

14The first sort of evidence is that which lies in surviving documents. During the nineteenth century, printed books were the main sort of documents relied on, and a prejudice in favour of books continued into the twentieth century. Up until the beginnings of gardening journalism in the nineteenth century, surviving documents relating to gardens are few and far between, and their interpretation frequently requires considerable scholarship and imagination. For gardens of the last century and a half, the opposite problem obtains: the huge bulk of periodical literature on gardening, which by the 1880s included five weekly gardening newspapers competing largely for an audience of professional gardeners on country house estates. As a result, until the 1980s, it was customary for garden historians to base their assumptions about Victorian gardening on a few selected books: much easier to assimilate than the mass of magazines.

15The use of written documents became steadily more sophisticated from the end of the nineteenth century on. Alicia Amherst, in her History of Gardening in England (1895), was the first garden historian to draw on manuscript records as well as printed ones.

  • 8 Sir Frank Crisp, Mediaeval Gardens,‘Flowery Medes’ and Other Arrangements of Herbs, Flowers, and Sh (...)

16Period illustrations, where they survived, remained the most important form of evidence. The older the garden being restored, the fewer the possible illustrations tended to be. The number of images of gardens printed in England before the middle of the seventeenth century can be counted on the fingers of one hand, and as a result these few illustrations have wielded a power over later generations altogether disproportionate to their value as sources of information. A large battery of period illustrations of gardens from around Europe was assembled in the early twentieth century by Sir Frank Crisp, who created a series of model mediaeval gardens in his garden at Friar Park, near Henley-on-Thames.8 (Crisp’s definition of ‘mediaeval’ gave him considerable latitude: it started in the Dark Ages, and went up to the early eighteenth century.) The Friar Park guidebook contained no photographs of these gardens, but instead reproduced the mediaeval illustrations on which they were based, so that the visitor could compare Crisp’s reconstructions with his evidence.

  • 9 Ernest Law, Shakespeare’s Garden, Stratford-upon-Avon (London, Selwyn & Blount, 1922). Illustrated (...)

17One of the illustrations Crisp used was a woodcut from Didymus Mountaine’s Gardeners Labyrinth, first published in 1577, which has served as a basis for several revivalist schemes in the twentieth century. Ernest Law used the same woodcut in creating the Shakespeare Garden at New Place in Stratford in the 1920s: he boasted in his press coverage, when the garden was still in a planning stage, that ‘The balustrade is identical, in its smallest details, with one figured in “Didymus Mountaine’s ‘Gardener’s Labyrinth,’” published in 1577 — a book Shakespeare must certainly have consulted when laying out his own Knott Garden.’ (figs. 4–5) The debt to Mountaine continued into the second half of the century: in the 1960s, the same woodcut was used as the basis for part of the Queen’s Garden which Sir George Taylor had constructed behind Kew Palace. No doubt other versions of the same image can be found among private estates.9

Fig. 4: Shakespeare Garden, New Place, Stratford-on-Avon, 1927.

Fig. 4: Shakespeare Garden, New Place, Stratford-on-Avon, 1927.

© Postcard image (RHS Lindley Library)

Fig. 5: Shakespeare Garden, New Place, Stratford-on-Avon, 1970s.

Fig. 5: Shakespeare Garden, New Place, Stratford-on-Avon, 1970s.

© Postcard image (RHS Lindley Library)

18As garden restoration has taken later centuries for its subject, the range of types of illustration has widened. In 1977 the National Trust acquired Cragside, Northumberland, long famous for its woodland and rock gardens. But it also, like any country house, contained a kitchen garden, which was also treated as an ornamental garden in a very different style from the rest of the estate. The only published illustration of this garden proved to be a postcard with a date stamp of 1908. (figs. 6–7) As we move forward into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, photographs become available as source material, but even photography fails to provide unambiguous evidence of the appearance of gardens. Even colour photography. For the restoration of the 1870s parterre at Waddesdon Manor, the National Trust had a set of autochrome photographs taken around 1910 to use as evidence. One of these photographs provided very good standards for the correct mounding of the beds in the parterre; but the selection of plants relied in part on the discovery of some garden account books that listed varieties of pelargoniums. Unfortunately, the nineteenth-century parterre is a garden feature that we can probably never restore with full accuracy, because, quite simply, the plants are no longer available. From the 1840s on, parterre planting relied on newly bred bedding varieties of half-hardy perennials, most of which have disappeared from cultivation; breeding records seldom survive; and written descriptions do not have a sufficiently exact colour vocabulary to allow us to determine with any precision the effects which particular cultivars had in flower gardens.

Fig. 6: Cragside, Northumberland, c.1908.

Fig. 6: Cragside, Northumberland, c.1908.

© Postcard image (RHS Lindley Library)

Fig. 7: Cragside, Northumberland, 2003.

Fig. 7: Cragside, Northumberland, 2003.

© Brent Elliott

Garden archaeology

19Garden archaeology began to emerge towards the end of the first century of garden restoration as a source of evidence to be used. Reginald Blomfield, with his book The Formal Garden in England (1892), demanded that garden designers focus on genuine surviving gardens in England rather than on literature or foreign examples. Formal gardens like Haddon Hall, that had not been significantly altered during the nineteenth century, were held up as models. It was surviving structures that were recommended: no digging needed as yet, but at least designers were being asked to look at the genuine remains on the particular site. A decade later, Inigo Triggs published his immense Formal Gardens of England and Scotland (1902), which included measured drawings of the staircases, balustrades, and terraces of the gardens described.

  • 10 Teresa Sladen, ‘The Garden at Kirby Hall 1570–1700’, Journal of Garden History, 4 (1984), pp. 139–5 (...)

20The first garden restoration in England to be based on the results of archaeological excavations was at Kirby Hall, in Northamptonshire. The excavation of the precincts of the house began in the 1930s, and the structures of a formal garden of the 1680s exposed; the Great West Garden was reconstructed on the basis of the outlines thus revealed, though the planting failed to meet later standards of period accuracy. Archaeological work has continued at Kirby, and the site has been a great training ground for archaeologists; Northamptonshire Archaeology is now a flourishing organisation, whose staff have been involved in gardens excavations around the country.10

21The 1970s saw the introduction into the garden archaeologist’s toolkit of aerial photographs. Those taken before the Second World War often showed details of parterres that were later grassed over; while ancient earthworks were often revealed by shadows and by the visual evidence of differing heights of the grass growing over them. During the 1990s it became customary — and if the garden restoration was being restored or funded by English Heritage, a mandatory requirement — for at least a couple of inspection trenches to precede detailed planning.

22By the end of the decade, such archaeological investigation was being demanded even in gardens that would once have been dismissed as too insignificant, or typical of their sort, to require such detailed study. A major case in point is an English Heritage property in Kent: Down House, the home of Charles Darwin. An unremarkable Victorian domestic garden nonetheless was given the full treatment of inspection trenches, as was Darwin’s ‘sand walk’, a path along which he walked while thinking; for the proper restoration of this, a literature search on the history of path construction was undertaken, inspection trenches dug, and experiments carried out in the best method of rolling the surface to replicate the effect shown in late nineteenth-century photographs (fig. 8).

Fig. 8: Charles Darwin’s sand walk, Down House, Kent, 2003.

Fig. 8: Charles Darwin’s sand walk, Down House, Kent, 2003.

© Brent Elliott

23As the result of decades of experience with archaeology in a garden setting, we now have, in the first decade of the twenty-first century, two major manuals which have effectively replaced Graham Thomas’s books as recommended guides: the Garden History Society’s Regeneration of Public Parks (2000), and English Heritage’s Maintenance of Historic Gardens (2007) (fig. 9).

Fig. 9: The Management & Maintenance of Historic Parks, Gardens & Landscapes (hard cover).

Fig. 9: The Management & Maintenance of Historic Parks, Gardens & Landscapes (hard cover).

© Frances Lincoln

Planting

  • 11 J. C. Loudon, ‘General Results of a Gardening Tour’, Gardener’s Magazine, 7 (1831), 513–57, esp. p. (...)

24Archaeology may tell you about foundations and fixed structures, and even about trees, but it will not tell you how a flower garden was planted. During the first two-thirds of the nineteenth century, when the discovery of historical styles competed for attention with the discovery of new garden plants introduced from abroad, there was little enthusiasm for an investigation of historic planting schemes. Nonetheless, the idea of historically accurate planting was voiced, by none other than John Claudius Loudon, who on his visit to Levens complained about ‘modern plants’ like dahlias being used in this genuine specimen of garden antiquities.11 (If I am right about the date of the topiary garden, his concern was misdirected.) Loudon further recommended that seventeenth-century books like John Parkinson’s Paradisus Terrestris (1629) be used to provide planting lists for revivalist gardens, and at least some of the enthusiasm for herbaceous borders, especially from the 1860s on, was the result of their being associated with seventeenth-century gardening. By 1880, we have the example of George Devey, who over the previous twenty years had been creating a revivalist garden at Penshurst Place in Kent, basing the design of the parterre on an early eighteenth-century engraving of the garden, and giving instructions that only plants known to have been around at that period should be used in planting it. (Do not exaggerate the degree of accuracy or stringency entailed by this demand. In the late nineteenth century, it was sufficient that the right genera be used — delphiniums, lilies, hollyhocks, etc.; it was only in the second half of the twentieth century that attention focused on getting the correct cultivars.)

25The response of most gardeners in the nineteenth century was to dismiss claims for the importance of historical precedent in the choice of plants. It was known that in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, European gardens had been filled with the latest introductions from Turkey; if pelargoniums and tuberous begonias had been available then, gardeners would have used them; an accident of history need not prevent revivalist designs from being planted with recent introductions. This attitude continued long into the twentieth century. In 1932 the Scottish Ministry of Works acquired Edzell Castle and commissioned James Richardson to produce an historical design for it. The design may have been scrupulously based on historical precedent, but the planting was based on the bedding schemes of contemporary municipal parks. Twenty years later, when Richardson was brought back by the Trust to design an historically revivalist garden for Pitmedden, the approach to planting was the same. This was, in effect, the continuation of a standard Victorian attitude.

26A more stringent standard of period accuracy was promoted by the National Trust, which in 1972 created a knot garden at Little Moreton Hall based on information from Leonard Meager’s Complete English Gardener (1670). It is instructive to compare this garden with one created later the same decade, the garden of the Tradescant Trust, made in what had been the churchyard of Saint Mary at Lambeth. Both gardens are intended to represent the seventeenth century, but in the Lambeth garden the plants are treated as in a twentieth-century cottage garden, allowed to grow bushy and unclipped, while at Little Moreton Hall their shapes are firmly restrained.

  • 12 Crisp, Mediaeval Gardens, vol. 1, pp. 56–7, and vol. 2, plates XXVIII–XXXIII.
  • 13 Simon Thurley, ed., The King's Privy Garden at Hampton Court Palace, 1689–1995 (London, Apollo Maga (...)

27This contrast brings us to one of the major issues attending the restoration of pre-eighteenth-century gardens: the texture of the planting. We owe the controversy to Sir Frank Crisp, who remarked in his Mediaeval Gardens on the sparse planting shown in a number of early illustrations, a number of which he grouped together to make the point.12 But how strong is this evidence? Engravings are not photographs; can we be sure that the three or four plants depicted in each bed constitute an accurate representation of the quantity of planting, or are they an artefact of the limitations of the engraver’s means, intended merely to show that the bed contains plants of some description? Increasingly through the twentieth century, garden historians came to accept Crisp’s assessment of ‘sparse planting’, and eventually the idea had a stylistic impact, when it was displayed to the public with the opening of the restored Privy Garden at Hampton Court in the 1990s (fig. 10). Here the re-creation of the formal gardens of William and Mary had been attempted, with planting schemes drawn up by Laurence Pattaccini on the basis of period illustrations.13 What is remarkable is not only the fact that this style of planting had been attempted at last, but the speed with which this sparseness was accepted by a gardening public for which, only a decade before, ‘spotty planting’ had been a term of abuse.

Fig. 10: Hampton Court Palace Privy Garden:detail of border, 1996.

Fig. 10: Hampton Court Palace Privy Garden:detail of border, 1996.

© Brent Elliott

28But, little more than a decade later, our understanding of the historical situation is changing. English Heritage is currently planning to reconstruct a sixteenth-century garden at Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire, and in the course of research a drawing by Vredeman de Vries has come to light that depicts flower beds with thick vegetation. These are exactly the sort of beds that in his published engravings are shown with only scattered indications of planting; this drawing increases the likelihood that Crisp’s ‘sparse planting’ was an artefact of engraving rather than a fact of gardening.

Kitchen gardens

  • 14 Lady Ashbrook, ‘Vegetables into Flowers’, The Garden (Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society), (...)
  • 15 Tim Smith, The Lost Gardens of Heligan (London, Gollancz, 1997).

29Until the 1980s, garden restoration was confined to the ornamental garden. The kitchen garden, however necessary to the owners of the garden, was largely ignored. After the Second World War, with improvements in transportation and the arrival of supermarkets, there ceased to be any cost advantage in running a kitchen garden, and most of them were abandoned, allowed to become derelict, or redeveloped. But the historians eventually discovered the kitchen garden, and where historians tread the planners are sure to follow. A pair of articles in journals pinpoints the date of the change. In 1983 Viscountess Ashbrook published an article in the Royal Horticultural Society’s Journal, describing how she converted the derelict kitchen garden at Arley Hall, Cheshire, into an ornamental flower garden. Two years later, in Garden History, Susan Campbell published ‘A Few Guidelines for the Conservation of Old Kitchen Gardens’. This piece was only seven pages long, but it dealt with beekeeping facilities, identifiable remains of glasshouses, frames, and glass copings, paths and edgings, boilers and water storage, and the types of nails and fastening devices likely to be found.14 By the 1990s kitchen garden restoration was getting underway. In 1990 restoration started on the site of a once-famous garden in Cornwall, which was publicised as ‘The Lost Gardens of Heligan’; here, the kitchen garden formed the most important part of the restoration, and the public were invited to see the work in progress and have demonstrations of how a kitchen garden once functioned.15 Heligan proved to be a great success with the public, and since then not only has kitchen garden restoration been actively promoted as an educational benefit, but more and more estates are inviting the public to watch and have explained the course of restoration (figs. 11–12).

Fig. 11: Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall, 1993.

Fig. 11: Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall, 1993.

© Brent Elliott

Fig. 12: Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall, 1993.

Fig. 12: Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall, 1993.

© Brent Elliott

Exploring the course of a garden’s history

30All the examples we have so far looked at have involved selecting one period as the key period in a garden’s history, and restoring to that period. But already before the end of the nineteenth century an opposing school of thought had grown up, in the architectural world, one which pitted ‘conservation’ against ‘restoration’.

  • 16 This attitude was not confined to Morris and his friends; at the same time we can find an architect (...)

31This school of thought began in the 1870s, with William Morris and the foundation of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB for short). This society was founded in reaction against the work of those Gothic revival architects, most notably Sir George Gilbert Scott, who tried to return churches to their 13th-century condition, and was happy to impose an abstract 13th-century ideal if there were insufficient documentation for the genuine state of the church at that period. Morris’s objection was that in the course of ‘returning’ the church to a 13th-century condition that it might never have exhibited in reality, Scott and his coevals were removing the genuine evidence for the subsequent history of the building: church ornaments of unfashionable periods were removed, floor plans altered, and layers of paint and plaster scraped off. Morris, on the contrary, insisted that a great building was the sum of its entire history, and every period in that history should be respected.16

  • 17 David Watkin, The Life and Work of C. R. Cockerell (London, A. Zwemmer, 1974), pp. 69–71.

32Like any other position, this one can lead to absurdities when taken to extremes, and I would like to show one instance from the world of architecture. The Grange, Northington, Hampshire, built between 1804 and 1809 by William Wilkins, was one of the grandest and most important of neoclassical houses in England; C.R. Cockerell said of it: ‘nothing can be finer more classical or like the finest Poussino. … [T]here is nothing like it on this side of Arcadia’.17 During the twentieth century the house fell derelict, but over the last fifteen years it has been restored by English Heritage. But during the course of the restoration, some of the plans for the original house of 1667-73, by an architect named William Samwell, were found. So instead of being returned to its full splendour, one of the greatest of neoclassical buildings has had its effect curiously truncated, with the west front restored to Samwell’s plans, entirely at odds with the façades of the rest of the house. There is now definitely nothing like it on this side of Arcadia: it resembles a Poussin a quarter of which is covered with a brown stain.

  • 18 Thomas, ‘The restoration of gardens’, p. 19.

33It took a long time before this attitude made itself felt in the garden. In 1979, Graham Thomas wrote, ‘Very few great gardens of this country are simple, by which I mean are still maturing in the way that was first envisaged; most have been altered and features have been added by succeeding owners… There may be remains of seventeenth century terracing, avenues and canals, coupled with eighteenth century landscape gardening, Victorian intrusions and groups of modern trees and shrubs. [Notice how nineteenth-century additions are referred to as ‘intrusions’. But the prejudice against the nineteenth century was the longest and hardest to overcome.] … different areas of the garden may need different treatment.’18

34The most notable garden in which this principle of division has been carried out so far is Hestercombe in Somerset. One of the most famous gardens made by the collaborative team of Sir Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll, it fell into dereliction after the Second World War, and eventually became the property of the Somerset Fire Department, which undertook its restoration in the 1970s. Even today, the majority of publicity focuses on the Lutyens and Jekyll garden (fig. 13).

Fig. 13 : Hestercombe: Lutyens & Jekyll garden .

Fig. 13 : Hestercombe: Lutyens & Jekyll garden .

© Brent Elliott

  • 19 Janet Waymark, ‘A tale of three gardens’, Historic Gardens Review, no. 10 (Spring 2002), pp. 8–11.

35But on the other side of the house are the remains of an eighteenth-century landscape garden, designed by a former owner, Copleston Warre Bampfylde. Beginning in 1997, this side of the garden has been restored using a mixture of archaeology and surviving watercolours — financed initially by one man, Philip White, who re-mortgaged his house to raise the funds for tree-felling and lake clearance (fig. 14). Since 2003, the whole site has been run by the Hestercombe Gardens Trust, which has continued the work White began, and is now publicising the presence of two gardens of contrasting periods and styles.19

Fig. 14: Hestercombe: 18th-century landscape.

Fig. 14: Hestercombe: 18th-century landscape.

© Brent Elliott

36But the philosophy of conservation begun by Morris and developed by the SPAB had greater complexities than a simple recognition of multiple periods of development. It urged the conserver to regard himself also as part of the building’s history, and to ensure that his work could not be mistaken for the work of preceding generations. Repairs and additions must always be identifiable as such, and traceable to the time they were carried out. Nor is it sufficient, apparently, simply to put the date somewhere visible; added work should be in ‘the style of our day and age’. Exactly what that style is could be a subject for considerable debate; when, during the past two hundred years, has any single style enjoyed an unchallenged domination? But not surprisingly, the influence of the SPAB converged with that of the modernists, who had a strong idea about what qualified as the style of our day and age. By the 1960s, it was not merely new buildings in historical styles that were being condemned; any architect who extended a building in the same style as the original could count on being accused of cowardice or dishonesty in the architectural press.

  • 20 Susan Elderkin, ‘The Italian Job’, Gardens Illustrated, no. 115 (July 2006), pp. 88–93. For Trentha (...)

37This insistence that proper conservation is opposed to stylistic replication could be seen as a threat to the entire concept of garden restoration, and its implications are only now beginning to be seen. The most important case so far is that of Trentham, in Staffordshire, a garden designed by Sir Charles Barry around 1840: if not the first Italianate revival garden, the first to be well publicised and influential. The house having been demolished in 1911, the gardens were run as a commercial venture for most of the twentieth century, but subsidence resulting from coal mining led to severe structural damage. The stone structures have now been well repaired, in a restoration project led by the designer Tom Stuart-Smith, but the planting of the beds has been inspired, and collaborated in, by Piet Oudolf, the promoter of ‘naturalistic’ groupings of herbaceous plants. So the outlines of the beds have been retained, but the planting utterly changed. ‘That was all stripes, pattern-making with ribbon-bedding — a statement of Neo-Roman imperialism, power and subjection,’ Stuart-Smith has said. The newly ‘restored’ garden ‘represents everything the Victorian garden was not — subversive, anti-authoritarian. But it’s also a metaphor for how the garden has lived through so much but ultimately belongs to nature…’20

38You could say, therefore, that as a result of the modern demand for conservation, we have returned to the majority position of the nineteenth century: that it is sufficient for the design to be historically accurate, while the planting need not be. Meanwhile, the Architectural Association’s course in garden conservation has recently been discontinued after nearly twenty years, because of falling attendances; report has it that the young architectural students are now interested in ‘new build within historic sites’.

Conservation ‘as found’

39A further trend of importance also emerged in the 1970s: the ambition to ‘conserve as found’, in other words stabilising the structure, removing threats to foundations and surfaces, but otherwise leaving the building as it was found, and above all doing nothing for merely decorative effect. In the world of landscape, the pioneering examples were both sites which were largely managed by volunteers, dependent on grant aid, so that minimal intervention with the structures of the site suited the finances of the conservers.

  • 21 See Chris Brooks et al., Mortal Remains: the History and Present State of the Victorian and Edwardi (...)

40The first of these sites was Highgate Cemetery, in north London, the older portion of which had been effectively abandoned by its operating company in 1975. A volunteer organisation, the Friends of Highgate Cemetery, was founded in that year, and obtained a licence to clear the forest of self-seeded sycamore and ash which had filled the grounds. The results of the initial clearance were so dramatic, and brought such good publicity, that in the 1980s the Friends were able to secure grant-aid for restoration works to the major buildings, supervised by English Heritage. The major structures — the Egyptian Avenue and the Lebanon Circle of vaults — were built of brick but had been rendered with Portland cement in the 1870s to resemble stone; encroaching vegetation and roots had forced large sections of the cement render off and eroded structures severely. The roots were removed and the surfaces stabilised, but exposed brickwork was left exposed, a truncated obelisk left truncated, and wherever possible the patina of age left intact.21

  • 22 Kathryn Bradley-Hole, ‘Victorian pomp and splendour’, The Garden (Journal of the Royal Horticultura (...)

41The second site was The Plantation Garden, a forgotten villa garden in Norwich, discovered under a covering of ivy in the late 1970s: made by its owner, Henry Trevor, between the 1850s and 1890s, using amateur building techniques and a haphazard selection of local materials (figs. 15–16–17). The garden, by virtue of having been forgotten and the site ignored, now lay in divided ownership, the boundary line between two neighbouring hotels running through it. A Friends’ group was set up in 1980, and all the original work of ivy clearance, of surface garden archaeology, and to a large extent of reconstruction of decorative structures, was undertaken by volunteers.22

42

Fig. 15 : Plantation Garden, Norwich, 1981.

Fig. 15 : Plantation Garden, Norwich, 1981.

© Brent Elliot

Fig. 16 : Plantation Garden, Norwich, 1985.

Fig. 16 : Plantation Garden, Norwich, 1985.

© Brent Elliot

Fig. 17 : Plantation Garden, Norwich, 1996.

Fig. 17 : Plantation Garden, Norwich, 1996.

© Brent Elliot

A prediction for the future

43Both Highgate Cemetery and The Plantation Garden, at least in their early years, made much use of recycled material, partly by way of keeping costs down, and partly because the nature of the sites (especially Henry Trevor’s bricolage) made a do-it-yourself procedure appropriate.

  • 23 Clive Aslet, The Last Country Houses (New Haven/London, Yale University Press, 1982), pp. 174–81.

44In the 1920s and 1930s, there was a brief fashion for the building of country houses in a Tudor style, in which an attempt was made to ensure stylistic accuracy by using recycled materials from genuine Tudor buildings that had been demolished.23 It will be obvious that such practice was condemned by the modernists; it was also condemned by the SPAB, for the use of recycled materials made it more difficult to distinguish original work from reconstruction. And there has been at least one case where an Inspector from English Heritage has listed an apparently sixteenth-century building, only to find later that the house was little more than a decade old, but made entirely out of sixteenth-century timber.

  • 24 In the mid-1990s, the Department of the Environment published a report, Managing Demolition and Con (...)

45But the world has moved on, and things have changed. The use of recycled building materials is increasingly looked on with favour, as being less wasteful of resources than the manufacture of new materials.24 I predict that as the use of recycled materials is increasingly promoted by the ‘green’ lobby, the current official insistence on making repairs and additions stylistically distinct will be challenged. The standards upheld by the SPAB may come under attack for being environmentally unsound, and I look forward to the forthcoming controversy with some amusement.

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Notes

1 George Carter et al., Humphry Repton, Landscape Gardener 1752–1818 (Norwich, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, 1982), pp. 58–9.

2 Brent Elliott, Victorian Gardens (London, Batsford, 1986), pp. 58–9. Arthur Hellyer followed by suggesting that the topiary might have consisted of overgrown parterre bushes clipped into shape: ‘Riddles of the Parklands’, Country Life, 15 September 1988, pp. 200–5. The latest book on Levens reproduces a drawing of 1814, showing box-edged beds and two topiary specimens, and concludes that therefore the garden might still be a survival from 1700: Chris Crowder, The Garden at Levens (London, Frances Lincoln, 2005), p. 49. But Forbes’s bills account for the box-edged beds, and four years seems to me long enough to clip existing conifers into shape. (A few years ago a tree survey was carried out at Levens, and revealed that most of the topiary specimens currently to be seen were in fact no older than the twentieth century.)

3 Reginald Blomfield, The Formal Garden in England (London, Macmillian, 1892), pp. 72–4; Graham Stuart Thomas, Gardens of the National Trust (London, National Trust, 1979), pp. 192–3.

4 Royal Parks Historical Survey: Hampton Court and Bushy Park (London, Travers Morgan Planning, 1982), vol. 1, pp. 65–74.

5 Anna Pavord, ‘Gardens’, in Howard Newby, ed., The National Trust: the Next 100 Years (London, National Trust, 1995), pp. 135–49; Brent Elliott, The Royal Horticultural Society: a History, 1804–2004 (Chichester, Phillimore & Co Ltd), 2004, pp. 344–5.

6 There has not yet been a biography of Graham Stuart Thomas (1909–2003).

7 Graham Stuart Thomas, ‘The restoration of gardens’, Landscape Design, no. 124, February 1979, pp. 19–22.

8 Sir Frank Crisp, Mediaeval Gardens,‘Flowery Medes’ and Other Arrangements of Herbs, Flowers, and Shrubs Grown in the Middle Ages, with Some Account of Tudor, Elizabethan, and Stuart Gardens (London, J. Lane, 1924).

9 Ernest Law, Shakespeare’s Garden, Stratford-upon-Avon (London, Selwyn & Blount, 1922). Illustrated London News, 24 April 1920, pp. 702–3 and 706–7; 29 April 1922, pp. 622–3, for photographs of the completed garden. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, brochure: ‘The Opening of the Queen’s Garden, 14 May 1969’.

10 Teresa Sladen, ‘The Garden at Kirby Hall 1570–1700’, Journal of Garden History, 4 (1984), pp. 139–56.

11 J. C. Loudon, ‘General Results of a Gardening Tour’, Gardener’s Magazine, 7 (1831), 513–57, esp. p. 550.

12 Crisp, Mediaeval Gardens, vol. 1, pp. 56–7, and vol. 2, plates XXVIII–XXXIII.

13 Simon Thurley, ed., The King's Privy Garden at Hampton Court Palace, 1689–1995 (London, Apollo Magazine, 1995).

14 Lady Ashbrook, ‘Vegetables into Flowers’, The Garden (Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society), 108 (1983), pp. 260–4; Susan Campbell, ‘A Few Guidelines for the Conservation of Old Kitchen Gardens’, Garden History, 13 (1985), pp. 68–74.

15 Tim Smith, The Lost Gardens of Heligan (London, Gollancz, 1997).

16 This attitude was not confined to Morris and his friends; at the same time we can find an architect like George Devey, who delighted in designing houses that looked as though they had had a complicated building history: as if, for example, a mediaeval foundation had been extended in the seventeenth century, and the windows redone in the eighteenth. See Jill Allibone, George Devey, Architect 1820–1886 (London, Lutterworth Press, 1991).

17 David Watkin, The Life and Work of C. R. Cockerell (London, A. Zwemmer, 1974), pp. 69–71.

18 Thomas, ‘The restoration of gardens’, p. 19.

19 Janet Waymark, ‘A tale of three gardens’, Historic Gardens Review, no. 10 (Spring 2002), pp. 8–11.

20 Susan Elderkin, ‘The Italian Job’, Gardens Illustrated, no. 115 (July 2006), pp. 88–93. For Trentham in the 19th century, see Elliott, Victorian Gardens, pp. 90–3. Once again, an example to show what happens when a principle is carried to extremes.

21 See Chris Brooks et al., Mortal Remains: the History and Present State of the Victorian and Edwardian Cemetery (Exeter, Wheaton in association with the Victorian Society, 1989), pp. 99–102.

22 Kathryn Bradley-Hole, ‘Victorian pomp and splendour’, The Garden (Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society), 121 (October 1996), pp. 640–3.

23 Clive Aslet, The Last Country Houses (New Haven/London, Yale University Press, 1982), pp. 174–81.

24 In the mid-1990s, the Department of the Environment published a report, Managing Demolition and Construction Waste (London, HMSO, 1994), that encouraged the establishment of ‘salvage banks’ for materials from demolition sites. Since the metric system was adopted in Britain, it has become virtually impossible to buy new bricks with the same measurements as those traditionally used in building stock: so that it is only by using recycled bricks that one can carry out repairs to brick buildings built before the 1970s.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1: Packwood, Warwickshire.
Crédits © Brent Elliott
URL http://crcv.revues.org/docannexe/image/10764/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 56k
Titre Fig. 2: Hidcote, Gloucestershire.
Crédits © Brent Elliott
URL http://crcv.revues.org/docannexe/image/10764/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 80k
Titre Fig. 3: Graham Stuart Thomas.
Crédits © Valerie Finnis (courtesy of RHS Lindley Library)
URL http://crcv.revues.org/docannexe/image/10764/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 76k
Titre Fig. 4: Shakespeare Garden, New Place, Stratford-on-Avon, 1927.
Crédits © Postcard image (RHS Lindley Library)
URL http://crcv.revues.org/docannexe/image/10764/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 112k
Titre Fig. 5: Shakespeare Garden, New Place, Stratford-on-Avon, 1970s.
Crédits © Postcard image (RHS Lindley Library)
URL http://crcv.revues.org/docannexe/image/10764/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 96k
Titre Fig. 6: Cragside, Northumberland, c.1908.
Crédits © Postcard image (RHS Lindley Library)
URL http://crcv.revues.org/docannexe/image/10764/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 104k
Titre Fig. 7: Cragside, Northumberland, 2003.
Crédits © Brent Elliott
URL http://crcv.revues.org/docannexe/image/10764/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 84k
Titre Fig. 8: Charles Darwin’s sand walk, Down House, Kent, 2003.
Crédits © Brent Elliott
URL http://crcv.revues.org/docannexe/image/10764/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 80k
Titre Fig. 9: The Management & Maintenance of Historic Parks, Gardens & Landscapes (hard cover).
Crédits © Frances Lincoln
URL http://crcv.revues.org/docannexe/image/10764/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 88k
Titre Fig. 10: Hampton Court Palace Privy Garden:detail of border, 1996.
Crédits © Brent Elliott
URL http://crcv.revues.org/docannexe/image/10764/img-10.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 96k
Titre Fig. 11: Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall, 1993.
Crédits © Brent Elliott
URL http://crcv.revues.org/docannexe/image/10764/img-11.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 96k
Titre Fig. 12: Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall, 1993.
Crédits © Brent Elliott
URL http://crcv.revues.org/docannexe/image/10764/img-12.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 84k
Titre Fig. 13 : Hestercombe: Lutyens & Jekyll garden .
Crédits © Brent Elliott
URL http://crcv.revues.org/docannexe/image/10764/img-13.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 96k
Titre Fig. 14: Hestercombe: 18th-century landscape.
Crédits © Brent Elliott
URL http://crcv.revues.org/docannexe/image/10764/img-14.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 96k
Titre Fig. 15 : Plantation Garden, Norwich, 1981.
Crédits © Brent Elliot
URL http://crcv.revues.org/docannexe/image/10764/img-15.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 160k
Titre Fig. 16 : Plantation Garden, Norwich, 1985.
Crédits © Brent Elliot
URL http://crcv.revues.org/docannexe/image/10764/img-16.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 168k
Titre Fig. 17 : Plantation Garden, Norwich, 1996.
Crédits © Brent Elliot
URL http://crcv.revues.org/docannexe/image/10764/img-17.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 161k
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Référence électronique

Brent Elliott, « Changing fashions in the conservation and restoration of gardens in Great-Britain », Bulletin du Centre de recherche du château de Versailles [En ligne], Articles et études, mis en ligne le 20 septembre 2010, consulté le 25 septembre 2017. URL : http://crcv.revues.org/10764 ; DOI : 10.4000/crcv.10764

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Auteur

Brent Elliott

Brent Elliott is the historian of the Royal Horticultural Society, having previously been the Society's librarian for 25 years. He is the author of Victorian Gardens (London, Batsford, 1986), The Country House Garden: from the Archives of Country Life 1897–1939 (London, Mitchell Beazley, 1995), Flora: An Illustrated History of the Garden Flower (London, Scriptum Editions, 2001), and The Royal Horticultural Society 1804–2004 (Chichester, Phillimore, 2004). He was editor of Garden History for five years. He has been a member of the Victorian Society’s Buildings Committee for nearly 30 years, and of English Heritage’s Historic Parks and Gardens Panel for nearly 25. brentelliott@rhs.org.uk

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Droits d’auteur

© Brent Elliott / 2010 / CRCV

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