‘So when did this English obsession for gardening all begin,’ she asked. It was an innocent enough question but she wasn’t to know that it would take Kingston at least ten minutes to answer.

‘First of all, Jamie,’ he said, ‘you have to realize that throughout civilization, the garden has always played an important role as a natural and often significant extension to the house.’ He took a brief pause, resting his knife and fork beside his plate, then continued. ‘For example, I’ve seen Egyptian tomb paintings of 1400 BC that depict a detailed garden plan with placement of trees, vegetation, papyrus fringed pool and an imposing entry gate reached by a canal used to irrigate and fill the pools. Quite extraordinary. ’

He took his time cutting into the pink filet steak, savoring and swallowing a slice, then washing it down with a healthy gulp of wine. ‘You know,’he said, looking at Jamie, who, up until now hadn’t murmured a word, ‘Roman Senator Pliny’s letters describe in considerable depth, the garden at his two country villas near Rome.’

Another two minutes or so went by before Jamie interrupted Kingston’s discursive lesson on garden history.

‘But what about English gardens?’ she asked.

Garden in Chenonceau Castle - Chenonceaux, Centre

Garden in Chenonceau Castle – Chenonceaux, Centre

‘Sorry, I got a little carried away there. Let’s see … well, going back four hundred years, English gardens pretty much followed the vogue of European formality, particularly the French.’ He looked up to the ceiling. ‘Ah, yes, the French—it’s as if they were born with a mandate to prove their mastery over nature by cutting, clipping and pruning everything in sight. If you’ve seen the big chateaux like Versailles and Chenonceau you’ll know the look: symmetrical lines, clipped and regimented trees, straight alleys, parterres and topiaries, that sort of thing.’ He paused to dab a napkin to his mouth before going on. ‘Then, around the middle of the eighteenth century, a new gardening style emerged in England. A relatively unknown Northumberland gardener with the rather lofty name, Lancelot “Capability” Brown, was about to change the face of the country with grander and much more permanent schemes. He widened rivers, created lakes, moved earth to change the contours of the parkland and undertook massive plantings of trees. Little or no attention was paid to flowers.’


‘This new style of gardening on a grand scale was called “English landscape” or “natural style” and one by one the large country houses like Hatfield, Blenheim and Studley Royal abandoned their formal gardens and adopted this new approach to garden design. I read of one estate that planted 100,000 trees, mainly oak.’

‘My God, that’s a whole forest,’said Jamie.

Kingston smiled and plowed on. ‘Anyway, by now just about every kind of style had been tried in gardens known to civilization, and it wasn’t until the middle of the nineteenth century before any significant changes in English garden design or philosophy started to emerge. By the time Victoria assumed the throne in 1837, a steady succession of plant hunters, starting with Sir Joseph Banks in 1768, had been setting out from England, scouring remote parts of the globe, bringing back with them shiploads of new plants and trees. This changed everything. These men literally risked their lives and endured all kinds of danger and hardships simply in order to bring back seeds and plants. Their exploits—believe me, Jamie—make Indiana Jones look like an amateur. On one trip alone, the Scotsman George Forrest brought back over three hundred new species of rhododendron from China. Nurseries were soon overflowing with these new selections and, as you can imagine, gardeners were more than eager to try them. As the quantity of plants, shrubs and trees grew exponentially, two distinctly different styles of gardening were in the making.’

Kingston waited while Jamie topped up his wine glass. He took this as a sign that she wasn’t going to doze off quite yet and that the lubrication was meant as encouragement for him to go on.

flowersgardenlove:backyard delight

‘Towards the end of the nineteenth century,’ he said, in a professorial tone, ‘a veritable battle was taking place between two English gardeners. One was author William Robinson, the other, the architect Reginald Blomfield. Their divergent views were easy to distill. The cantankerous Robinson insisted that only the gardener, with his knowledge of horticulture could decide on the layout of a garden. The opinionated Blomfield insisted it must be the architect’s province since only he knew anything about design. Robinson championed the idea of “natural” garden design with hardy rather than tender plants used in the scheme. Drawing much of his inspiration from the simple cottage-style gardens of the time, he became a fervent crusader of natural gardening, writing books and periodicals, encouraging readers to grow old-fashioned hardy plants in the same manner as the cottagers. His book, The English Flower Garden, first published in 1883 went into fifteen editions in his lifetime.’

Anyway, by the end of the nineteenth century most English gardens—with the exception of cottage gardens, of course—were starting to reflect the trend to a formal style of gardening. As is the case here at Wickersham, you’ll find most of today’s preeminent gardens use architecture in its varying forms: stone and brick walls, stairs and archways; pergolas, water features, gates, fountains, sundials, statuary, manicured lawns, clipped yew hedging forming compartments and boundaries, wide grass walks with paved footpaths and plantings, all of which are the result of careful planning and design. I’ll quote Blomfield, who may get the last word, since the designs of most gardens nowadays are essentially based on his precept that horticulture stands to garden design much as building does to architecture; the two are connected but very far from being identical. He said “The designer whether professional or amateur, should lay down the main lines and deal with the garden as a whole, but the execution, such as the best method of forming the beds, laying turf, planting trees and pruning hedges, should be left to the gardener, whose proper business it is.”

After a moment silence of silence, Kingston spoke again. ‘I’m curious, have you always been interested in gardening or is it a more recent thing, as it were?’

Jamie brushed a strand of hair from her forehead. ‘To be honest, mostly since inheriting this place. I mean I’ve always enjoyed gardens and the little bit of gardening I’ve done but I have to confess, up until now, I’ve been one of those self-indulgent people who like gardens solely for the pleasure they give. It’s not that I don’t like plants and flowers, the nitty-gritty, the hands in the dirt thing, the Latin names, it’s just that I prefer the sensory aspect of gardens, as a means of escape, for the serenity, as a quiet and beautiful place for contemplation.’

dyingofcute:lovely outdoor spot if you’re not going on vacations

‘You’ll have a wonderful time over here then. There’s no end of extraordinary gardens to see. Quite a few in this neck of the woods, too.’ He looked up at the ceiling moulding. ‘Let’s see, Hestercombe is close by and there’s a lovely small garden at Tintinhull. Then there’s Hadspen House—as I recall, the gardeners there are Canadian. Barrington Court, East Lambrook Manor. You could spend all summer doing nothing but visit gardens, Jamie.’

dyingofcute:exclusive garden

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