By Tim Webb. This article originally appeared in our members monthly newsletter.
Our latest Members magazine is due out and mentions London being the world’s best city according to the online magazine BestCities.org.
It’s the sixth year on the trot London has held the position but is now facing increasing pressure from the second and third placed contenders, New York and Paris. A number of factors are taken into account, from the economy, housing, culture and outdoor space.
With this year’s Open Gardens Squares Weekend currently postponed (we are busy investigating how we might provide an alternative event for existing ticket holders later in the year), we are keen to provide our network with interesting and engaging content via our various channels – including the website and social media.
Every week on our social media channels, we are running ‘virtual garden tours’ and highlighting stories from the inventory as well as sharing content from some of those organisations that support our work throughout the year. The inventory can be found at:
In addition, we are now running a series of guest blogs by some of the gardens who open up their sites as part of the London Gardens Trust’s regular activities (which celebrate and champion all historic green space across the capital whether including public parks, allotments or garden squares).
The guest blogs will give updates from gardens about what they are doing during lockdown, videos (where possible) of activity happening that week and even ideas and tips for your garden or growing space.
Keep an eye out for new ideas and initiatives which we hope to bring together over the upcoming weeks. Hope you enjoy!
Ahead of his upcoming LPGT lecture on ‘The Shirley Wilderness: An early ecological garden’, Jeremy Rye, Landscape Architect, writes about problem solving through walking in his favourite piece of “wilderness”.
All are invited to attend the lecture on 11 March at 6.30pm.
In my recent article for London Landscapes (Autumn/Winter 2018) I posed a question on the term “wild” and how a lack of man’s intervention into the landscape could increase our connection to landscape, with therapeutic outcomes. In this blog I take that idea further by sharing my experience of using these “wild” landscapes to get my own clarity of thinking.
The term “solvitur ambulando” is usually used to mean a problem solved by practical experiment. For me its literal translation is more accurate: ‘solved by walking’.
Whenever there is anything I need to think through or ‘feel into’ I inevitably turn to a favourite piece of wilderness, a wild place of my own discovery that gives me a certain type of walking, a variety of sensual stimulation allowing me to get lost, lost in my own self.
Walking in wilderness cuts through everything that I allow to get in my way; through what the world puts in front of me, guiding me to a place of clear thinking and clear feeling, where answers to my challenging questions become inevitable and unavoidable.
Since I first discovered it, one such place has been the Black Down Hills near Haslemere on the Surrey/Sussex border. Beloved by Alfred, Lord Tennyson who walked there frequently, and painted by Helen Allingham, this landscape is not hidden away or secluded in the more traditional understanding of wild.
What is it about this place that holds a sense of the wild, allowing me to solve my problems by walking? Let me first ask another question. Should the definition of “wild” not depend on distance from some established marker, but rather on the spirit or essence that gives us permission to disconnect from everything surrounding us in our daily lives? The term “wild” would therefore denote not remoteness, but the land’s ability to forge a reconnection to that part to ourselves not influenced by outside forces: our pure inner voice, our own inner wild.
Black Down reconnects me. Managed by the National Trust, it is a combination of a variety of types of walking from elevated heathland, to ancient-feeling hollow ways, steep climbs and stunning views. It is a wonderful piece of landscape offering the possibility to walk into myself. Answering my question, it is a place where the minimal intervention of man is tangible.
Its power comes not only from its remoteness or its being untouched by human hands. I believe that being in and walking through the landscape has therapeutic effects on us. Ideally, this landscape is one where man’s intervention is minimal. The connection to the natural, ancient, wild, untamed landscape gives me access to deep parts of myself and brings true clarity of thought.
Landscape walking has been a constant in my life. I have taken others on this walk to facilitate them reaching clarity of thinking and feeling. I am lucky I can access wilderness sites – others cannot. This is one of the most exciting aspects of the Shirley Wilderness: it reintroduces a connection to the wild fully accessible to all, thus making the therapeutic benefits derived from connecting with that inner wild place available to walkers and non-walkers alike.
Ahead of her upcoming LPGT winter lecture on ‘Plant Drawings at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew’, Lynn Parker, Curator of Illustrations and Artefact Collections, writes about two of her favourite illustrators.
The Illustrations Collection at Kew is made up of more than 200,000 individual works comprised of watercolours, pencil or ink sketches, prints and line drawings. When selecting highlights from the Collection for my talk, I found it very difficult to include everything that I would have liked, and had to narrow down my selection of images and the topics covered. With that in mind, I would like to use this blog to explore the approaches to drawing of two of my favourite illustrators, Stella Ross-Craig and Walter Hood Fitch.
I have been working with the Collection for over ten years, and am often asked why Kew, a centre of botanical research, has an art collection at all. I do not consider our Collection to be ‘art’ in the conventional sense – we do not hold examples of ‘flower painting’ or still life. Everything we have must be useful to the botanists and must act as a tool that can be used to understand and express scientific information.
It would be true to say that a large proportion of our illustrations are not paintings at all, but scientific line diagrams, though this is not to say that they are not intricately composed and skilfully completed. One of the leading names of line drawing in the 20th century was Stella Ross-Craig. Her talent for line-work is, in my opinion, best represented in her Drawings of British Plants, an extensive multi-volume work published between 1947 and 1974 and illustrating a remarkable 1,316 species of British plants.
Each specimen is represented using Ross-Craig’s signature style, exhibiting a dynamic and well-balanced composition incorporating the various dissections and magnifications necessary to convey scientific information. In preparing to make a drawing, Stella would “study the plant from all angles… to grasp its character”. When she had no live plants at her disposal she would use pressed and dried herbarium specimens, using her pencil to restore their essence, something she said was only possible through “a thorough knowledge of botany and of perspective”.
This ability to work from dried specimens is what I believe sets botanical illustrators apart. The 19th century botanical artist Walter Hood Fitch was justifiably proud of his expertise in working from dried herbarium specimens to create precise illustrations, believing that “sketching living plants is merely a species of copying” while working from dried specimens allowed him to demonstrate his “abilities to the uttermost.” The ability to understand and convey botanical anatomy was vital, in many respects supplanting colour, for “the absence of the former cannot be compensated by any excellence in the latter”.
Fitch would have consulted the dried herbarium specimen of celmisia vernicosa pictured here, for example, to produce the drawing at the top of this post; the specimen was collected by his colleague, the botanist (and Kew Director) Joseph Dalton Hooker, with whom Fitch collaborated to produce numerous illustrations for Hooker’s many publications.
One of the key things about the creation of botanical art in an institution such as Kew is that it gives the artists the chance to work alongside the scientists. Often the artist, in making the picture the botanist wants for their publication, will, in the course of doing so, observe something the scientist has not seen in making their description. This is what makes the work of artists such as Stella Ross-Craig and Walter Hood Fitch so fascinating.
Ahead of her upcoming LPGT winter lecture on ‘Gardens of the Great Strand Palaces’, architectural and garden historian Dr Paula Henderson writes about the discovery of a plan of Lord Burghley’s house and garden – a vital new source of information about the splendour and complexity of the gardens of the great Strand Palaces.
One of the most exciting discoveries of my entire (and very long) career was of the plan of Lord Burghley’s London house in the Strand.
In 1999, the plan had fallen out from behind a cupboard at Burghley House near Stamford and the archivist sent photocopies to those he thought might be interested. I think I was the only one to realise what it was, and immediately made an appointment to go to Burghley and see the plan. Because the plan was inscribed on the back ‘Exeter House’, it was assumed that it dated to the 17th century (after Lord Burghley’s son had been created Earl of Exeter). When I saw the plan, though, I recognised Lord Burghley’s annotations on it – he always wrote the cardinal directions on the maps and plans in his collection (north was rarely at the top in those days). That meant that the plan had to have been executed before Burghley’s death in 1598.
It wasn’t just the date that astonished me: the plan itself is perhaps one of the most beautiful ever executed in the Tudor period. It took my breath away.
Jon Culverhouse, then and still the very enthusiastic curator at Burghley, said that he wanted the plan published. No problem! Because this was clearly one of the most important discoveries in Tudor and Stuart architecture, I invited my friend Jill Husselby to research the plan with me. She had done her PhD on Lord Burghley and Burghley House.
Because it is such a very beautiful plan we wanted it published in colour, so we wrote up our initial ideas for an article in Country Life, ‘England’s Earliest Garden Plan?,’ which was published in March 2000. At that point we dated the plan to the late 16th century, mainly because of the sophistication of the execution, the beautiful colours used and especially because of the strong axiality – very few houses until then were built on axis with the garden. Jill and I continued to research the plan, turning to documents in the Burghley archives that included letters from Lord Burghley to the Earl of Bedford in the 1560s. These showed that the plan was actually an early plan, from before Burghley rebuilt all his garden buildings. The plan could then be dated specifically between 1565 and 1567, which was absolutely astonishing.
Our full research was eventually published in a 15,000-word article in Architectural History in 2002, entitled ‘Location, location, location!: William Cecil’s House in the Strand’. Perhaps the most important result of this research was that it gave us our first real insights into the most important London houses and gardens of the period, the so-called ‘Strand Palaces’.
Since then I have worked and published on many more of the Strand Palaces, on the gardens of the Inns of Court and Inns of Chancery, and on early public gardens (Spring Garden and Paris Garden). I am now completing a book on the great variety of gardens from that period. What is perhaps most surprising of all is the fact that there are actually more gardens (or garden spaces, to be precise) surviving from the 16th and early 17th centuries than there is architecture. Who knew?
The Strand was, from the middle ages, the most prestigious place to live in London. Running from the Temple in the east to Charing Cross in the west (just as it does today), the Strand was strategically placed between two power centres: the City and Westminster.
Furthermore, from the 1530s, the magnificent bishops’ inns and their spacious gardens were acquired by leading courtiers and aristocrats, who adapted the houses and beautified the gardens as showpieces, visible to all who travelled on the Thames. Like the palaces along the Grand Canal in Venice, these great houses were seen as powerful expressions of the city’s wealth and grandeur.
While most of these houses ran along the south side of the Strand on a gentle slope to the Thames, Lord Burghley built a new house along the north side. The recently discovered plan which Dr Henderson describes above is the most important source of information about the splendour and complexity of these gardens, a short period in London’s history of true rus in urbe.
Dr Paula Henderson has a PhD in architectural history from The Courtauld Institute. She lectures widely and has published over sixty articles on English houses and their settings. Her book, The Tudor House and Garden (Yale), won the Berger Prize for the outstanding contribution to the history of British art for 2005. Most recently, she wrote the chapters on ‘Gardens’ for The Cambridge Worlds of Shakespeare (Cambridge University Press, 2016) and Hardwick Hall with Richard Wheeler (Yale and the National Trust, 2016). She is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London and is currently completing a book on London gardens of the 16th and 17th centuries.