Inspired by Flowers

Whilst the world was put in lockdown, the sun began to shine in England, lifting people’s spirits with signs of spring. Although people were told to stay at home, the warm weather could be enjoyed from back gardens, patios, and balconies. Unfortunately, not everyone had access to personal outside spaces, so Google Arts & Culture put together an online exhibition of artworks full of the blooming blossoms and flowers of spring.

Spring Has Sprung explored twelve different artists, some well known and others less so, who had been inspired by flowers. Some artists were drawn to flowers because of their beauty and colours, whereas, others were inspired by the symbolism and meanings portrayed by the plants.

Flowers are usually used to symbolise spring, however, certain folk cultures and traditions assign different meanings to specific plants. In the United Kingdom, for example, the red poppy is a symbol of remembrance of those fallen in war. Red roses traditionally represent love, however, be careful when purchasing other colours. Yellow roses can either mean friendship or jealousy and white, innocence and purity. White and red together symbolise unity, and red and yellow mean joy and happiness. Black, of course, represents death and pink is for grace and gratitude. A thornless rose is said to symbolise love at first sight.

Other flower symbolism includes:

  • Amaryllis – pride
  • Cypress – death, mourning or despair
  • Daffodil – uncertainty and new beginnings
  • Daisy – innocence
  • Gladiolus – strength of character
  • Heather – protection (white), solitude (purple)
  • Iris – good news
  • Lavender – devotion
  • Marigold – pain and grief
  • Orchid – refined beauty
  • Pansy – thoughtfulness
  • Primrose – eternal love
  • Rosemary – remembrance
  • Tulip – undying love (red), forgiveness (white), strength (black), hope (yellow)
  • Violet – faithfulness

Of course, not everyone believes in these meanings and artists do not always think of such things when painting, however, for some people, these symbols may add meaning to a particular artwork.

Claude Monet (1840-1926)

Throughout his career, French Impressionist Claude Monet produced approximately 250 oil paintings of water lilies, or nymphéas as they are known in French. The majority of these paintings were produced in Monet’s flower garden at his home in Giverny. Although he had travelled around France and London, his final thirty years were restricted due to suffering from cataracts. As a result, Monet worked mostly from home and the water lilies became his primary focus.

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Monet, right, in his garden at Giverny, 1922

Monet purchased his water meadow garden in 1893 and began a vast landscaping project. Several ponds were dug and filled with local white water lilies as well as blue, yellow and pink varieties from South America and Egypt. Across one pond, Monet erected a Japanese bridge, which became a central feature in later paintings. From 1899 onwards, Monet’s artwork focused almost exclusively on his garden, experimenting with the way sunlight and moonlight produced mirror-like reflections on the water. Gary Tinterow, the author of Modern Europe (1987) commented that Monet had developed “a completely new, fluid, and somewhat audacious style of painting in which the water-lily pond became the point of departure for an almost abstract art.”

Monet’s Water Lilies differed from his previous works, which mostly consisted of landscapes. Whereas landscapes depict a whole vista, Monet was focusing on smaller sections of his garden, allowing the lilies to take centre stage.

Due to suffering from cataracts, Monet saw the world through a reddish tone, which is evident in some of his water lily paintings. Later in life, Monet had surgery, which may have removed some of the lens that prevents the eye from seeing ultraviolet wavelengths of light. As a result, this may have affected the range of colours he perceived, which would explain the bluer water lilies in later paintings. Monet may have even repainted some of the artworks he had produced before his operation.

After World War One, Monet also painted a series of weeping willow trees in tribute to the fallen French soldiers. Monet’s younger son Michel was a soldier during the war and it was Michel who inherited Monet’s estate after his death from lung cancer in 1926. Forty years later, Michel bequeathed the gardens to the French Academy of Fine Arts and they are now open to the public.

Vincent Van Gogh (1853-90)

When it comes to flowers, Van Gogh is most famous for his Sunflowers. Also known as Tournesols, this is the name of two series of paintings by the Dutch artist, the first made in Paris in 1887 and the second the following year in Arles. The first series depicts sunflowers lying on the ground, however, the second shows a bouquet in a vase.

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The sunflowers painted in Paris are less known, although it is possible to recognise Van Gogh’s distinctive style. During this time, Van Gogh was living with his brother Theo, which is one of the reasons why this series is less known than the second. Most of Van Gogh’s life has been pieced together from letters he wrote to his brother. The years 1886-88 are mostly missing from his biography since he did not need to write to Theo whilst they were living together.

The Arles Sunflowers are far more recognisable and can be found in collections all over the world. Van Gogh initially produced four paintings of sunflower bouquets, the first which is currently in a private collection and the second which was destroyed during the Second World War. The third version hangs in the Neue Pinakothek in Munich and the fourth in the National Gallery, London. In 1889, Van Gogh produced three repetitions of the third and fourth versions, which can be found in Philadelphia, Amsterdam and Tokyo.

Whilst living in Arles, Van Gogh invited his friend and fellow painter Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) to stay. In preparation for the visit, Van Gogh decided to decorate Gauguin’s bedroom with his sunflower paintings. “It’s a type of painting that changes its aspect a little, which grows in richness the more you look at it. Besides, you know that Gauguin likes them extraordinarily. He said to me about them, among other things: ‘that — … that’s… the flower’.” (Vincent to Theo, 1889)

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The Painter of Sunflowers by Paul Gauguin, 1888

Gauguin painted Van Gogh at work on one of the sunflower paintings. Despite recognising himself, Van Gogh disliked the painting, claiming Gauguin had portrayed him as a madman.

The yellow quality of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers was the result of the introduction of new pigments. These allowed Van Gogh to portray the flowers in vivid detail. Unfortunately, Van Gogh could only afford the cheaper paints and the paintings are gradually losing their bright colour.

Georgia O’Keefe (1887-1986)

Georgia O’Keefe was an American painter known for her paintings of enlarged flowers. She also produced landscapes of New York and New Mexico and is known as the “Mother of American modernism”. As well as being an artist, O’Keefe was a keen gardener and liked to make several paintings of specific flowers she came across. She was particularly drawn to the colours and petals of the canna lilies she found in New York.

From 1915 to 1927, O’Keefe produced nine paintings that are collectively known as the Red Canna series. Although she began by painting a bouquet of the flowers, her artwork progressed to almost abstract close-up images. O’Keefe tried to reflect the way she saw flowers, first at a distance, then in close quarters.

“Well – I made you take time to look at what I saw and when you took time to really notice my flower you hung all your own associations with flowers on my flower and you write about my flower as if I think and see what you think and see of the flower – and I don’t.”
– Georgia O’Keefe

Unfortunately, art critics, mostly male, have misinterpreted O’Keefe’s work as references of a sexual nature. The close-up depictions of flower petals and the insides of the canna lilies have been compared to female genitalia. This was not O’Keefe’s intention.

O’Keefe was fascinated by colour, particularly the varying shades of red, yellow and orange that magnified the texture of the canna lily. An article written by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts states, “In these extreme close-ups she established a new kind of modern still life with no references to atmospheric effects or realistic details, reflecting her statement, ‘I paint because color is significant.'” Unfortunately, O’Keefe’s works are still misconstrued as female sexuality today.

Andy Warhol (1928-87)

As a leader of the Pop Art movement, Andy Warhol was best known for his screen prints of Campbell’s Soup Cans and Gold Marilyn Monroe. Lesser known is his 1964 series Flowers which featured in that year’s June edition of Modern Photography magazine. They were later exhibited in the Leo Castello gallery in New York.

For this body of work, Warhol used a photograph of hibiscus blossom taken by Patricia Caulfield, something for which she later took him to court. Using the photograph as a template, Warhol used a silkscreen process to build up the layers, each one being a different, vibrant colour. The template could be used multiple times, allowing Warhol to produce a total of ten screenprints. He experimented with contrasting colours and occasionally added in extra elements, for example, shadows.

The final outcomes are far removed from the original photograph. Warhol flattened and cropped the flowers, removing any distinguishing features and textures. The simplified flowers no longer appear natural and they are difficult to identify. Various critics mistook them for anemones, nasturtium and pansies.

Flowers was a departure from the norm for Warhol, who usually focused on mass culture and brands. Flowers have been included in art for centuries, making them iconic, timeless and unaffiliated with a particular art movement. The flowers also feel impersonal and, despite being based on a photograph, unnatural. The silkscreen process was originally intended for commercial use, as a method of mass production, however, Warhol adopted it as his signature style.

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Twenty years after completing Flowers, Warhol returned to the subject with his Daisy series. It is not certain whether these prints were based upon a photograph but the single flower is easier to identify. Rather than using a single block colour for the daisy, Warhol created a sense of texture and tone, printing delicate shapes and a detailed outline. Whilst the print is still simple and bold, it is much more delicate than his previous series.

Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder (1573-1621)

Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder was a painter from the Dutch Golden Age (17th century) who specialised in painting still-lifes of flowers. During his career, he became the dean of the Guild of Saint Luke (the guild of painters), which helped to establish him as a leading figure in the fashionable floral painting genre. All three of Bosschaert’s sons, Ambrosius II, Johannes and Abraham, became flower painters.

Bosschaert was one of the first artists to focus on flower bouquets, typically of tulips and roses. The majority of his paintings were symmetrical and painted with scientific accuracy. This suggests he painstakingly set up the bouquets and may have studied books about flowers to ensure he got all the minute details correct.

At the time, the Netherlands was a highly religious country and it is said Bosschaert hid symbolic and religious meanings in his paintings. These hidden meanings are not so obvious today, however, the inclusion of butterflies and dragonflies are a reminder of the brevity of life. The short-lived flowers, such as carnations, tulips, violets, roses and hyacinths, symbolise the transience of beauty.

Due to the prosperous 17th-century Dutch market, Bosschaert became highly successful and coincided with the national obsession with exotic flowers, also known as Tulip Mania. Despite being popular, the number of paintings by Bosschaert is relatively low. This was partly because he worked as an art dealer but also because his paintings, full of painstaking detail, took a long time to complete.

Jeff Koons (b.1955)

Jeff Koons is an American artist known for his sculptures depicting everyday objects and animals. His work usually tests the boundaries between popular and elite culture, merging modern techniques with references to older cultures. Usually of a significant scale, Koons’ artwork has received mixed reviews, some saying they are of major art-historical importance, and others dismissing them as a waste of space.

An example of Koons’ work sits on the terrace outside the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain. Puppy is a 43 ft tall topiary sculpture of a West Highland Terrier built from stainless steel and covered with a carpet of flowers. The various coloured flowers include marigolds, begonias, petunias and lobelias.

A similar style sculpture is Split-Rocker, which Koons designed in 2000. The design is composed of two halves each resembling a toy belonging to Koons’ son. When the halves are placed together, they form the head of a giant child’s rocker. Like Puppy, the 37 ft sculpture is covered with 27,000 live flowers of various genus and colour.

In the art world, Koons’ work is labelled as Neo-Pop or Post-Pop. He claims there is no hidden meaning in his work but his choice of subject matter has occasionally caused controversy. Like Andy Warhol, Koons has been sued several times for copyright infringement for basing his ideas on pre-existing images. Nonetheless, Koons has received enough praise and support to encourage him to keep designing his impressive sculptures. “From the beginning of his controversial career, Koons overturned the traditional notion of art inside and out. Focusing on banal objects as models, he questioned standards of normative values in art, and, instead, embraced the vulnerabilities of aesthetic hierarchies and taste systems.” (Samito Jalbuena, 2014)

Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750)

Rachel Ruysch, like Bosschaert, was a Dutch still-life painter during the Dutch Golden Age. She also specialised in flowers and was the most successful female painter at the time with over six decades worth of work. Ruysch’s father was a professor of anatomy and botany who inspired his daughter to learn to depict nature with great accuracy.

Although Ruysch’s work looks similar to Bosschaert, she is more playful with her compositions and choice of colour. More often than not, Ruysch’s bouquets are asymmetrical and wild with drooping flowers. Nonetheless, her paintings were never rushed; she paid attention to all the details and every petal was painstakingly painted. She even included hints of pollen at the centre of the flowers.

It was during the Dutch Golden Age that people began to associate flowers with specific meanings, therefore, there may have been some thought into Ruysch’s choice of flowers. Typically, Ruysch painted peonies, roses, foxgloves, poppies, nasturtium and bindweed.

Despite being a woman, some art critics claim she was the best still-life artist during her lifetime. By her death, she had produced more than 250 paintings, each selling between 750 and 1200 guilders. To put this into perspective, the famous Rembrandt (1606-69) rarely received more than 500 guilders for a painting.

Clementine Hunter (1886-1988)

Clementine Hunter was a self-taught black artist from Louisiana, USA. She spent most of her life as a farm labourer and never learnt to read or write, however, at the age of 50 she picked up a paintbrush and began to paint. Initially, Hunter depicted plantation life in her artworks and sold them for as little as 25 cents. Fortunately, she gained the support of the locals who helped to supply her with paints so that she could produce more artwork, which eventually received wider attention.

Although she was mostly known for her depiction of plantation life, such as cotton picking and washing clothes, she eventually moved on to painting flowers, particularly zinnias. Zinnias were abundant in the South and her paintings usually capture a freshly cut bunch placed in a pot. Hunter’s style is flat and lacks perspective, however, the vibrancy of the paint has made them attractive to many.

By the end of her life, Hunter’s paintings were being exhibited in galleries and she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree in 1986. In 2013, Robert Wilson (b.1941), an American playwright, produced an opera about Clementine Hunter entitled Zinnias: the Life of Clementine Hunter. According to the Museum of American Folk Art, Hunter is “the most celebrated of all Southern contemporary painters.”

William Morris (1834-96)

William Morris was talented in a multitude of occupations, including artist, designer, writer, poet and socialist. He is largely remembered for his textile designs and contribution to the British Arts and Crafts Movement. His textile designs, which extended to tapestries, fabrics, furniture, wallpaper and stained glass windows, were often floral. Only a few do not feature flowers, leaves, trees or plants.

Morris observed the natural world as inspiration for his designs. Rather than producing a single image as a painter might, Morris turned his flowers into repetitive patterns that could be repeated without interruption. He also only included one or two types of flower in his designs so that people could easily purchase fabrics and so forth to complement their tastes.

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Strawberry Thief

The first flower Morris used in his textile designs was jasmine, which was followed by tulips. Occasionally, Morris included other elements in the pattern, such as the birds in the Strawberry Thief design.

By experimenting with different dyes and techniques, Morris was able to accurately represent flowers upon striking backgrounds – often indigo. His initial designs were rather bland in comparison to the later ones. With nearly 600 designs, Morris produced patterns containing all the popular flowers in Britain at the time. These include roses, hyacinths, tulips, marigolds, honeysuckle, anemone, acanthus and willow branches.

Édouard Manet (1832-83)

Édouard Manet is not usually an artist associated with flowers, however, throughout his career, he produced twenty floral still lifes. The majority of these were produced during the last year of his life. Manet is mostly remembered as a French modernist painter who transitioned from Realism to Impressionism. The majority of Manet’s paintings feature people, usually in social situations, so it is not surprising that his flower paintings have gone unnoticed.

Manet was only forty when his health began to deteriorate. He developed partial paralysis and severe pain in his legs, which was eventually diagnosed as locomotor ataxia, a side effect of syphilis. In his final month, Manet’s left foot was amputated because of gangrene and he passed away eleven days later.

Due to his health problems, Manet spent a lot of time in bed where he was visited by his closest friends. As per tradition, his friends brought fresh flowers when visiting the sick man. Placing these at his bedside, Manet passed the days producing small paintings of the bouquets.

The majority of Manet’s flower paintings consist of a glass vase on a marble top table. The flowers, predominantly lilacs and roses, are made up of thick paint and swift brushstrokes, as was usual of the Impressionist style.

Anna Atkins (1799-1871)

Anna Atkins née Children was an English botanist and photographer who was the first to publish a book illustrated with photographs. Some claim she was also the first woman to take a photograph. Born in Tunbridge, Kent (the so-called “Garden of England”) Atkins grew up helping her father, John George Children (1777-1852), a mineralogist and zoologist, produce detailed engravings of shells. As she got older, her interests turned to botany and she began collecting and preserving dried plants. By 1839, Atkins had been elected a member of the London Botanical Society.

Both Atkins’ father and husband, John Pelly Atkins, were friends with Henry Fox Talbot (1800-77), an inventor and pioneer of photography. Through this connection, Atkins learnt about “photogenic drawing”, a technique that involved placing an object on light-sensitized paper, which is exposed to the sun to produce an image.

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Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions

Another friend of Atkins’ father and husband was Sir John Herschel (1792-1871), the son of the man who discovered the planet Uranus. He introduced Atkins to cyanotype, a photographic printing process similar to Talbot’s invention but produced a blue-tinted print. Atkins began by producing prints of algae and seaweed, which she published in her book Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions.

In the 1850s, Atkins began to produce photographic prints of flowers. Published in Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Flowering Plants and Ferns (1854), the prints capture a translucent silhouette of the flowers, which appear a greenish-white on top of a blue background. Since photography, as we know it today, had not yet been invented, these were the most scientifically correct artworks of the 19th century.

Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849)

Hokusai is one of the best known Japanese artists and printmakers of the Edo Period, famous for his internationally iconic print The Great Wave off Kanagawa. Hokusai’s most praised work is his woodblock series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, however, he also produced several bird and flower prints (kachō-ga).

At the age of 18, Hokusai was apprenticed to Katsukawa Shunshō (1726-93), who introduced him to ukiyo-e, a genre of Japanese art produced through woodblock printing. This technique involved engraving an image onto a wooden block, only chiselling away the sections the artist wished to remain white or empty. These were then inked and placed on top of paper or fabric and put through a woodcut press. More than one woodblock could be used to produce several colours in the same image.

Hokusai began producing detailed images of flowers and birds before his famous Great Wave, which was printed in the 1830s. The flowers are species that can typically be found in Japan, including peonies and poppies. By the age of 73, Hokusai said, “I partly understood the structure of animals, birds, insects and fishes, and the life of grasses and plants.” He believed that each year of his life was an opportunity to develop and perfect his art and that by the age of 110 he would be a real painter. Unfortunately, he died at the age of 88.

Flowers have meant something different to each of the above artists and the same paintings will have unique meanings for anyone who looks at them. For some, painting flowers was a way of life, a way of earning money. For others, flowers were something in which they were personally interested. Whilst flowers and plants can be used symbolically, this is not always the artist’s intention, however, personal interpretation can add new meanings to the work.

Regardless of when they were painted or which medium was used, paintings of flowers are timeless. Nature has found its way into all art movements, therefore, whatever your preference of style, you will find a piece of art to brighten up your day.

The History of Gardening

The Garden Museum, housed in the former church of St Mary-at-Lambeth in London, is Britain’s only museum of the art, history and design of gardens. The church, adjacent to Lambeth Palace on the South Bank of the River Thames, was deconsecrated in 1972 and scheduled for demolition. Fortunately, the building was saved when a tomb belonging to two 17th-century royal gardeners and plant hunters John Tradescant the Elder (1570s-1638) and the Younger (1608-62) was discovered in the churchyard. John and Rosemary Nicholson who found the tomb were inspired to turn the building into the world’s first museum dedicated to gardening.

The main section of the museum is on the first floor, which has been added to the main body of the church. The collection includes a wealth of information about the history of gardening and displays a collection of tools, art and other ephemera.

The Garden Museum

What constitutes a garden? Areas of land can be private, public, designed or wild, however, what makes it a garden is the activity within it. Gardens are usually maintained, cultivated or used for public and private enjoyment and recreation. The history of gardens begins in 1600, towards the end of Elizabeth I’s reign, when John Tradescant, the first great gardener, began his career, however, it was only the wealthy that could afford such privileges.

It was during the 18th and 19th century when the general public began enjoying their private gardens. Whilst farming has been a necessity throughout time, gardening for pleasure has increased rapidly over the last few centuries. Flower Shows began emerging in the North, the first taking place in Norwich in 1843; the show was dedicated to chrysanthemums. Three years later, the craze had spread across the rest of Britain.

Prizes were awarded at Flower Shows for various achievements. Gardeners competed for best flowers, biggest vegetables, neatest gardens and so forth. To begin with, these were held in small communities but today, some competitions have reached a national scale.

Advice for gardeners began being printed and distributed as early as 1826 when the first gardening magazine, The Gardener’s Magazine, was established. Initially, this was targetted at the gardeners of country estates but it soon found a more general readership. Taking advantage of this, The Amateur Gardening Magazine was founded in 1884, providing advice about plants, soil and seasons. The magazine is still published today.

Other companies soon jumped on the bandwagon, producing magazines such as The Garden Home Journal (1907), Understanding Gardening (1960s) and The Woolworth Gardener (1950s). The latter was published by Woolworths, then Britain’s biggest seller of seeds and bulbs. It included advice from many professional gardeners and boasted that it was “a guide to successful gardening for all“.

From the mid-to-late 20th century, gardening advice moved to televisions with programmes such as Gardeners’ World in 1969. The show was presented by Percy Thrower (1913-88) who had been professionally gardening since the age of 18. Thrower was known for his early work at Windsor Castle, promoting the Dig for Victory campaign during the Second World War, and designing the Blue Peter garden. In 1974, Thrower created the Master Gardener Series, providing simple guides about sowing seeds and other gardening tips.

Percy Thrower died in 1988, however, his legacy lives on in the continuation of Gardeners’ World and the introduction of other gardening programmes, such as Ground Force (1997-2002).

Growing flowers was by no means a new concept in Britain. People had kept window boxes and bought cut flowers from markets to display in their homes for hundreds of years before they began maintaining larger gardens. From the late 19th century, however, owning a garden was not just about growing plants, they became places of leisure. Croquet and lawn tennis became popular and children used gardens as a space to play and invent numerous games.

Around the same time, novelty items began to appear in gardens, for instance, the garden gnome and, later, pink flamingoes. Today, garden centres are full of traditional and contemporary sculptures specifically designed to stand on lawns or hide in flowerbeds. Since the mid-20th century, children’s playthings: swings, slides, climbing frames; have dominated lawns. Unfortunately, due to the modernisation of towns and cities, not everyone has the opportunity to own a private garden.

Fortunately, the lack of a garden does not prevent people from enjoying flowers and plants. Cut flowers have been available in London since Covent Garden Market opened in the 1630s. As modes of transport improved, different types of flowers became available at the market, for instance, daffodils from Lincolnshire, violets from Devon and, by the 1900s, carnations from southern France.

Today, florists sell flowers from all over the world, particularly from Holland. In Britain, the changing seasons control which plants can be grown throughout the year, however, thanks to air travel, it is possible to order whatever cut flowers we desire, whenever we want. The majority of roses sold in Britain, for instance, come from Kenya.

Statistically, Britain has the least native flora than any country in Europe other than Ireland. From as early as the 16th century, “plant hunters” were sent to other countries to discover foreign plants and introduce them to Britain. Snowdrops and tulips were found in the Ottoman Empire and Sunflowers arrived from Central America. Later, in the 19th century, explorers found rhododendrons and wisteria in the Himalayas.

Some of these expeditions were funded by aristocrats who wished to show off exotic plants in their gardens. Other trips were arranged for scientific reasons by the government. The plants that were gathered were brought to the botanical gardens at Kew where botanists could learn about the foreign flora and their potential economic and medical properties.

Buried in the gardens of the church/museum is Vice-Admiral William Bligh (1754-1817) who captained the Royal Navy vessel HMS Bounty in 1789. His main task was to transplant the breadfruit from Tahiti to the British colonies in the West Indies as cheap but nutritious food for slaves. The breadfruit had been found when Captain James Cook (1728-79) had sailed to Tahiti in 1769. Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820), the founder of the Botanic Gardens at Kew, who travelled with Cook was intrigued by this “miracle food” that bore fruit for seven months of the year. The fruit could also be easily stored and dried so that it was available for the remaining five months.

At 22 years of age, Bligh accompanied Cook on his final voyage where Cook, unfortunately, was killed on the island of Hawaii. Due to his experience at sea, Bligh was chosen by Banks to captain HMS Bounty and transplant the breadfruit tree. During a five-month stay in Tahiti, Bligh and two gardeners collected a thousand cuttings of the breadfruit, however, they never managed to transport them to the West Indies. Led by Fletcher Christian (1764-93), some of the Bounty’s crew decided to take over the ship. Unable to regain control of the mutineers, Bligh and his loyal sailors rowed over 4000 miles to safety.

Fortunately, Bligh was able to return to Tahiti in 1793 aboard HMS Providence. This time, the ship reached Jamaica with 1,281 breadfruit plants. Today, the plants grow abundantly across the Caribbean.

Bligh went on to serve in the Napoleonic wars before becoming the Governor of New South Wales, Australia in 1806. Unfortunately, due to his sympathetic attitude towards the poor settlers, he was overthrown by the rich colonists. Bligh returned to England where he eventually died at home in Bond Street, London in 1817. He was buried in a tomb at St Mary’s, which had been built for his wife Betsy.

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Initially, it was only the aristocracy that could afford to purchase the plants that explorers like Cook and Bligh collected, however, in the 18th century, nurseries were set up where the general public could purchase the seeds to sow in their private gardens. These nurseries were the precursor to today’s garden centres.

Unlike the nurseries, garden centres can assist with landscaping as well as maintaining plants. Garden design is believed to be one of the most challenging forms of design. The designer must understand the properties of plants and soils as well as be able to imagine aesthetically pleasing spaces. Garden designers are not only responsible for the positioning of plants but also walls, paths and features, such as ponds and fountains.

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Plan of the Eden Project, 1998

Garden design can be studied as a profession, although many people save money by designing their family gardens. Public gardens, however, need the attention of professionals to make them safe as well as attractive for visitors. As an example, the museum displays a copy of Dominic Cole’s (b.1957) design for the Eden Project.

“Tools make the garden. We, the gardeners, may dream and scheme to our heart’s content, but with no more than our bare hands we can’t proceed far down the garden path with our imagined garden plan. We can’t even begin to make the path.”
– Christopher Thacker, garden historian

To design and maintain a garden properly, the gardener needs to have access to the right tools. Today, standard tools can be found in all good garden centres and DIY shops, however, in the 17th century, tools were made specifically for individual gardeners. For years, most gardeners relied on hand tools, however, techniques began to change in the 19th century.

In 1830, Edwin Budding invented the first lawnmower. Up until then, grass was cut using scythes or even sheep, but Budding, inspired by a factory machine for cutting cloth, developed a way to make maintaining lawns much easier.

The introduction of new materials allowed for cheaper and quicker production of garden tools. In the 1960s, the plastic flower pot became popular and plastic was also used to make watering cans. The development of rubber hoses provided an alternative, faster way of watering the garden. Putting the current war on plastic to one side, these inventions made gardening accessible for everyone, regardless of skill.

The museum contains examples of tools throughout the years, examples of seeds, gardening magazines and a wealth of information. Located at various points around the displays are information boards about several people who have contributed to the world of gardening.

Humphry Repton (1752-1818)

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Humphry Repton was the last great English landscape gardener of the 18th century. Born in Bury St Edmunds, Repton was destined for a life as a merchant until he visited the Netherlands where a wealthy Dutch family introduced him to the joys of drawing and gardening. Repton attempted a career as a textile merchant, however, he was unsuccessful and moved to a modest cottage near Romford, Essex. With no secure income to support his wife and four children, 36-year-old Repton turned to garden landscaping.

Repton’s first paid commission was Catton Park in Norwich in 1788. Despite having no experience, he became an overnight sensation. Repton began producing “Red Books” full of watercolours and text to help his clients visualise his proposed designs. The Garden Museum displays one of these books and a brief video showing Repton’s design process.

Sadly, Repton was involved in a carriage accident which left him unable to walk for the final seven years of his life. Fortunately, Repton’s work has secured his name in the history of gardening. Three roads in Romford and Gidea Park, near where he lived in Hare Road (now Main Road), have been named after him: Repton Avenue, Repton Gardens and Repton Drive.

Over the length of his career, Repton produced designs for over 70 grounds of country houses in Britain. These include Crewe Hall, Dagnam Park, Higham’s Park, Kenwood House, the Royal Pavillion, Russell Square in Bloomsbury, Stubbers in North Ockendon, Wanstead Park, Warley Woods, Wembly Park and Woburn Abbey. Jane Austen (1775-1817) referenced Humphry Repton in her novel Mansfield Park.

William Robinson (1838-1935)

William Robinson was an Irish practical gardener who popularised the English cottage garden. He began gardening at an early age when he became the “garden boy” for the Marquess of Waterford at Curraghmore, County Waterford. Following this, he worked for an Irish baronet in Ballykilcavan, County Laois where he was in charge of several large greenhouses. Possibly due to an argument as rumours suggest, Robinson fled to England in 1861 where he found work at the Botanical Gardens of Regent’s Park.

Robinson specialised in native British wildflowers and was sponsored by Charles Darwin (1809-82), David Moore (1808-79) and James Veitch (1792-1863) to become a fellow of the Linnean Society, dedicated to natural history. Robinson left Regent’s Park in 1866 to write for The Gardener’s Chronicle and The Times, and in 1871 he established the gardening journal, The Garden. Contributors to The Garden included John Ruskin (1819-1900), William Morris (1834-96) and Gertrude Jekyll.

Through his magazines and subsequent books, Robinson challenged the traditions of gardening, introducing new ideas, such as the herbaceous border containing a mixture of plants, and the wild garden where sections were allowed to grow naturally without too much interference from the gardener. His concept of the English Flower Garden was influenced by simple cottage gardens once favoured by landscape artists.

“The gardener must follow the true artist, however modestly, in his respect for things as they are, in delight in natural form and beauty of flower and tree, if we are to be free from barren geometry, and if our gardens are ever to be true pictures….And as the artist’s work is to see for us and preserve in pictures some of the beauty of landscape, tree, or flower, so the gardener’s should be to keep for us as far as may be, in the fulness of their natural beauty, the living things themselves.”
– William Robinson, The English Flower Garden, 1883

Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932)

(c) Elizabeth Banks; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Portrait of Jekyll by William Nicholson

Gertrude Jekyll was one of the most influential gardeners of the 20th century. Born in Mayfair, London, Jekyll studied as an artist and became associated with the Arts and Crafts Movement before moving on to designing interiors. In her 40s, she progressed to designing gardens.

Jekyll’s gardens were influenced by the artistic training she had received. She was particularly inspired by J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851), Impressionism and the use of colour. As well as designing over 400 gardens in Britain, Jekyll developed a colour theory, which she published in Colour Schemes for the Flower Garden and other works.

Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944), an English architect, partnered with Jekyll who designed the landscapes for his impressive buildings. Lutyens designed Munstead Wood, the house where Jekyll lived in Surrey; Jekyll, of course, created the garden.

Unfortunately, many of Jekyll’s gardens are now lost or destroyed, however, her fame lives on. In 1897, Jekyll won the Victoria Medal of Honour, which was followed by the Veitch Memorial Medal and George Robert White Medal of Honour in 1929. Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-94), a friend of the Jekyll family, used their surname in his famous novella Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886).

Ellen Ann Willmott (1858-1934)

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“My plants and my gardens come before anything in life for me, and all my time is given up to working in one garden or another, and when it is too dark to see the plants themselves, I read or write about them.”

In 1892, Ellen Ann Willmott inherited Warley Place at Great Warley in Essex on the death of her father Frederick Willmott. The 33 acres of land had become the family home when they moved there in 1875. When she was 21, Willmott was permitted by her father to plant an alpine garden, which included a gorge and rockery.

Willmott employed 104 male gardeners, insisting that “women would be a disaster in the border”, who helped her to grow more than 100,000 different plant species. Recognised for her efforts, Willmott was elected to the Royal Horticultural Society’s narcissus committee and received the Victoria Medal of Honour – a medal that only two women ever receive, the other being Gertrude Jekyll.

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Ceratostigma willmottianum

Expeditions to China and the Middle East were financed by Willmott to bring exotic species to Warley Place. Willmott spent so much money on Warley that she died penniless. Warley Place was abandoned to the wild, although it is now managed by the Essex Wildlife Trust.

Ellen Ann Willmott is remembered by over 60 species of flowers, which have either been named after her or Warley Place. Examples include Rosa willottiae, Ceratostigma willmottianum and a species of sea holly nicknamed “Miss Willmott’s Ghost”.

Graham Stuart Thomas (1909-2003)

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Graham Stuart Thomas

“Whether you look upon gardening as a hobby, a science or an art, the fundamental point returns again and again: that we garden because of the beauty of plants.”
– Graham Stuart Thomas, The Art of Planting, 1984

Graham Stuart Thomas declared he would become a gardener at the age of six when he was given a fuchsia as a gift. At seventeen, he joined the Cambridge Univerity Botanic Garden and then the Six Hills Nursery in Stevenage in 1930. The following year, he became the foreman at the nursery T. Hilling & Co (Hillings) in Surrey.

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‘Graham Thomas’ Rose

Whilst working at Hillings, Thomas met Gertrude Jekyll who became his mentor. She taught him how to combine plants into colour patterns and inspired him to collect samples of roses. This led to several books: Old Shrub Roses (1955), Shrub Roses Of Today (1962) and Climbing Roses Old And New (1965).

Thomas began working with the National Trust at Hidcote Manor in Gloucestershire in 1948. He later worked at Sissinghurst Castle, Kent; Mount Stewart, Northern Ireland; Mottisfont Abbey, Hampshire; and Sezincote House, Gloucestershire.

Graham Stuart Thomas is remembered for his many books and a species of honeysuckle and rose have been named in his honour.

John Tradescant the Elder (1570s-1638)

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John Tradescant the Elder was an English gardener and collector. Not much is known about his early life other than he began his career as head gardener to Robert Cecil (1563-1612), 1st Earl of Salisbury at Hatfield House, Hertfordshire. Following this, Tradescant worked for George Villiers (1592-1628), 1st Duke of Buckingham, remodelling his gardens at New Hall in Essex. Later, in 1630, Tradescant was made the Keeper of his Majesty’s Gardens, Vines, and Silkworms by King Charles I (1600-49).

Tradescant travelled to other countries and continents in search of seeds and bulbs. Places he visited include Arctic Russia (1618), the Levant (1620), the Low Countries (1610 and 1624), and France (1624). As well as looking for plants, Tradescant assembled a collection of curiosities of natural history, that he displayed in a large house known as “The Ark”, which later opened as a museum – the first-ever museum, in fact – to the public: the Musaeum Tradescantianum.

The Ark

The curiosities from “The Ark” are now housed in the Garden Museum, although they have no link to gardening. Tradescant intended the collection to be a representation of the nature, art, religions and ways of life of all nations on earth. Items include an alabaster figurine of St Fiacre, the patron saint of gardening; Roman coins; medallions; reindeer antlers; a cast of a dodo head; shells; and the vertebrae from the spine of a North Atlantic whale.

St Mary-at-Lambeth

A church has been on the same spot on the south bank of the Thames since before the Norman conquest. The crypt of the present building and some of the burials date back over 950 years. The church, whilst not the original, is a combination of medieval and Victorian architecture and is the oldest structure in the London Borough of Lambeth.

A stone tower, dating to 1377 although repaired in the 19th century, is still intact and accessible to visitors. One hundred and thirty-one stairs lead up to the roof of the tower, which provides an impressive view of London.

The churchyard was a place of burial until it was closed in 1854. An estimated 26,000 burials took place, although many were interred without tombs or monuments. As well as the Tradescant and Captain Bligh, notable names in the churchyard include Anne Boleyn’s mother Elizabeth (née Howard, c.1480-1538), Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk (1443-1524), Richard Bancroft (overseer of the production of the King James Bible, 1544-1610), and Frederick Cornwallis, Archbishop of Canterbury (1713-83).

The Garden Museum is open Monday – Sunday, 10:30 – 17:00. Tickets are £10, although some concessions are available. The entrance fee includes both the museum and the tower. A tower only ticket is available for £3. More information is available on their website: www.gardenmuseum.org.uk

Capel Manor Gardens

With over 60 gardens spread over 30 acres, Capel Manor Gardens is home to London’s specialist teaching establishment for those who wish to learn about plants, animals, flowers, trees and the environment. With a history that dates back to the 13th century, Capel Manor, Enfield, is open daily throughout the summer for adults and children to enjoy the colourful themed gardens that surround the Georgian Manor house and its Victorian stables. The estate is also home to a handful of exotic creatures, a great attraction for animal lovers and children.

The history of Capel Manor begins in 1275 when the land was known as the Manor of Honeylands and Pentriches, alias Capels and owned by a man now referred to as Ellis of Honeyland. Little is known about the use of the land and its buildings during the 13th and 14th century, however, from the late 1400s, there are better records about the ownership of the estate.

Sir William Capel (1428-1515), twice Lord Mayor for the City of London, became the owner of the land in 1486. Again, nothing much is known about Capel’s use of the land, nor that of his son, Sir Giles Capel (1486-1556), who became the owner after his father’s death. It can be ascertained, however, that the family had an accumulation of wealth, thus Sir Giles was raised at and around the royal court. As an adult, he was a good friend and attendant of Henry VIII (1491-1547).

Despite Sir Giles’ favour with the king, the family was forced to surrender their estate to the crown during the 16th century. From here on, the land passed through a number of hands, beginning with a William Thorne in 1562, who was given the manor house by Elizabeth I (1533-1603). By 1642, the Capel Estate was in possession of Samuel and Mariabella Avery. Their granddaughter, Susanna Avery, became semi-famous after 1688, when she wrote a book about how to manage a country estate. Historians liken this publication to that of Mrs Beaton’s Victorian writings on cooking. It included recipes for various pies and cakes and a number of remedies for various ailments.

The house that the Capel’s and Avery’s inhabited is no longer standing thanks to Robert Jacomb, who demolished the original building when he took ownership in 1745. The following decade, another house was built adjacent to where the original building stood, which is the Capel Manor everyone knows today.

In 1793, Robert Jacomb dispatched the entire estate to the Boddam family, who retained it until the death of Rawson Hart Boddam (1734-1812), a former Governor of the Bombay Presidency during the rule of the East India Company in British India. For the following century, the estate was owned by a succession of owners until 1840.

Although the existing Capel Manor was built in the 1750s, its decor is the result of extensive refurbishment in the late 1800s by the Warren family. The first Warren, James, took ownership in 1840, and the last Warren, also called James owned the house until 1932. It was during his residence that the gardens were first, on occasion, open to the public.

The final owner of the estate, Lieutenant Colonel Sydney Medcalf, who had a passion for horticulture and horses, began breeding Clydesdale horses during the 1940s. Despite his love of agriculture, Medcalf decided to pass the estate on to the Incorporated Society of Accountants. Fortunately, Frances Perry (1907-93), a local horticulturist, suggested to the district council that it would be worth leasing the area to apprentice gardeners.

From 1968, buildings on the estate were used to educate its first group of students in what would become the famous Capel Manor College. The following year, dedicated work began on the 30-acre land to produce the stunning gardens that are kept and maintained today. Now with over 3500 students and celebrating its 50th anniversary, Capel Manor College provides hands-on experience and study in horticulture, arboriculture, floristry, animal care, and conservation.

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Capel Manor Gardens

Whilst having over 60 individual gardens, Capel Manor Gardens is split into eight main sections, which includes the old manor house garden and a woodland walk. After passing through reception and the restaurant, visitors have a choice of direction; they may either go via the National Gardening Centre or opt for a tour of Capel’s Creatures. Depending on the weather and time of day, the latter is often the first or the last section people go to on their visit.

Capel’s Creatures contains animals from various locations around the world and can be viewed in their individual enclosures or at special weekend talks, which can involve anything from joining a ring-tailed lemur for a mid-morning snack to finding out the secrets of barn owls.

All the way from South America are common marmosets, Azara agouti, Patagonia Maras and Huacaya Alpacas, and in the Australian Aviary are Rock Pebblers, an Eastern Rosella called Ruby and Clara and Ozzy, the king parrots. Say hello to lizards such as an African bosc monitor and a common green iguana named Barry, and watch terrapins cooling off in their small pond.

New to Capel Manor is a “tiger of the Highlands” in the Scottish Wildcat Conservation, which are currently in danger of extinction. A talk about the Manor’s conservation effort is also available at weekends.

Other projects at Capel Manor Gardens are taking place in the Which? Gardening Trial Gardens sponsored by the well-known review and advice magazine. Currently, several experiments are taking place, including, getting tulips to reflower, growing onions from seeds and testing for how long alliums flower. Regular visitors will be able to see the progress of these investigations and the results will be written about in the Which? Gardening magazine over the next couple of years.

The Woodland Walk can be accessed from the Which? Gardens via a path that travels past three totem polls and a monument on the hill. The woods provide shelter from the sun on hot days, and, in the shadows of the forest, it is rumoured that fairies dwell.

Although Capel Creatures may be the highlight of some people’s visits, the Historical Gardens contains something else that children and adults will enjoy. Made from holly bushes is an Italianate maze created by Adrian Fisher (b.1951), a man who has designed over 700 mazes around the world, including the mirror maze at the London Dungeon and the Leeds Castle Hedge Maze in Kent. After eventually finding the centre of the maze, a viewing platform provides beautiful bird-view sights of the rest of the Historical Garden and the Georgian manor house and clock tower.

After finding the way out of the maze, the rest of the maze-like gardens are still to be explored. The historical section includes a sensory garden, a koi pond and Japanese rock garden, as well as a walled garden that provides the Manor House with fruit and vegetables.

In the 17th-century garden are four statues that represent the classical elements: earth, water, air and fire. These were produced by Haddonstone Ltd, a British manufacturer of cast stone garden ornaments, however, they look as though they belong to the distant past.

Across the “equator line” is the Australian Garden, which won the 2011 Chelsea Flower Show Gold Medal. Another winning garden is Le Jardin De Vincent inspired by the Dutch impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh (1853-90). This won the Chelsea Flower Show Silver Gilt Medal in 2007.

Many of the gardens have been put together by different people or organisations, for instance, the National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies. The most thought out of these creations, however, is, by no contest, the Growing Together in Faith Garden. Winner of the Silver-Gilt Lindley at the 2007 Chelsea Flower Show, this faith garden combines four of the main religions: Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Hinduism; and their appreciation of the natural world. Each faith tradition has a connection with or a use for the rose, which is also a universal symbol of perfection and beauty. In Christianity, the red rose symbolises Christ’s blood during the crucifixion. Also, the Virgin Mary is sometimes referred to as La Rosa Mystica, the pure one, which is a thornless rose. In Hinduism, it is believed the goddess Lakshmi was born from a rose, whereas, in Islam, roses grew where sweat dropped from Mohammed’s brow. Finally, in Judaism, legend says that each righteous man in heaven will have a tent and 800 roses.

Despite the differences in the four religions, it is refreshing to see something that they have worked on together. Putting aside their separate beliefs, members of these religions have found a connection within the natural world.

In the Temple Lake section of Capel Manor Gardens is, unsurprisingly, a large lake containing a water fountain. The area is reminiscent of ancient Greece with a reconstructed temple and amphitheatre. It is within the latter that many open-air theatre events take place during the summer months.

The temple and amphitheatre are, of course, modern constructions built to look like old buildings, and, over in the Old Manor House Garden, there is an ongoing project to add to remnants of the cloister and bell tower belonging to the old manor house church. Phase one was completed and opened in 2010 by the Queen.

These follies show the remains of St Ethelburga’s Bell Tower and Cloister which was named after the abbess of Barking who died in AD 675. St Ethelburga or Æthelburh is attributed to several miraculous events and was the founder of the double monastery of Barking. In Saint Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (AD 731), Ethelburga is described as “upright in life and constantly planning for the needs of her community”. She was also the founder of All Hallows Berkyngechirche, which is now known as All Hallows by the Tower in the city of London.

Having come full circle, visitors return to the National Gardening Centre (NGC) before reaching the gift shop and exit. Here, the NGC exhibits a variety of gardens to inspire keen gardeners and landscapers, as well as encourage the less green-fingered. On Sunflower Street, with several false facades of houses, are a handful of gardens designed by former students of Capel Manor College. The purpose of these is to show what can be achieved in a variety of locations or to match particular style houses. Examples include Victorian, cottage, Mediterranean, modern, family and minimalist gardens.

The NGC has also constructed memorial gardens for past members of the royal family, such as the Queen Mother. In 1997, work began on the Princess Diana Legacy Garden, which contains a variety of roses with meaningful names, i.e. Princess of Wales, The Prince and New Dawn. There are also other flowers that bloom in different seasons so that the garden has colour all year round.

Finally, gardens such as Secured by Design and the Low Allergen Garden reveal how nature and beauty can be enjoyed by everybody whilst keeping vulnerable and delicate people safe. The security of these gardens may encourage and inspire parents of young children to create safe areas at home for their family to play and work in, and also give hope and a piece of happiness to those who do not often get a chance to enjoy nature.

Capel Manor Gardens is a wonderful location suitable for all the family. Staff, volunteers and students work hard to maintain the gardens whilst also working on conservation projects and experiments to improve gardening and animal care. Visitors can purchase many of the plants and garden-related products in the gift shop and ask for advice from the visitor’s centre.

Throughout the year are a variety of special events and activities, details of which can be found on their website. Alternatively, guided walks can be arranged ahead of the visit and Capel Manor also caters for private functions including weddings and children’s birthday parties.

The user-friendly grounds allow everyone to enjoy the gardens throughout the year. Between March and October, the gardens are open daily from 10am until 5:30pm, however, in the winter they are only open on weekdays. Prices are a reasonable £6 for adults (£5 concession) and £3 for children, however, prices for special events may vary.

From a 13th century private estate to a public friendly garden and college, Capel Manor Gardens is a phenomenal work of cultivated and natural art. The dedicated hard work is evident from the moment of passing through the entrance right up until home time. Nothing is out of place or neglected; everyone involved should be proud of the creations they have designed and maintain. Capel Manor Gardens is a highly recommended place to visit for an enjoyable and/or relaxing day out.

Capel Manor Gardens, Bullsmoor Lane, Enfield, Middlesex EN1 4RQ

 

The Beth Chatto Gardens

One of the most influential plantswomen in Britain, Beth Chatto OBE VMH transformed an overgrown wasteland into an extensive, beautiful garden. Continuing to oversee the developments well into her 90s, Beth created a pleasant place to visit, attracting people from all over the world. Whether visitors intend to have a peaceful walk followed by relaxing in the tearoom or arrive with the intention of purchasing from a wide range of plants, the Beth Chatto Gardens are a place that can be enjoyed by all. Since Beth’s death on 13th May 2018, her family and 50 plus workers are determined to keep the gardens alive and continue to develop and build on Beth’s aims and visions. The Beth Chatto Gardens are a legacy and a memorial of the fantastic, green-fingered gardener.

Situated near Elmstead Market, Colchester, the Beth Chatto Gardens are home to over 2000 varieties of plants. Split into several smaller gardens, habitats suitable for all types of plants have been developed, allowing native and exotic flowers and shrubs to blossom. From drought-tolerant plants to those that live near water, Beth Chatto has them all, however, the state of the land when Beth first purchased it was a completely contrasting, sorry sight.

 

 

Betty Diana Little was born in Good Easter, Essex in 1923 to Bessie (née Styles) and William Little, who were both keen gardeners. In her 20s, Betty began using the name Beth, by which she is now recognised throughout the world. Initially, Beth trained to be a teacher and worked at Hockerill College, Bishop’s Stortford from 1940 until 1943, when she married her husband Andrew Chatto.

Like Beth, Andrew was passionate about plants and worked as a fruit farmer until 1960. To begin with, the Chattos and their two daughters lived in Braiswick, Colchester, however, Beth was disappointed that she was unable to have a proper garden on account of the quality of the soil. The Chatto family fruit farm in Elmstead Market, however, had far more potential for a garden, so Beth convinced her husband to build a new home on the land.

Unlike other fruit farms in the area, the Chatto’s farm was less successful owing to the dryness of the soil in some parts and wetness in others. As a result, only plants such as wild blackthorn, willow and brambles had been able to grow naturally. Nevertheless, Beth was determined for her garden to be a success, and today, only the ancient oaks along the boundary survive from the original farmland.

Instead of being discouraged by the mix of gravelly soil and boggy ditches, Beth sought out plants that would thrive in these areas, rather than fight a losing battle trying to get anything else to grow. Today, the Beth Chatto Gardens span five acres of land with a variety of plant environments, including sun-baked gravel, water, woodland, heavy clay and alpine planting.

 

 

On arrival, visitors enter the newly developed Gravel Garden, which was once used as the car park. It was originally formed as an experiment by Beth Chatto and her team of workers. Famous for never needing to be watered, the free-draining soil is perfect for the Gardens’ selection of drought-tolerant plants, including ornamental grass and a tall eucalyptus tree, a plant native to Australia. Of the whole Beth Chatto Gardens, it is these plants that coped best during Britain’s July-August 2018 heatwave.

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Mount Etna Broom

Another species of plant in the Gravel Garden is the genista aetnensis or Mount Etna Broom, which is endemic to the Italian islands of Sicily and Sardinia. This Mediterranean shrubby vegetation typically needs stony soil to thrive and a sunny climate, i.e. little rain. Although Colchester is not the driest of places (heatwave notwithstanding), the light gravelly soil prevents the rain from having a disastrous effect on these dry-thriving plants.

Once past the main entrance to the gardens, where only those who have paid can enter, the path leads to the Water Garden which surrounds four cloud-shaped ponds in which many water plants are growing. All the plants in this garden need moisture in order to survive and, although they can be watered by hand, the roots can get what they need directly from the ponds.

 

 

Unfortunately, the plants and foliage in the Water Garden have been hit heavily by the recent heatwave. Although the water source is always available, in July the sun had scorched the petals and leaves, drying them up to make it look like autumn had come early. This garden is better suited to cooler springtime temperatures.

Following on from the Water Gardens is a long shady walk under tall ancient oak trees. The plants that are seen here grow well in the shade, out of the direct sunlight. These include ferns and various carpeting plants, which brighten up the surroundings. The Beth Chatto Gardens’ leaflet tells visitors to look out for strands of Solomon’s Seal, whose roots bear depressions which resemble royal seals.

Other interesting roots to look out for are the “knobbly knees” or pneumatophores of the swamp cypress. These can be seen above ground in areas near the newly developed area of clay soil near the reservoir. These plants are prevalent in places such as the Everglades in Florida and are not native to England, however, the damp soil in this area of the Beth Chatto Gardens is a great place for them to thrive.

 

 

On the far side of the Gardens is the Woodland Garden, which, as can be inferred from its name, is full of trees. Most of these are the remaining oaks from the original fruit farm but beneath them are shade-loving flowers, perennials and shrubs that provide a number of different colours. In the summer months, whilst there may be less blossom and flowers, there are numerous shades of green ranging from light to dark depending on the plant.

The Woodland Garden is the most peaceful section of the Beth Chatto Gardens. Out of the way of the entrance, it is easy to imagine you are in a country park or forest rather than a cultivated garden. It is also a great place for wildlife, particularly insects, who can live in the bug houses made of dead wood.

Other areas to investigate are the New Planting and Scree Garden. The former contains recently planted shrubs that had been started in the Nursery until strong enough to survive outside. The Scree Garden is made up of a series of raised beds where easy-to-grow alpine plants can prosper despite the stony growing conditions.

Some parts of the Gardens are restricted to staff either because they are developing new areas or because the ground is used as stock beds. Over 60,000 plants are grown on site every year, which are either placed in the Gardens or sold. Most of the plants in the garden can be found for sale in the nursery, which has been running successfully since 1967. Many of these are offcuts or seedlings and may not look like the full-grown versions in the Gardens, however, staff working in the nursery are very good at identifying plants from photographs visitors have taken and can help people make the correct purchase.

Staff are also keen to help gardeners find plants that will thrive in the particular type of soil they have at home. There is a selection of plants that have been carefully selected to suit dry, shady, or damp gardens, therefore, rarely does anyone go away empty handed.

 

Beth Chatto is not just known for her lovely gardens, she is known throughout the horticultural community for her amazing knowledge of plants. Throughout her career as a gardener, Beth won many awards, the first being as early as 1977. After the hard work focused on the Gardens was beginning to pay off, Beth was able to concentrate on entering flower competitions, such as those at the Chelsea Flower Show.

Flower arranging was something that Beth became interested in during the 1950s when a neighbour encouraged her to become involved with the art. Soon, she became one of the founder members of the Colchester Flower Club, which was only the second flower club established in Britain. Combining her love of flower arranging with her ever-growing garden, Beth was persuaded to produce a display for the Royal Horticultural Society Show in 1975 for which she was awarded the RHS Flora Silver Medal.

The silver medal was only the beginning of Beth’s success; the following year, she entered the RHS’s Chelsea Flower Show and won another Flora Silver Gilt medal, however, in 1977, she did even better. For ten consecutive years, Beth Chatto was awarded Chelsea Gold Medals for her display of unique plants for dry and damp areas, which at the time were remarkably different to any other exhibit.

A decade after her first award at the Chelsea Flower Show, Beth had another victorious year in which she was awarded the Lawrence Memorial Medal, the Victoria Medal of Honour, and an Honorary Degree by the University of Essex. By this point, Beth’s fame had spread even further through the publication of several books: The Dry Garden (1978), The Damp Garden (1982) and Plant Portraits (1985). Later, Beth penned more popular gardening books, which can still be purchased in the Gardens’ gift shop. Her final book Beth Chatto’s Woodland Garden was published in 2002.

As she became known throughout the world, Beth began going on tours, giving lectures about gardening. The first tour she participated in was in America during 1983, which was followed by British Columbia, Canada and the North West States of America the following year. In 1986, Beth went back to America to give more lectures, however, in 1987 she stayed closer to home, touring Holland and Germany. Eventually, Beth travelled as far as Australia for her lectures, before giving her final one in Paris in 1990.

Although her lecturing days were over, Beth was still being recognised for all her hard work. In 1995, Beth was elected to the International Professional and Business Women’s Hall of Fame for outstanding achievements in introducing plant ecology to garden design. This studies the effects of environmental factors upon the abundance of plants, for which the Beth Chatto Gardens are famous.

In 1998, Beth was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Garden Writer’s Guild for her numerous books, but her most prestigious award was given in 2002: an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. In 2009, she was awarded another honorary doctorate, this time from Anglia Ruskin University, then in 2011, was named a Paul Harris Fellow by Colchester Trinity Rotary Club. Her final award was presented in 2014:  the Society of Garden Design’s John Brookes Lifetime Achievement Award.

“I wish to set up an Education Trust in my name to carry forward my passion for
plants and ecological approach to all age groups.”
– Beth Chatto

By now, Beth was already into her 90s and was no longer doing any physical gardening, although she was often seen driving around on a mobility scooter to check out the hard work of her devoted staff and volunteers. Knowing she would not live forever, Beth was determined for the garden to live on without her and wished to ignite the passion for gardening within the younger generation. She also believed that gardening was the key to a healthy planet.

In 2015, Beth set up an Education Trust in her own name to encourage people of all ages to become interested in ecological approaches. The charity offers courses, workshops and events for school parties, individuals and families throughout the year, including RHS qualifications. Many of these courses take place in the Willow Room situated near to the garden entrance. The building can also be hired out for special celebrations, wedding receptions and wakes.

Although her death is still fresh in the minds of many people, there is no risk of Beth Chatto being forgotten. The Gardens will continue to open to the public, courses will still run, and staff will always be hard at work. Apart from at Christmas and New Year, the Beth Chatto Gardens are open every day and can be accessed for a fee ranging between  £4.50 and £8.45 depending on the season.

Visitors do not need to wander the gardens every time they visit, some people, who just want to purchase plants from the Gardens’ impressive stock, can enter the Plant Nursery and Gravel Garden for free. Also worth visiting is the Tearoom and Gravel Garden Restaurant, which specialises in freshly baked home-made scones, sausage rolls, homemade cakes and afternoon teas. Coffee lovers can enjoy a cup of the unique Beth Chatto Gardens coffee, which has been specially blended by the team.

Whilst it is sad to lose a life, Beth Chatto will live on through her garden, inspiring new gardeners, young and old, throughout the world. Whether you have green fingers or not, the Beth Chatto Gardens are worth a visit just to see the hard work that Beth and her workers have put in for almost 60 years.

More information about opening times, ticket prices and upcoming events can be found on the website: www.bethchatto.co.uk 

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Art Group. May 2016.

Since starting to work in colour I am getting a lot less done in a month. It is so time consuming… but worth it, right? I mostly worked on flowers beginning with the sunflower I had started at the end of April. I am so pleased with the way it turned out, it was definitely worth the hours it took. I then moved on to drawing a rose, which is loosely based on a tattoo design I saw on Pinterest. Again I am really pleased with the outcome and I enjoyed working on it too. However I was not the only person admiring my efforts..!

Despite being called an “Art Group” many of the attendees are there for social interaction rather than to work on their art skills. As a result not everyone is confident in their drawing ability, however my drawing of a rose inspired a woman, Mary, to have a go herself. She was very proud of her pencil drawing, but she wanted to add colour and shading in the exact way I had done. Instead of risking it going wrong, Mary insisted that I colour it in for her! So I did… (see 4th image above)

So what with colouring and doing other people’s artwork I did not get much of an opportunity to complete as many drawings as I usually do in a month. As I was aware of the time it takes to fully finish a coloured image, I decided in the last session of the month to retreat back to a style of sketching that I have not used much for a few years. Flicking through a travel magazine, I chose a couple of photographs to draw from of buildings and attempted to produce detailed sketchings of them.

I am not so happy with my ink sketches as I believe I could do so much better, but this was good practice for next week, which I am spending in Austria. I want to sketch as much as I can, especially the Tyrollean buildings. Drawing on location means I will need to sketch quickly on the spot, therefore the results may be a bit rough. I could sit for hours and draw, but I want to do so many other things whilst on holiday!