Book Review: The New English Garden

New English GardenTim Richardson, The New English Garden (Frances Lincoln, 2013; ISBN 9780711232709). 328 pages. Price £40 hb.

Tim Richardson is well known as a writer on historic (and not-so) gardens and as a garden journalist. Here, in a sumptuous, large-format, book graced with excellent colour photos by Andrew Lawson, he looks at 25 gardens made or remade during the last decade. Some, like Daylesford House, Great Dixter, Highgrove and The Laskett, are well-known from extensive coverage in the garden press. Others are less so, and it is here that the book’s interest and value is greatest.

Of the former group, the grounds of Trentham in Staffordshire, a magnificent if stinking pile dynamited in 1911, were sad and bare when I visited ten years ago. Now, thanks to lavish developer funding, Tom Stuart-Smith has recast the enormous Victorian parterre in a broadly naturalistic style, with further planting by Piet Oudolf. The photographs encourage a return visit, sooner rather than later. Cottesbrooke Hall, in Northamptonshire, has experienced a far happier history, with successive owners over the last century employing a sequence of notable designers – Jellicoe and Crowe among them – to create a series of garden compartments to complement the red-brick Queen Anne house of 1702. Over the last 15 years James Alexander-Sinclair and Arne Maynard have reworked the main borders which are now informally planted with what Richardson characterises as ‘effortless artfulness’; and rather gorgeous they look too.

More than half the gardens were new to me; all are impressive, full of good ideas, and testament to the quality and number of garden designers there are in this country – and to clients bold enough to proceed with what on paper may have been quite challenging concepts. Some, like Tilbury Hall in Suffolk, have strongly architectural components, with largely formal planting complementing pavilions, urns, pools and rills. Others, like Greysgarth in Lancashire, and Bury Court in Hampshire, are more informal, with a greater emphasis on plantsmanship, often adventurous. Perhaps most remarkable of all the new landscapes is Plaz Metaxu, set in a quiet Devon Valley, where the owner Alasdair Forbes has created an ‘intellectual garden’: a post-modern re-imagining of the whimsical and didactic landscapes (such as The Leasowes) so popular in the early 18th century.

Curiously, no guidance is given as to which, if any of these enticing  gardens are ever open to the public. Google here we come ...

Paul Stamper
English Heritage

*For more information about the book and a special offer to purchase it, visit: http://www.parksandgardens.org/news-and-events/148-current-news/716-the-new-english-garden-a-new-publication

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