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Book Review: The English Country House Garden

The English Country House GardenGeorge Plumptre, The English Country House Garden, Photographs by Marcus Harper, (Frances Lincoln, London, 2014; ISBN 978 0 7112 3299 0), Hardback | £25.00 |

Hard on the heels of George Plumptre’s The Gardens of England (Merrill, 2013) comes a more tightly focused work centred on some of the finest gardens to have been created for, or by, the residents of that quintessentially English retreat, the Country House. Accompanying the text is a selection of mouthwateringly beautiful images by Marcus Harpur, scion of a dynasty of garden photographers sans pareil. The chapters are grouped into five themes, starting with the “three essentials” - Hidcote, Sissinghurst and Great Dixter. There follows “unfolding history” with Montacute, Rousham, Tyntesfield, Rodmarton Manor and Folly Farm covering a wide chronological range. “Garden ideals” features Broughton Castle, Goodnestone Park, Kitfsgate Cour, Trebah, Cothay Manor, Helmingham Hall and Spencers. The fourth theme is “personal creations” where modern, or modernised, gardens are the work of one inspired individual owner: Charleston, Exbury, Thorp Perrow, Felley Priory and Lullingstone Castle. The book concludes with accounts of six gardens of contemporary design: Scampston Hall, Seend Manor, East Ruston’s old vicarage, Broughton Grange and the old rectory at Naunton, Gloucestershire. In all these, the choice of site proved critical.

There are many books which describe and illustrate the gardens featured in this work, either individually or as part of an anthology of garden descriptions. But by comparing and contrasting gardens of similar vintage or gestation, George Plumptre reveals the degree to which garden designers interact and assimilate each others’ ideas. In the case of Lawrence Johnston’s Hidcote and its near neighbour, Heather Muir’s Kiftsgate Court, this is unsurprising; but elsewhere he reveals a network of influences which helps to explain where particular designs have sprung from. My only slight reservation about the selection of gardens is that it is weak on examples from northern England (though perhaps unsurprising given the uneven distribution of wealth today). By referring to Scampston Hall in North Yorkshire as one of Lancelot Brown’s most “far-flung commissions” he appears to disregard the fact that Brown’s birthplace was also in north-east England; to my mind Robert and Charles Fox’s Trebah more richly deserves that designation. If I were making my own selection, Newby Hall would definitely warrant inclusion; but readers will enjoy testing their opinions against this very erudite yet engaging text.

John Edmondson
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