The Royal Gardens of Herrenhausen


I recently spent several days in Hanover, Germany. I didn’t do any planning before my arrival and didn’t have an agenda or itinerary, instead hoping for a serendipitous convergence of parks and gardens of interest open during my visit. As is often the case when one has limited expectations, I was completely charmed by a city with one of the largest urban forests in Europe, a comprehensive network of greenways and public spaces, an amazing zoo and a beautiful city park celebrating its 100th anniversary, which fortuitously happened to be contiguous to the hotel in which I was staying.

However, none of this prepared me for my visit to the Royal Gardens of Herrenhausen, described as among the finest ensembles of gardens and parks in Europe and which, embarrassingly, despite my forays into the study of garden history, I was unaware of.

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Containing one of the few Baroque gardens to survive in its essential form (despite the fact that 90% of Hanover was destroyed in World War ll) the gardens reflect the vision of a creative and powerful woman, Electress Sophie of Hanover. A keen intellectual, she was heiress to the British crown to which she nearly ascended.

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“The garden is my life,” professed Sophie and indeed she was an equal partner with her gardener, Martin Charbonnier, in its creation and design evolution. Raised in the Netherlands, Electress Sophie found inspiration in the Baroque gardens of her childhood and wished to replicate their qualities at Herrenhausen.

Fittingly, it was on a walk in her beloved gardens that the electress succumbed to heart failure in 1714.  The sculpture below, a memorial to Electress Sophie, stands on the southern edge of the garden.


At Herrenhausen three distinct gardens form an ensemble where art and culture coexist. The Baroque Great (Grosser) Garden, the Berggarten, with its botanical collections and the Georgengarten, a picturesque landscape in the English style that is the site of the Wilhelm Busch Museum for Caricature and Drawing Art.

Kolorierte Foto-Postkarte, 1908: Hannover-Herrenhausen. Großer Garten Herrenhausen. Am Goldfischteich.

“Everyone is allowed to seek diversion in the royal gardens …..” was inscribed in 1777 on the Prince’s Gate (although clear distinctions were made between the “common” people and those of rank). Today the gardens host an extensive calendar of festivals and events that are at the center of Hanover’s cultural offerings.



The Great Garden:

While work on the 50 hectare Great Garden began in 1666 it was laid out in its present form under Electress Sophie’s supervision between 1696 and 1714. To fool the eye the garden’s layout is skewed by 2.8 degrees underscoring its artificiality as a work of art in which nature is shaped by man.


The Great Garden from the north, as depicted on a copper engraving by N. Parr, around 1745

A masterpiece of Baroque design, the Great Garden contains the Great Parterre, planted between 1674 and 1678, as well as eight rectangular beds and water features, including four swan ponds.  Originally dug in 1697 as fish ponds the swan ponds were modified during the garden’s restoration in 1937.


The Great Parterre is connected to the larger landscape by a central axis (designed to represent eternity) and embellished with a series of water features including the Bell Fountain containing 164 water jets and the Grand Fountain whose 82 metre jet of water is purported to be the tallest in Europe.



Thirty-two pieces of sandstone sculpture are sited throughout the Great Garden including those representing the four continents, the four seasons, the four elements and the gods of the ancient world.


The design of the planting beds follows an idealistic program with ornamental box trees and more than 30,000 summer flowers.  A series of eight themed gardens date from 1936/1937 when portions of the garden were reconstructed and four of them trace the development of garden art from the Renaissance to the Rococo.


Germany’s first garden theater, created between 1689 and 1682, is framed by gilded lead statues enclosed in hedging. The first “hedge theatre” in Europe, it is the only one of its kind to survive to the present day.


One of the garden’s oldest surviving structures is the grand cascade dating from around 1670. Sited at the entrance to the Grand Parterre, the cascade balances the garden’s other oldest feature, a grotto originally designed in 1676 by grotto-maker (yes, it was a specialty) Michael Riggus.


The view of  the grand cascade below is included in Twelve Principal Views of Herrenhausen by Johann Sebastian Müller & publisher Robert Sayer; London; 1751-52 available at the British Museum.


Inaccessible for almost 250 years, the grotto was reimagined by the contemporary artist Niki de Saint Phalle who has a special connection with the city of Hanover. In her final declaration of affection for Hanover she transformed the three grotto rooms into a unique artistic experience. Begun in 1996, the grotto was formally opened in March 2003 and is her last major work.

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The Great Garden is surrounded by a canal accented by tree-lined walkways.  At each southern corner garden pavilions in the French classical style are sited.  Designed by court architect Louis Remy de la Fosse at the beginning of the 18th century they appear identical yet one is built of wood and one, having been rebuilt after a fire in 1752, is of stone.



A pedestrian bridge, which was not open during my visit, connects the Great Garden to the Georgengarten, the 50 hectare English landscape style park designed to contrast with the strict formality of the Great Garden.   Laid out between 1835-1841 and 1859-1860 by Royal master gardener Christian Schaumburg it is named after the Hanoverian King George IV.


Although I did not have an opportunity to visit the Georgengarten (which is fully public while the Great Garden and the Berggarten share an entrance fee) the map below details the relationship of the two landscapes.

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The Berggarten:

Located across from the Great Garden, the Berggarten (Mountain Garden) originally provided “useful plants for the sovereign’s table and pocket.” Here everything from rice to tobacco was experimented with until 1790 when the cultivation of fruits and vegetables was moved off site and it became solely devoted to “higher purposes” as a botanic garden.

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The Berggarten includes a series of greenhouses, both historic and modern, the library pavilion and a collection of themed gardens that include American and African desert plants; the iris, rock and pergola gardens; ornamental and herbaceous shrubs and perennials; moor and heath plantings; flowering meadows; cacti, tropics and orchid exhibition houses; a paradise garden and an ornamental and subtropical courtyard.
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The glasshouses include a collection of more than 800 flowering orchids and exotic plants from around the world.


Seriously damaged during World War ll when more than 111 bombs fell on the garden destroying all but one greenhouse, much of the garden has been rebuilt. In 2000 a Rain Forest House (Regenwaldhaus) opened on the site of the Great Palm House and in 2007 the Sea Life Aquarium was built.


The Mausoleum:


Erected for Queen Friederike and King Ernst August in 1842-1847, the royal Mausoleum is also the final resting place of George I, the only English king to be buried outside the British Isles since the Middle Ages. In the off-chance you are wondering, George I’s great-great-great-granddaughter was Queen Victoria, whose great-great-granddaughter is the current Queen Elizabeth whose great-granddaughter is Princess Charlotte.


Framed by majestic oaks transported from a forest north of Hanover, the royal mausoleum is on axis with the palace and terminates an allee of Dutch lindens (which are currently being replaced) dating from 1727.

The Palace:

The Berggarten and Great Garden have been owned and operated by the city of Hanover since 1936 and were fully restored in 1937.  During World War II  the palace and much of the gardens, with the exception of the Gallery and Orangery, were destroyed.  The restoration has been phased with the gardens restored for their tercentenary in 1966.  The palace, reconstructed with financial support from the Volkswagen Corporation reopened in 2013 as an international center for academic science, conference center and museum.  The entrance to the Great Garden is through the wooden doors seen below.



The Royal Gardens of Herrenhausen are, and always have been, a meeting place for the arts and sciences – an “open-air ballroom” where the high aristocracy of Europe were entertained with spectacular festivals, carnivals and artistic productions.  Today that legacy continues and the gardens host a renowned series of events including the International Fireworks Competition.  From May to September, the Great Garden is illuminated on selected evenings. To see an illumination visit:


The Great (Grosser) Garden/Berggarten  are open daily from 9am to 8 pm May to August otherwise until dusk. During the winter season and for special events the opening times are restricted. As open parkland the Georgengarten is open at all times.

For additional information visit:

Copyright © 2015 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved

Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park


While public debate continues regarding Boston’s bid to host the 2024 summer Olympics, I recently spent a weekday visiting London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Described as a lasting legacy of the 2012 summer Olympics at 560 acres in size, it is the largest urban park constructed in Europe in more than a decade.


The issue of legacy aside, the park is part of a comprehensive scheme to transform a contaminated river and post-war industrial site into a new urban district of nearly 7,000 homes, cultural facilities and economic development opportunities integrated within a visually spectacular landscape which, among other attributes, includes 25 acres of wildflower meadows, purported to be the largest area of annual meadows ever to have been used in a park setting.



Within the park eight permanent venues from the 2012 Olympics have been repurposed to support community and recreational activities and in the case of the stadium, provide a new (and not entirely uncontroversial) home for the West Ham United futbol club. A cultural quarter, including a branch of the V&A Museum and a Sadler’s Wells auditorium, is being planned and a summer beach was scheduled to open shortly after my visit.

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Developed in phases, the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park evolved through a lengthy series of master planning and design processes.

Master planning by EDAW (which later became AECOM) in concert with a partnership between LDA design and Hargreaves Associates provided a framework for the public realm and park design.  The plan below is from LDA design and shows the park’s two distinct sections connected by the river.

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Inspired by Victorian and post-war pleasure gardens, the park’s design includes “sweeping lawns, a promenade, access to the river, ample seating and public spaces throughout the park that showcased live screens during the Games” (Hargreaves Associates). The photos below show how the river is accessed in the southern formal area of the park and the northern, naturalistic area.



Following the Games James Corner + Field Operations, in partnership with Piet Oudolf, redesigned the south park as part of the site’s transformation for the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC). According to Dr Philip Askew, post-Games architect and landscape planner in the July 11th article Parklife – Exploring the changing landscape of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park , Oudolf is responsible for the landscaping in the park, which ranges from wild meadows of hollyhocks, ornamental onions and foxtail lilies to “wonderfully imperfect, English” black pines.


The park supports a diversity of landscapes and within its 560 acres are 250 acres defined as metropolitan open space, 112 acres of biodiversity action plan (an internationally recognized program addressing threatened species and habitats designed to protect and restore biological systems) 15 acres of woodlands, hedgerows and wildlife habitats, 4 miles of waterways and 4,300 new trees.

There are four themed walking trails – London 2012, Biodiversity, Art in the Park and a children’s trail – 525 bird boxes, 150 bat boxes and 26 permanent artworks. Below is the guide for London 2012 “Trail of Glory.”

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The southern portion of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park includes a formal and rather uninspiring entry that is easily accessible from the Stratford tube station (after passing through the Westfield Stratford Shopping Center).



Designed to support civic events it is organized around a central promenade with plazas, fountains, play areas, a carousel and The EastTwenty Bar & Kitchen.



The southern section of the park includes the Olympic Stadium and Britain’s largest piece of public art, the 114.5 meter (376 feet) high Arcelor Mitttal Orbit, designed by artist Anish Kapoor, engineer Cecil Beaton and architect Kathryn Findlay.



In keeping with Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park’s mandate to focus on native biodiversity and ecological systems, the southern portion of the park contains the 2012 pleasure gardens, a living timeline of British plant history that celebrates contemporary horticulture drawing upon the distinctive characteristics of plant communities found in the wild in Europe, North America, the Southern Hemisphere, and Asia. Planting design consultants for the 2012 pleasure gardens (as well as the park) included Nigel Dunnett, James Hitchmough and Sarah Price.


The Great British Garden, the result of a public design competition overseen by the Royal Horticultural Society and London 2012, contains three themed gardens that reflect the colors of the Olympic medals and are designed to encourage a voyage of discovery.

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The park’s northern section, follows the river valley and integrates wetland habitat within an extensive network of walking and biking trails accented with open areas for sitting and informal gatherings.



This is a serene and naturalistic environment with an undulating topography that frames the architectural features and provides a refreshing contrast to the somewhat overly active southern portion of the park which was described as “the visual equivalent of several mobile ring phones going off at once” by architectural critic Rowan Moore in the the April 5, 2014 article Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park review – no medals for visual flair.


A new community hub, the Timber Lodge (managed by a social enterprise) includes a cafe as well as meeting rooms for public events and is sited next to the innovative Tumbling Bay Playground.



Olympic venues repurposed in the northern section of the park include the Copper Box Arena and the Lee Valley Velopark (the only place in the world where where one can experience all four types of Olympic cycling).


The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park integrates green technology with elements of British park design to create something totally new that is, as a landscape, still evolving. It has become a popular destination (visited by more than four million people last year) that in a dense, expanding  city like London “is the sort of place is a really necessary safety valve, a place people can come out to,” according to Dr Asker. “It’s a great place to play and learn.”


Which brings me back to Boston. Perhaps it is a landscape vision that is lacking in the current plan which, as I read it, proposes 15 new acres of permanent parkland at Widett Circle, the completion and expansion of Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace from Franklin Park to Columbia Road and improvements to the parks and open spaces that would be used, and thus impacted, as venues.

Additionally, according to the Bid 2.0 planning document (which I may not be fully understanding) that while permanent “open space” would be created in multiple phases, a legacy park would be constructed in phase 7 (2040).


Let’s imagine that Boston’s Olympic legacy as a bold new way to reinterpret the city’s landscape and use the Olympic bid as an opportunity to reshape the city and its public realm.

Copyright © 2015 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved

Book Review: HUMMELO: A Journey Through a Plantsman’s Life by Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury

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“In 1982 Piet and Anja and their two boys – Pieter, then aged nine, and Hugo, aged seven – moved into an old farmhouse on an acre of land outside the village of Hummelo, in the province of Gelderland, in the eastern Netherlands.” From this opening sentence, which feels rather like the beginning of a fairytale, the unlikely story of how, through the singular focus and extraordinary talent of celebrated plantsman Piet Oudolf, the manner in which gardens are designed changed forever.

Piet in 1992

Written to mark Oudolf’s 70th birthday, HUMMELO: A Journey Through a Plantsman’s Life is a lavishly photographed celebration of all that happened following the family’s move to Hummelo. While showcasing the evolution of Oudolf’s work and design philosophy, it is also the story of a place, the nursery he and his wife founded to grow plants that, at the time, were unavailable for purchase elsewhere. While the nursery flourished, drawing visitors from throughout the world, so too did Oudolf’s practice.


Floral labyrinth at the Trentham Estate, Stoke-on-Trent, 2005, Photo: Piet Oudolf

A gifted plantsman, Oudolf is at the center of the movement in planting design that focuses on ecological considerations and the use of native perennials and grasses. Combining plants naturalistically, Oudolf deftly balances complexity and coherence, anchoring his designs with enough of a given plant to provide visual impact while also using a diverse palette of plant varieties. Form, texture and seasonality matter as much to Oudolf as color and his planting plans create landscapes that are often ethereal in their beauty, appearing deceptively natural despite being carefully designed.


Pensthorpe Nature Reserve in winter, Photo: Piet Oudolf

Homage is paid to both the people and places that shaped Oudolf’s career introducing the reader to influential German and Dutch designers and horticulturalists. It is fitting that Oudolf would share his story so generously as throughout the book his independence as a designer is complemented by close collaborations and partnerships with others, including architects and landscape architects, patrons for whom he has created gardens and most critically those who maintain them.

Described as an artist first and a designer second, Oudolf eschews the trappings of a professional office and staff maintaining sole responsibility for his work. Planting design is by its nature a highly individualized and specific skill and according to close friend Rosie Atkins, former editor of Gardens Illustrated Magazine, Oudolf, “cannot delegate the design process any more than a composer could delegate a composition.” As a result he now completes approximately eight projects a year.


The High Line, Manhattan, 2009, Photo: Piet Oudolf

The book’s final section Crossing the Atlantic, explores Oudolf’s North American work including Chicago’s Lurie Garden and New York’s Battery and High Line. Fittingly, these highly lauded public projects have brought Oudolf additional acclaim. In 2013 he was awarded the premier Dutch cultural award, the Prince Bernhard Fund, for “achievements in the field of gardening and landscape design,” particularly his “significant impact on developments on The Netherlands and abroad.” In keeping with Oudolf’s dedication to integrating natural landscapes into urban settings the award’s prize will be used to establish “Green in the Neighborhood” for community- based volunteer projects in urban neighborhoods.

Planting at Hummelo- Photo- Piet Oudolf

Planting at Hummelo- Photo- Piet Oudolf

Told in partnership with frequent collaborator Noel Kingsbury, HUMMELO: A Journey Through a Plantsman’s Life is part biography, part social history and part design manual. While the narrative is structured around three broadly defined sections with a brief introduction the book also includes plans, notes on topics relating to planting design and a listing of places to visit.

HUMMELO: A Journey Through a Plantsman’s Life
Written by Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury
The Monacelli Press: 2015

This review appeared in Leaflet A Massachusetts Horticultural Society Publication, June, 2015.

Copyright © 2015 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved


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For weeks I have been fixating on Abigail Adams’ wisteria. Purportedly one of the oldest such plants in the United States, it cascades down (or is it up?) the side of the house that was home to four generations of the Adams family at what is now the Adams National Historic Site in Quincy, about ten miles south of Boston.

I’m not one of those people who routinely schedule their visits to landscapes around peak bloom time, eschewing a more felicitous approach to the entire process and generally hoping for the best. However, in 2005 I took a series of slides of said wisteria and hoping to do the same digitally, ventured forth. Below is a slide taken in 2005 as unfortunately on my recent visit I missed peak bloom (according to the gardener) by a week.


John and Abigail Adams purchased what became known as Peacefield, including the house, gardens and farm in 1787 while in England. According to Wilhelmina S. Harris, former NPS superintendent of the site, Abigail was attracted to the property which she knew well for its garden containing the “finest selection of fruit trees on the South Shore.”

Watercolr of the Old House by E. Malcom, 1798-large

Watercolor of the Old House by E. Malcom, 1798

“Retiring to our little farm, feeding my poultry, and improving my garden has more charms for my fancy than residing at the Court of Saint James, where I seldom meet with characters as inoffensive as my hens and chickens, or minds so well improved as my garden,” wrote Abigail as she contemplated her return from England (according to Mary Brawley Hill in On Foreign Soil: American Gardeners Abroad). The property also afforded the space and style necessary for a family of John and Abigail’s prominence.

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Located on the west side of the house, the formal garden included three rectangular beds filled with apple, pear, plum and peach trees and grape vines underplanted with cowslip, daffy and columbine.


The beds were lined with dwarf boxwood hedge imported from England surrounded by gravel paths, a plan which has been faithfully retained to this day.


Aside from the aforementioned wisteria Abigail brought two plants from England, a cutting of the red rose of Lancaster and one of the white rose of York.

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Shortly after she moved in Abigail planted three lilac shrubs on either side of the path leading from the gate to the front door as well as two tree peonies. The lilacs, carefully tended by the National Park Service, frame the entry.

According to Harris, while Abigail’s writings reference the planting of daffodils, delphiniums, four o’clocks and nasturtiums the property was very much a gentleman’s farm and as such she focused much of her energy on growing vegetables and overseeing the construction of structures to support agriculture and husbandry.

“It is not large, in the first place,” wrote John six months after moving in, “It is but the farm of a patriot. But there are in it two or three spots from whence are to be seen the most beautiful prospects in the world.”


John and Abigail invested considerable energy into improving the house and grounds for farming. They cleared meadows and established a herd of cattle. Between 1789 and 1801, while John served as both Vice-President and President, additional farm buildings were completed and the house enlarged and renovated to hold his library. In 1799 the Adams’ “homeplace” included more than one hundred acres of land.

1 1828 A drawing of The Adams Seat in Quincy by Mrs. George Whitney

A drawing of The Adams Seat in Quincy by Mrs. George Whitney – 1828

In 1826 the property passed to John Quincy Adams and his wife, Louisa Catherine. President, at the time, he would use it as a summer residence until 1848. Interested in tree cultivation, John Quincy Adams planted a wide variety of species on the property including the yellow-wood seen below, an important feature in the garden.

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John Quincy Adam’s motto “He plants trees for future generations” derived from a passage in Cicero’s Tusculan Disputations: Serit arbores quœ alteri seculo prosint—”He plants trees for the benefit of another age.” The seal below, an acorn between two leaves of white oak above a scroll inscribed Alteri seculo, “Another age” was used as the basis of the coat of arms for Adams House at Harvard University according to the The American Heraldry Society.


Charles Francis Adams inherited Peacefield in 1849. He and his wife, Abigail Brown Brooks, dedicated themselves to repairing and restoring the house and grounds, embarking upon an ambitious program to improve the estate, according to the cultural landscape report published in 1998, transforming the character of the property from a country farm to a Victorian estate.  They rebuilt the garden to solely contain flowers and constructed a stone library (possibly the first presidential library) to house the family’s papers.


Charles Francis consulted the leading architects and horticulturalists of the time, including Andrew Jackson Downing, who visited the property in 1841 dedicating a copy of A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Gardening to John Quincy Adams.  Downing’s stylistic influence is visible as the property assumed the characteristics of a country seat popularized by his writings.

Upon his death the estate passed to his heirs including Brooks Adams who with his wife Evelyn, took over and managed the estate until 1927.   The photograph below, titled The Adams Mansion, Quincy, Mass is by photographer Leon H. Abdalien and was taken on October 10, 1929.  The expansive flower borders, established by Charles Francis and his wife are clearly visible.

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During their tenure a rose garden was installed west of the house featuring Abigail’s York rose and the wooden fence in front of the house was replaced with a gated brick wall adorned with wooden urns.


In the 1920’s the property was bisected by the Brook Furnace Parkway as the farming community of Quincy was transformed into a city.   The drawing below, from the Historic American Buildings Survey, completed in 1936, shows the impact of the parkway on the property, while detailing the layout of the formal garden and specimen plantings.

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The postcard below “Home of Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams, 135 Adams Street, Quincy, Mass” provided by Digital Commonwealth, dates from the same period.  The garden appears particularly colorful and the setting, framed by trees, deceptively tranquil.

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After being managed for several years by a non-profit trust the property was acquired by the National Park Service in 1946.  The original 5 acre site was augmented in the 1970’s by the purchase of an adjoining property, which while serving administrative functions, expands the landscape setting.  However as can be seen below, in the picture of the greenhouse, first referred to by Charles Francis in 1873  and the pond originally created by John in 1820 -1821 the site is but a fragment of a gracious past.

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As to the wisteria it features prominently in most every description of the property including as a dramatic backdrop for fictional accounts of the Adamses life in Quincy including this passage from The Remarkable Education of John Quincy Adams by Phyllis Lee Levin. “On this ravishing day, as John Quincy opened the front gate, the sky was cerulean, a canopy of deep lavender wisteria crowned the front path and looking left, he could see Abigail’s great rectangular garden, her red and white roses (York and Lancaster united) framed with a wide border of amethyst-flowering myrtle.”

Next year I’ll do a better job.


For additional information visit the website of the Adams National Historic Park.

Copyright © 2015 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved

Ham House and Garden


Until the past week spring has been slow to arrive in New England. As an antidote, I have spent time reorganizing images and virtually revisiting gardens and parks I photographed during the past year. On a day trip to Richmond, outside of London, I rented a bicycle and rode along the Thames with the intent of photographing Richmond Park. Along the way I visited the garden at Ham House.


Described by the National Trust as “the most complete survival of 17th century power and fashion,” Ham House stands in the midst of a garden within a garden. The ensemble is most often described as majestic.

With verdant lawns, ancient trees, topiaries, terraces, kitchen gardens and a wilderness replete with structures perfect for clandestine rendezvous, the gardens design and survival are linked to a powerful and politically savvy woman, Elizabeth Murray (1626 – 1698), Countess, Duchess and often described as “more than a friend” of Oliver Cromwell.


Ham House was built by Thomas Vavasour, a naval captain. In 1626 it was acquired by Scotsman William Murray who later bequeathed it to his daughter, Elizabeth. William was close to Charles I and shared his taste in architecture and art. Forced to flee during the Civil War of 1649, it is Elizabeth who is credited with preserving the property until Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660.

ELIZABETH MURRAY, COUNTESS OF DYSART, DUCHESS OF LAUDERDALE, IN HER YOUTH (1626-98) by Sir Peter Lely (1618-80), painting in the Duchess's Bedchamber at Ham House, Richmond-upon-Thames. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

ELIZABETH MURRAY, COUNTESS OF DYSART, DUCHESS OF LAUDERDALE, IN HER YOUTH (1626-98) by Sir Peter Lely (1618-80), painting in the Duchess’s Bedchamber at Ham House, Richmond-upon-Thames.
©National Trust Images/John Hammond

A woman of many talents, Elizabeth is described as complex, ruthless, and charming. In the 1906 Book of English Gardens, by M.R. Gloag is a quote about Elizabeth attributed to Bishop Burnett that opines, “She was a woman of great beauty, but far greater parts; she had a wonderful quickness and an amazing vivacity in conversation; she had studied, not only divinity, history but mathematics and philosophy. She was violent in everything, a violent friend and a much more violent enemy.”

In 1672 shortly after the death of her first husband, Elizabeth married the Duke of Lauderdale. A power couple extraordinaire, they traveled widely and spent lavishly, improving Ham House and expanding its gardens.


Miraculously, both were little affected by changes throughout history and emerged relatively intact into the modern era. Like Rapunzel, they “slept” through most of the 19th and 20th centuries until 1948 when they were given to the National Trust of Britain.

The plan below by Slezer and Wyck is dated 1672 and while it may not have been fully realized during Elizabeth’s lifetime it was used by the National Trust as a framework to restore the gardens in 1975, using plants introduced in England before 1700.  The plan depicts a formal axis connecting the river to the house and the house to its garden.

John Slezer and Jan Wyck plan for the garden, c.1671-2, in the Library Closet at Ham House, Richmond-upon-Thames. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

John Slezer and Jan Wyck plan for the garden, c.1671-2, in the Library Closet at Ham House, Richmond-upon-Thames.
©National Trust Images/John Hammond

In 2011 the National Trust commissioned artist and illustrator Louise O’Reilly to create an artist’s book about the 17th Century garden at Ham House, in collaboration with historian Sally Jeffery, as part of the Interaction Programme for the Garden of Reason Project.  The beautifully illustrated result utilizes historic plans and descriptions of the garden as well as documents from the archives dating from 1653 and 1698.

The plan below, from The Gardens at Ham House, is available online.

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The following is a brief tour of the gardens.  For additional information visit the Ham House and Garden website of the National Trust.

The Forecourt: The Forecourt is defined by a circular gravel path set in lawn with a sculpture of Father Thames at its center. Brick walls containing niches set with busts enclose the space (some of which has been replaced with a wrought iron fence allowing for more permeability).  The formal and symmetrical setting of the forecourt is enhanced by clipped bay topiary of yew cones and box hedges.



The Cherry Garden: One of the property’s most iconic spaces, the Cherry Garden, in the north-east corner, contains triangular and diamond-shaped beds, enclosed with box hedges and cones filled with lavender and Santolina. A statue of Bacchus, the god of wine and the garden’s only original piece of sculpture, is at its center. Hornbeam tunnels, underplanted with clipped yew hedges, enclose the cherry garden which, according to O’Reilly and Jeffery, was in use when Elizabeth was at Ham House.   In 1653 eighty-four cherry trees were identified as being planted here.  The current design is based upon the Slezer and Wyck plan of 1671.


The South Terrace: Providing a viewing platform from which to enjoy the garden, the gravel terrace retains the characteristics of the 1671 plan.  A herbaceous border, framed by an evergreen hedge, runs along its length, providing seasonal color.  During the summer months orange and lemon trees are placed here.



The Plats:  Comprising eight grass squares, the plats are visible in the Slezer and Wyck plan  and were reinstated by the National Trust in its 1975 restoration. The pathways provided an ideal venue for strolling and enjoying outdoor entertainments.


The Wilderness:  In contrast to the plats the wilderness, which contains sixteen compartments, is densely planted with hornbeam hedges and field maple, providing an opportunity for privacy.  Grass paths, laid out in a pattern loosely resembling the Union Jack, connect to four summerhouses providing additional opportunities for respite and concealment.



Kitchen Garden and Orangery: Occupying the south-west corner of the garden, the kitchen garden was redesigned in 2002-2003 based upon the Slezer and Wyck plan.   The Orangery was built in 1674 and may be, according to the National Trust, one of the earliest surviving structures built for this purpose.  The orange, lemon and pomegranate trees which were placed on the south terrace overwintered here.

Today the refurbished structure houses a café that features produce from the kitchen garden.




The image of the Orangery below, by Katherine Montagu Wyatt, is from A Book of English Gardens which contains a romantic description of the property from the turn of the century, predating the garden’s restoration.


Among other observations in A Book of English Gardens is the rich and verdant beauty of the riverside setting surrounding Ham House, which is enhanced by stately trees and greenswards.  Although I did not photograph what is described as The Melancholy Walk, there remain formal avenues of trees (or the reminders thereof) both within and outside of the property providing a palette of textures and multi-hued shades of green that adds to the elegance of the setting.



Copyright © 2015 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved

Book Review: In & Out of Paris: Gardens of Secret Delights by Zahid Sardar with photographs by Marion Brenner


A collaboration between the design editor of the San Francisco Chronicle and a Berkeley-based photographer, In & Out of Paris: Gardens of Secret Delights provides a rare treat: luminous photography and insightful prose seamlessly integrated and beautifully presented. The result is a literary and visual pleasure that will elevate a visit to Paris to the top of every garden-lover’s travel itinerary.

Comprised of forty-one garden “stories” loosely categorized as garden estates, public parks, and privately owned spaces, In & Out of Paris: Gardens of Secret Delights traces the evolution and adaptation of Paris as a garden city, where contemporary design is infused with historic meaning. The large estates and public parks of the city provide context for its private, intimate spaces, which include courtyards, rooftops, those hidden behind hôtel particulier walls and within suburban locations.

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Pierre Bergé’s private garden designed by Louis Benech and Pascal Cribier. Photograph by Marion Brenner reprinted with permission of Gibbs Smith.

Beginning with André Le Nôtre’s 100-acre masterpiece Vaux-le-Vicomte and concluding with the interior courtyard and salon de thé designed by landscape architect Christian Fournet for the hotel Novotel Les Halles, the gardens portrayed within In & Out of Paris: Gardens of Secret Delights inspire inquiry. They are presented from a distinct point of view that is not afraid to frame questions about design, management and maintenance, permanence and impermanence and the relationship between landscapes and gardens.

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Versailles. Photograph by Marion Brenner reprinted with permission of Gibbs Smith.

An introduction provides a concise overview of the history of the greening of Paris beginning with Catherine de Medici’s Renaissance influenced Tuileries Palace and Gardens, sited just beyond the walls of the medieval city. The transformation of the city by Baron Haussmann in 1853 into twenty arrondissements where boulevards, squares, public parks and gardens created an environment full of light and air created a “lyrical, magical garden city” which serves as a textbook for cross-pollinating garden ideas at every scale and a model for the city beautiful movement.

It is this spirit of cross-pollination which infuses In & Out of Paris: Gardens of Secret Delights with vibrancy. Père Lachaise Cemetery, described as an “uncommon sculpture park,” is afforded equal stature to Christian Fournet’s Miami-esque poolside roof garden. Monet’s garden at Giverny, a “painter’s box of seasonal surprises” co-exists with Gilles Clément’s tropical gardens at the Musée du quai Branly. It’s an eclectic mix.

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Château de Courances. Photograph by Marion Brenner reprinted with permission of Gibbs Smith.

Exquisite full-color photographs abundantly illustrate each of the book’s two hundred and sixty one pages. Each is accompanied by descriptive text that includes an identification of the plant species depicted in the image. A resource section includes contact information about individual designers and a bibliography.

The introduction to In & Out of Paris: Gardens of Secret Delights both begins and concludes with a quote from American statesman Thomas Jefferson, who “bedazzled” by Paris on a visit in 1844 noted, “A walk around Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty and the point of life.” The city of light continues to bedazzle with parks and gardens at its core.

Photographs by Marion Brenner from In & Out of Paris Gardens of Secret Delights by Zahid Sardar. Reprinted by permission of Gibbs Smith.

In & Out of Paris: Gardens of Secret Delights
Zahid Sardar/Photographs by Marion Brenner
Gibbs Smith: Layton, UT, 2004

This review appeared in Leaflet A Massachusetts Horticultural Society Publication, April, 2015.

Copyright © 2015 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved

Russell Page: The Education of a Gardener

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   “I have always tried to shape gardens each as a harmony linking people to nature, house to landscape, the plant to its soil.  Everything that distracts from the idea of unity must go.”       

Russell Page, The Education of a Gardener, 1962

In the March 29th New York Times Style Magazine there is an announcement that London’s Garden Museum is presenting an exhibition of the work of British landscape designer Russell Page through June 21st.  For the first time his notes, personal photographs and unrealized design sketches are on view, providing insight into one of the most influential horticultural talents of the 20th century who humbly described himself as, “the most famous garden designer no one has ever heard of.”

Despite his self-effacement, Page’s sole literary endeavor, The Education of a Gardener (1962), was for many years the only gardening book included in the New York Review of Book’s hand-picked classics (recently joined by Katherine White’s Onward and Upward in the Garden).  The Education of a Gardener is one of the best guides to designing and planting a garden ever written. I reread my dog-eared copy, the 1983 edition seen below, often.


Born in the English countryside Page cultivated a love for nature and gardening at an early age. He assisted his family in the creation of a cottage garden at their home in Wragley, outside of Lincoln, and pursued his gardening education beginning in his teens, reading books in the local library and spending school holidays on his bicycle searching for plants to create rock gardens. His first professional job, for which he was paid one pound a day, was the design of a rock garden in Rutland.

Page’s formal education was by contrast “a hardship” until he discovered a talent for drawing, painting and the study of music, painters and sculptors. This led to an interest in architecture and “the depiction of objects in space.”


After attending the Slade School of Art , University College, London, Page embarked on a series of horticultural apprenticeships and collaborations. He partnered with, among others, landscape architect Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe in England (Royal Lodge, Winsor; Great Park, Berkshire; Ditchley Park, Oxfordshire; Regent’s Park, London; planting guide for Broadway Village, Cotswolds; Charterhouse School, London) and French decorator Stéphane Boudin. Many of his projects were lifelong endeavors including Longleat House in Wiltshire where Page worked on the Capability Brown designed gardens beginning in 1932, when he was in his mid-twenties, throughout his career.

Longleat, England, 1951 Copyright RHS

Longleat, England, 1951 – Copyright RHS, courtesy of the Garden Museum

Another early project (1930) was a reorganization of Ogden Codman’s garden in France. Codman, an American architect and collaborator of Edith Wharton, possessed, according to Marina Schinz and Gabrielle van Zuylen in The Gardens of Russell Page republished in 2008, an extensive collection of garden architecture books that provided Page with an opportunity to “absorb the principles of composition and view the present world through the lens of the past.” In previous posts I wrote about The Codman Estate and gardens in Lincoln, MA and Edith Wharton’s classic book, Italian Gardens and Villas in reference to Villa Gamberaia, Florence.  I enjoy thinking about the connective thread between the three and like to imagine them deep in conversation.

Page’s client list reads like a who’s who of European royalty and the rich and famous. His work includes large estates and small courtyards throughout Europe, the Middle East and South America as well as urban planning and civic initiatives in Australia, Venezuela and the United States.

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Plan for San Liberato (San Liberato webpage)

One such project is San Liberato, the estate of art historian Count Sanminiatelli, located outside of Rome on Lake Bracciano. Beginning in 1964 Page, “captivated by its location and intrigued by the layers of time past” (Schinz and van Zuylen) transformed the landscape by reorienting the entrance, adding formal gardens and, in close partnership with the Count, an arboretum. Page wrote, “no garden is more magic than this one.”  Created over fifty years, the San Liberato estate remains in the Sanminiatelli family and its botanic garden is preserved and used as a wedding and event venue.  The plan above is from San Liberato’s  website which includes images of the garden throughout the seasons.

Page also designed the Festival Gardens at Battersea Park in London and advised Lady Bird Johnson on the beautification of Washington, D.C. including unrealized plans for a National Rose Garden in West Potomac Park.

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Russell Page FoB Battersea Park 1951 – Courtesy of the Garden Museum.

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Russell Page FoB Battersea Park 1951 – Courtesy of the Garden Museum.

Page’s American projects, undertaken late in his career represent, in a sense, the culmination of his artistic oeuvre. According to Schinz and van Zuylen, keenly aware of the impermanence of his work in the private sector Page hoped to offset this vulnerability through his American civic projects. So strong was Page’s desire that Schinz and van Zuylen conclude their two hundred and fifty page book by noting, “The gardens he designed in the United States, especially those for the Frick Collection, the Columbus Museum of Art, and the PepsiCo sculpture park, were his final wager against the erosion of time.” It’s a wager Page may have lost as the garden at the Columbus Art Museum was destroyed in an expansion project and the fate of Page’s garden at the Frick Collection remains uncertain.

Frick Garden - Photograph © Navid Baraty, 2014, courtesy The Cultural Landscape Foundation - 36

Frick Garden – Photograph © Navid Baraty, 2014, courtesy The Cultural Landscape Foundation

In 1973 Page accepted the commission to design a garden for the Frick Collection in New York City.  The viewing garden has a classic plan with formal elements that, according to Schinz and van Zuylen, are “not strictly traditional.” Within the garden seasonal planting beds, a lawn panel edged by gravel and a rectangular pool designed to expand the perception of space, are framed by asymmetrically planted flowering trees. Page worked on the garden for ten years and its simple beauty and elegant design is considered by many a work of art that is integral to the museum’s collection and sense of place.

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Frick Garden – Photograph © Navid Baraty, 2014, courtesy The Cultural Landscape Foundation

The garden provides a welcome oasis of greenery within the urban chaos of New York City.  There is growing support to save it from demolition and recently revealed information details the commitment of the museum to maintain the garden as a permanent feature. To learn more about efforts to save the garden and lend a voice of support visit Unite to Save the Frick and The Cultural Landscape Foundation.



“Hat’s Off” by Calder

Page’s last major work, the Donald M. Kendall Sculpture Gardens at the PepsiCo Corporation in Purchase, New York, began with a 1988 commission to transform the existing landscape, designed by E.D. Stone, Jr, into a sculpture garden.  Working with Kendall, chairman and chief executive of the company, Page, although in declining health, labored nearly five years on the project spending six months a year on site and planting some 350 trees in one month alone.  I visited PepsiCo in May of 1993 and scanned my slides from that visit for this post.


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At PepsiCo Page deftly merged his artistic sensibilities with his horticultural knowledge using “trees as sculptures and the sculptures as flowers.” A “golden pathway” connects buildings and landscape and a series of discrete gardens showcase Page’s skill at integrating built and natural elements. These include an ornamental grass garden, a fall garden and a formal water-lily garden with a series of pools that reflect the sky. Not unlike his earlier project at San Liberato, the PepsiCo landscape includes large-scale plantings of ornamental trees and shrubs.

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PepsiCo,c1980 – Copyright RHS, courtesy of the Garden Museum

Just before his death, Page created a bog garden at PepsiCo, perhaps a memory of one of his earliest projects, a small stream and rock garden at Flete, completed when he was just seventeen.

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La Mortella, Italy, C1964 – Copyright RHS, courtesy of the Garden Museum

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La Mortella, Italy, C1964 – Copyright RHS, courtesy of the Garden Museum

Page’s gardens and landscapes are beautiful and his ability to integrate horticulture within a design framework unsurpassed. He understood and embraced formality yet infused his landscapes with the spirit of individual cultures, climates, sites and design features.  He was contemplative and collaborative, undertaking projects that are both complex yet disarmingly simple. As all gardeners are aware, there is an extraordinary ephemerality to the pursuit of perfection and as Page clearly understood a sense of both loss and gratitude permeate every horticultural endeavor.


Russell Page did not have a garden of his own and offers a description of what his personal garden might be like in the concluding chapters of The Education of a Gardener.  Despite the grandeur of many of his projects his wish was for a small and simple English garden without a complicated formal layout which in his words, “like all gardens it will be a world for itself and for me.”

Upon his death Page was buried in an unmarked grave on the Badminton Estate where he worked for many years. Here he is forever part of the countryside he so loved.

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Badminton, England C1925 – Copyright RHS, courtesy of the Garden Museum

The Education of a Gardener: The Life & Work of Russell Page 1906-1985
Garden Museum – 25/03/15 – 21/06/15
Lambeth Palace Rd, London SE1 7LB
Tel: 020 7401 8865 | Fax: 020 7401 8869

Copyright © 2015 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved


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