Book Review: Gertrude Jekyll at Munstead Wood by Judith Tankard & Martin Wood

Gertrude Jekyll at Munstead Wood

Within the canon of landscape history a collection of gardens exists that has revolutionized the profession, shaping, and shaped by, genius and sense of place.

Munstead Wood, the home of Gertrude Jekyll, stands at the apex of this collection. It was here that the woman described by eminent historian Christopher Hussey as the “greatest artist in horticulture and garden planting that England has produced,” collaborated with architect Sir Edwin Lutyens to build a house and garden.

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Jekyll’s ideals were deeply rooted in a love of the Surrey countryside, cottage gardens, vernacular building traditions, the Arts and Crafts Movement and her training as a fine artist. The creation of Munstead Wood embodied the perfect expression of her ideals, providing a canvas for Jekyll’s craftsmanship and experimentation with garden design.

Gertrude Jekyll at Munstead Wood, by Judith Tankard and Martin Wood, is a redesigned edition of the Pimpernel Garden Classic first published in 1996. It recreates Munstead Wood as it was in Jekyll’s time, introducing the reader to the “activities and enterprises” around which her daily life evolved.  Neither a biography nor an assessment of Jekyll’s well documented contributions to the field of garden design, it is instead a compelling and intimate portrait of Jekyll and the home and gardens that she created for her own pleasure.

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In 1920 Sir Edwin Lutyens commissioned this portrait of Jekyll by William Nicholson.

There is much to savor in this eminently readable account of the talented, paradoxical Jekyll who, if you’ll pardon the expression was, in her day, the “rock star” of the gardening world. Her talents were remarkable and wide reaching: carving, modeling, painting, silversmithing, carpentry, gilding, embroidery, herb and flower knowledge. She mastered them all, laying a foundation for her acclaimed gardening career.

While deeply rooted in her finely orchestrated country life at Munstead Wood, Jekyll was a prodigious communicator, the author of more than a dozen books and 1,000 articles. So great was Jekyll’s fame, and so voluminous her fan mail, that she drafted a form letter advising that her “oculist forbids letter writing.”


My edition of WOOD AND GARDEN, purchased at Goodspeed’s Book Shop and previously owned by Mary Currie, Clewer Hill House.

Jekyll seldom ventured far from home, designing more than 400 gardens during her career (although records for only 250 survive) yet rarely traveling to any of them. Instead she developed designs from site plans supplied by her clients, many of whom were wealthy industrialists whose fortunes were made at the expense of the countryside she so loved.


Plan from Jekyll’s COLOUR SCHEMES for the FLOWER GARDEN, 1983 edition. Introduced and Revised by Graham Stuart Thomas.

It is these details that delight, revealing the most extraordinary Jekyll in an ordinary light. While her fame as a garden designer and writer is widely celebrated, her management and business skills were also equally impressive.

Drawing upon Jekyll’s photographs (yet another of her highly evolved talents), scrapbooks, correspondence and the recollections of her contemporaries, the authors chronicle Jekyll’s many enduring personal and professional relationships. Chapters are devoted to both the design of Munstead Wood and her commissions as a professional garden designer. These are listed alphabetically and by architect and included as appendices.

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Despite its fame, Gertrude Jekyll’s garden at Munstead Wood lasted for only 50 years as she made no plans to preserve it after her death. While it lives on through books, articles, photographs and the recollections of those that visited it, the garden was a personal endeavor, created by and for Jekyll herself.

How fortunate then that Gertrude Jekyll at Munstead Wood provides a glimpse of Munstead Wood at its prime, as well as an opportunity to understand Gertrude Jekyll’s garden design enterprises within the context of the practical and creative arts to which she was deeply devoted.

By Judith Tankard & Martin Wood
Pimpernel Press Limited, 2015
Distributed by Trafalgar Square Publishing,

This review appeared in Leaflet A Massachusetts Horticultural Society Publication, February, 2016.

Copyright © 2016 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved




Arboretum Trsteno


It is always humbling to practice what I describe as reverse travel exploration. Despite best intentions I often visit a landscape with only a cursory understanding of its history.  Risking the possibility that I might miss something really important (and indeed I have) this allows me to experience each place I explore through my own lens.


Last summer I revisited Dubrovnik and spent a morning at Arboretum Trsteno located 15 miles west of the city on the littoral coast, a region rich in natural resources and beauty. I didn’t know much about the arboretum except that a really large tree graced its entrance and when I inquired about parks and gardens in Dubrovnik this is where I was encouraged to visit.

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Early 20th century postcard

The tree in question, an Oriental Plane (Platanus Orientalis), is large indeed, possibly the largest in Europe.  It is located at the arboretum’s entrance and, according to the website Monumental Trees, may have been brought to Trsteno by a 16th century diplomat from Constantinople, one of five, planted near a natural spring.  According to legend, the tree famously saved the city of Dubrovnik from an attack by Napoleon’s army in 1806 when one of its limbs fell onto the road taking two days to clear and blocking their advance, thus allowing for a negotiated truce.


The Arboretum Trsteno, founded in 1494, is one of the oldest (if not the oldest) arboretum in Europe.


It is also one of the major filming locations for the enormously popular television series Games of Thrones where, as the gardens of King’s Landing, it is a principal setting in which the main protagonists “weave their plots” and exchange secrets, according to the series’ website.

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In the scene above, filmed in the arboretum’s pavilion (seen below without staging) Sansa meets with Lady Tyrell. (


Sited between the road and the sea, Arboretum Trsteno includes approximately 70 acres of land.  Its central plateau, lined with terraces, supports the principal structures, gardens and agricultural landscapes while the land leading to the coast is steep and rocky.


Historically, the arboretum and its gardens represent the sole remaining example in Dubrovnik of a “ villeggiatura” a rural or suburban retreat from the city that integrates cultural and agricultural uses. As a cultural landscape it is known for its historical gardens and collection of Mediterranean and exotic species.


Its landscape is a mix of gardens, orchards, meadows, farmlands, olive fields, groves and natural forests of oak, pine and cypress. Eleven structures are integrated within the landscape forming an ambient whole that seamlessly blends the domestic arts with the natural world.



As the summer home of the Gučetić-Gozze family (members of the noble class of citizens of the Dubrovnik Republic which included bishops, poets, artists, mariners and lovers of horticulture and gardening) Arboretum Trsteno developed incrementally with each owner adding structural and horticultural elements.  Formal paths lined with hedging integrate individual gardens and cultivated sections of the property.


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Sketch of the Renaissance gardens and vegetation by Maja Anastazija Kovačević, published in Ana Deanović’s “Perivoj Gučetić u arboretumu Trsteno – pitanje njegove reintegracije i prezentacije”, Rad JAZU 379, 1ww978

Arboretum Trsteno’s central axis developed throughout the late Renaissance and Baroque periods providing a cohesive and formal framework for the estate’s early structures, directly connecting the landscape to the sea.


The property contains eleven architectural features, all of which have been preserved in varying states of restoration. These include the summer villa, wheat and olive mills, storage and cooking facilities, a chapel, a Baroque fountain and a 70 meter long stone aqueduct.


Arboretum Trsteno was the only estate in the region with a water supply (thus the aqueduct) allowing for the development of the gardens and supporting agricultural activities.

An elaborate Baroque fountain, the largest in Dubrovnik, was added in in 1736 featuring a cave/grotto, frescoes and a pool presided over by Neptune, the Roman god of the sea.


Arboretum Trsteno is described as a hotspot of biological diversity in Dubrovnik with, according to research carried out between 1995 and 2000, the confirmed presence of more than 400 species of cultivated plants and 528 autochthonous species.

Collected over five centuries from around the world these include flowering cactuses, eucalyptus, palms, Aleppo pines, holm and cork oak, persimmons and laurels. While the collection is richest in Mediterranean and European species reflecting its Renaissance origins. Seventeen percent of the plants are of American origin and twenty-two percent of Asian origin.


In 1948 (20 years after the photograph below was taken) the estate was placed under legal protection as an arboretum and protected by law as monument of garden architecture.

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Managed by the Croatian Academy of Science and Arts, the activities of the arboretum focus on the “protection and preservation of cultural, historical and natural monuments,  the study and protection of cultural diversity, the development of a live collection in terms of protecting genetic diversity, and on research into the history of garden architecture.”


This relationship of man to nature is a guiding theme of the Arboretum Trsteno and is reflected in a Latin inscription from 1502 sited on a wall in the garden translated as: “I am proud of my neighbors, but I am even more proud of water, the gentle climate and my owners. Visitors, behold the traces of human hands, whose excellent skills have tamed the wildness of nature.”


Additional information about Arboretum Trsteno can be found in the scientific paper, Arboretum Trsteno – the Gardens of a Renaissance Villa by Mladen Obad Šćitaroci and Maja Anastazija Kovačević.


Arboretum Trsteno is open from May to October from 7:00 to 19:00 and November to April from 8:00 to 6:00 with a nominal entrance fee. It is accessible from Dubrovnik by the public bus system.


Copyright © 2016 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved

The King’s Garden at Rosenborg Castle: Copenhagen


It’s ominously close to the end of the year and as I reflect on my travels I am compelled to revisit the places I experienced that I really enjoyed and did not have the time to write about. This includes The King’s Garden (Kongens Have) at Rosenborg Castle in Copenhagen, Denmark.


Located in the center of the city, The King’s Garden is an urban open space that effortlessly merges historic identity with contemporary uses, providing a green oasis for residents while accommodating tourists visiting Rosenborg Castle.


With meticulously tended formal gardens, tree-lined avenues, generous greenswards, cafes, and event spaces, it is both a park and garden; the very best type of civic amenity.


The oldest park in Copenhagen, The King’s Garden dates from 1606 when King Christian IV (1577 – 1648) created a Renaissance style pleasure garden on land outside of the city’s East Rampart.


Portrait of King Christian IV by Dutch painter Karl Van Mander from 1638 with Rosenborg Castle in the background.

Here kitchen and ornamental gardens were combined providing fruits, vegetables and flowers for the Royal household, a use that continued until the late 19th/early 20th century.  It is known (according to signage within the garden) that apples, pears, cherries, plums, quinces, figs, walnuts, vines, mulberries, peaches and almonds were cultivated and by 1624 there were as many as 1,400 different plants.

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The original gardens, compared to the Tuileries in Paris, were expanded as detailed in the 1649 plan (above) by Otto Heider. The image below, attributed to 1749, illustrates the formality of the plan.


Rosenborg Castle in 1749 – Showing the kitchen garden and orangery. (from Onsite Sightseeing – Copenhagen).

A small pavilion in the garden became the site of Rosenborg Castle. Today, the greensward in front of the castle is planted with crocuses, a highlight of the early spring.


The gardens were redesigned and expanded continuously incorporating features with Baroque influences. These included a maze and path system focused upon a central area with an octagonal summer-house at its center. By 1710, the Royal family had shifted their favor to other accommodations and the property was eventually opened for public use and enjoyment. The castle, repurposed as a museum, houses The Royal Jewels.


The plan below, dated 1784 details the garden’s evolution showing formal parterre gardens contiguous to the castle and the addition of tree-lined pathways and lawn areas.

København, Rosenborg og Kongens have %22Plan over Rosenborg Hauge opmaalt Aar 1784 af de kongelige Landcadeter og tegnet af C. Hauch%22

København, Rosenborg og Kongens have “Plan over Rosenborg Hauge opmaalt Aar 1784 af de kongelige Landcadeter og tegnet af C. Hauch”

While the gardens have changed over time they have retained key features and organizing elements, balancing intimate formal gardens that serve as outdoor rooms with graceful avenues framed by stately trees.  Although two hundred and fifty years separate the plans seen above and below and many of the formal gardens have been converted to other uses, much of the garden’s circulation framework remains intact.

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This includes the Knight’s Path (Kavalergangen) and the Lady’s Path (Damegangen).



The Hercules Pavilion, refurbished in 1999 as a cafe/cultural venue dates from the founding of the park in 1606.  Among other uses the pavilion, which in its current Neoclassical style showcases a statue of Hercules acquired in Italy by King Frederick IV, has served as a hermitage, ale house, concert venue, residence for the head gardener and a storeroom for a folk dancing club.


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An adventure playground, added to the park in 1998, is contiguous to the Hercules Pavilion. Inspired by the park’s history it includes dragons guarding their eggs, wooden poles depicting a forest and a sandpit with a suspension bridge.


Close by is a statue of Hans Christian Andersen by sculptor August Saabye added to the garden in 1880.   According to text in Insight Guides: Explore Copenhagen, while the statue was designed and cast during Andersen’s lifetime it was installed after his death and it was he who objected to having children included in the piece, remarking he “hated having anyone sitting or staying close to him when he read” and that his stories were intended as much for adults as for children.  The image below is from a print dated 1949.

1949 print

The formally planted Rose Garden is a popular feature guarded by a somewhat austere sculpture of Queen Caroline (1796-1881).  I was unable to locate any specific information as to her involvement with the garden to understand why this particular piece is placed in this location.



The plan below, of the rose garden, is dated 2007 and taken from the master planning document, Perspektivplan Kongens Have.  I have included a link to the plan at the end of this piece.

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The King’s Garden contains what is described as Northern Europe’s longest herbaceous border ( 240 meters or  787 feet) referred to as “The English Garden.”



In 2001, a symmetrical Renaissance style garden, with roses. espaliers and pavilion, named the Krumspringet (‘The Caper’) was completed.  A contemporary interpretation of the garden’s historical elements, the Krumspringet pays homage to a 17th century maze depicted in earlier plans.  Its name translates as “dodge” referring to the ability to avoid unwanted encounters when walking within its circuitous path system.



I haven’t focused on the garden’s sculptural elements although there are many, each with its own story.  As a vibrant urban open space, new and innovative features including temporary pavilion installations similar to those at The Serpentine Galleries in Kensington Park, are incorporated into the garden.  The lion below, one of a pair, guards the entrance to the castle.


At 40 acres in size, the King’s Garden is not an exceptionally large space (as an example Central Park covers 843 acres while Boston’s Common, a space founded approximately thirty years after The King’s Garden, contain 50 acres).  However, as one of Copenhagen’s most popular parks/gardens it balances a multiplicity of uses that combined embody a unique sense of place.

The King’s Garden is maintained by the Danish Agency for Palaces and Cultural Properties.

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As I was researching the history (specifically searching for a plan of the rose garden) I found a master plan, the Perspektivplan Kongens Have (seen below) from 2007.   Without any ability to read the text I am adding a link as it includes excellent photographs and plans which by themselves offer a compelling overview of this well-tended national treasure.

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Copyright © 2015 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved









Book Review: The Good Garden: The Landscape Architecture of Edmund Hollander Design


The Good Garden 5in-2
According to landscape architect Edmund Hollander, “a powerful landscape unfolds like a story” with a narrative of sequenced, choreographed movements transitioning the public to the private realm. Here “your land is your home, and within that home is the house”, whose material culture of wood, brick and stone is animated by plant materials.

The Good Garden: The Landscape Architecture of Edmund Hollander Design, details how that story is told from a landscape perspective using a holistic design process that integrates ecology, cultural history and a sense of place.


For Edmund Hollander Design that place is, by and large, located within 200 miles of New York City where for more than twenty-five years he, and his business partner, Maryanne Connolly have practiced. While they maintain a robust list of international clients, it is within this particular geography that they have created hundreds of landscapes, rooted in the distinctive ecology of the region.

Deeply influenced by Ian McHarg, the Scottish landscape architect and regional planner who founded the department of landscape architecture at the University of Pennsylvania where Hollander and Connelly met as students, their work employs an ecological approach to every project. This is informed by three elements: nature, including topography, soil and climate; human, or the way in which a client “pictures”living on the property; and architectural, including the house and related built structures.

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Elegantly designed and exquisitely photographed in full-color, The Good Garden: The Landscape Architecture of Edmund Hollander Design features a selection of the firm’s private gardens from throughout the Northeast. These are thematically arranged according to individual design elements. Chapters are devoted to plantings that complement architecture, plants as architecture, specialty gardens, and landscapes inspired by nature.


Within each chapter are subheadings that explore design elements and principles, providing a framework for landscape design and a reference for the home gardener. These range from the intimate (gateways, stairs and pathways) to the landscape scale (dunes, meadows, shorelines, woodlands and greenswards). For each a series of annotated photographs provides additional detail and planting information.

Written in collaboration with New York Times and Landscape Architecture columnist Anne Raver, The Good Garden: The Landscape Architecture of Edmund Hollander Design is a beautiful book filled with beautiful landscapes designed in an environmentally sensitive manner for a very particular clientele, with the financial resources to maintain them. With nary a leaf out of place they provide the ultimate gardening fantasy.


Try as I might I could not find any direct reference explaining how the book’s title, “The Good Garden” was chosen. Hollander’s purports that the ability to “shape the landscape as a whole separates the landscape architect from the gardener” with a successful landscape based “primarily on the spatial quality that is created and the use of plants to shape spaces, particularly as you get away from building architecture.” Perhaps that’s good enough.

The Good Garden: The Landscape Architecture of Edmund Hollander Design
By Edmund Hollander and Anne Raver, with principal photography by Charles Mayer
Monacelli Press: 2015

All Photos © Charles Mayer. Courtesy of The Monacelli Press.

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

Copyright © 2015 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved


Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens


I have recently returned from Pittsburgh, my second trip this year. While each visit had a different focus, one of my favorite memories is of an early morning photo excursion to the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.


Visiting urban botanical gardens is a bit of a passion of mine.  They are not always easy to classify, although an underlying scientific basis is required. Documentation, monitoring and labeling of the plants within the collection and a commitment to education, information, research and exchange are also required.


The Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is located in Schenley Park, one of Pittsburgh’s largest green spaces. It is sited in the lower left hand corner of pictorial map below from the 1930’s, restored and enhanced by artist Carol Skinger.


Founded in 1892, The Phipps Conservatory was presented as a gift to the city of Pittsburgh by philanthropist Henry W. Phipps, a partner of Andrew Carnegie, for instruction and entertainment providing, “a sanctuary, a verdant space where smog-weary citizens could find respite from the notorious steel mills and smoke stacks that relentlessly polluted our metropolis.”


The glasshouse, designed by Lord & Burnham at a cost of $100,000, originally contained nine display rooms that featured plants exhibited at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.


Phipps’s remained an active supporter of the Conservatory and gardens throughout his lifetime and funded the expansion of the glasshouse, as early as 1896, just three years after its dedication.  Today the enlarged Conservatory is complemented by a series of outdoor gardens and the Center for Sustainable Landscapes, one of the “greenest’ buildings in the world.


The juxtaposition of the two facilities, which are connected by a series of outdoor garden spaces, exemplifies the evolution of botanical gardens and horticulture.


The complex, a felicitous blend of historic and emerging approaches to innovation and sustainable practices, supports Phipp’s mission, “to inspire and educate all with the beauty and importance of plants; to advance sustainability and promote human and environmental well-being through action and research; and to celebrate the historic glasshouse.”


The first visitor facility in a public garden to earn LEED certification, The Welcome Center, seen above, opened in 2005. It is designed to allow visitors to enter the greenhouse at a lower level, providing the obligatory guest experiences including a gift shop and a three star Green Restaurant featuring local and organic produce, some of which is grown on the Rooftop Edible Garden.


Contained within the  glasshouse are the Palm Court, Sunken Garden, Victoria Room, East Room, Desert Room, Serpentine Room, Fern Room, Orchid Room, Broderie Room, South Conservatory, Tropical Fruit and Spice Room and the Gallery.   The Sunken Garden is seen below.


The Broderie Room (Parterre de Broderie) opened in 1939 and was redesigned in 1966. Modeled after the formal gardens of French chateaux during the reign of Louis XIV, its name translates to “embroidery of earth.”


Two aquatic gardens were added in the early 1900’s and 1939 on the east side of the Conservatory (outside of the Victoria Room). They feature a statue of Neptune, the Roman god of the sea.



Botany Hall, funded by Phipps in 1901 to be used by local teachers to enhance visits to the glasshouse by school children, continues to serve as a facility for educational programming and events.


In support of the educational mission, a Children’s Discovery Garden, includes areas designed to attract birds, butterflies, and bees and contains varied spaces, including a bog and sensory garden.




Installed in 1991, the Japanese Courtyard Garden was designed by Hoichi Kurisu to represent two art forms. As a manmade landscape created to appear natural, the garden’s bonsai are miniature representations of trees and landscapes.



Approximately three acres in size, the Center for Sustainable Landscapes was designed to be one of the first projects to achieve LEED Platinum and Four Stars Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES™) certification while fulfilling the Living Building Challenge for net-zero energy. Opened in 2012, it was designed as a collaboration between The Design Alliance Architects and landscape architects Andropogon Associates.



In contrast to the formal aquatic gardens, the Center for Sustainable Landscape’s paths informally traverse the landscape and grade dramatically until they reach the boardwalk, water fountain and lagoon, where a peaceful setting places the visitor within the landscape.


The Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens  continues to support the legacy of its founder through ambitious public educational programming and by “reimagining and reinventing its campus” to become one of America’s greenest public gardens.  As an international leader in sustainable architecture and operations Phipps is both a  symbol of “regeneration and renewal.”


 Copyright © 2015 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved

Book Review: A Natural History of English Gardening by Mark Laird

Laird S15 jacket-2

As every gardener is well aware despite careful and deliberate planning their success lies beyond their control, held hostage to the complex realities of natural forces and the multiple dimensions of time and space. In his magnum opus, A Natural History of English Gardening, historic landscape consultant, garden conservator and historian Mark Laird explores this dichotomy, placing the history of the garden at the intersection of ecology and culture; a vibrant, messy place at the nexus of control and chaos.

Laird’s inspiration derives from the writings of Gilbert White, the pioneering naturalist whose 1789 natural history of Selborne intimately records both the natural and cultural forces of a singular English village. In contrast he cites Horace Walpole, owner of the Gothic Revival estate Strawberry Hill, whose popular book The History of the Modern Taste in Gardening, published in 1780, informed the literary genre for many years to follow with its singular focus on taste and heroic designers at the exclusion of “life forms that inhabit the garden.” Its an imbalance that Laird seeks to ameliorate.

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Badminton from the south, attribued to Thomas Smith. Photograph courtesy the Duke of Beaufort.

To do so A Natural History of English Gardening travels outside the realm of the country house, with its rigidly defined coda of design elements, to explore both the city and court where innovations and explorations in natural history were transforming garden concepts. From the coffee house to the tea room, these are the places where what Laird describes as a “horticultural culture” flourished, shaped by informal groups of plant collectors, nurserymen and botanical scientists.

Laird devotes a chapter to a new world vision of the garden in which plants and animals, both exotic and indigenous, were integrated within the garden, with varying degrees of success. One is reminded of Linnaeus, who famously housed his pet raccoon, Sjupp, at his botanical garden in Uppsala. The 2nd Duke of Richmond’s menagerie, where animals “partnered” with concepts evoking the “American Grove” and Princess Augusta’s Aviary at Kew offer “comparative vignettes of feeling vying with sensibilities.”

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An illustration shows the Temple Flower Garden of Richard Bateman’s Grove House, Old Windsor, Berkshire, in the 1730s. Private Collection.

Although Laird suggests that A Natural History of English Gardening “inclines to the fragmentary” he identifies three key themes that inform his approach. These include the contribution of women to natural history and gardening, the role of amateurs, both women and men, to the increasingly professionalized, male dominated sciences and the split sensibilities innate to gardening which Gilbert observed and recorded at Selborne.

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Mary Delany, ‘Magnolia grandiflora’ (detail) 26 August 1776, collage of coloured papers, with bodycolour and watercolor. British Museum.

Laird’s focus on women whom he describes as “engaged patrons of an innovative eden” is extensive and much appreciated. While the work of artist Mary Delany is well known, her circle of influence is less so, including her close association with Mary Cavendish Bentinck, wife of the 2nd duke of Portland. The importance of the domestic arts and the contributions of women naturalists to horticultural innovation provides a new lens in which to view the garden.

A Natural History of English Gardening is a carefully crafted and well-researched, replete with extensive full color illustrations, plans, paintings, journal entries, correspondence and notations. Its seven chapters are preceded by a series of illustrative watercolour, pencil and crayon plates beautifully rendered by the author. At 450 pages in length it is both large and heavy and might possibly be mistaken for a coffee table embellishment belying its depth as a work of scholarship.

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Sarah Stone, Interior of Leverian Museum: View as It Appeared in the 1780’s, as copied in 1835 watercolour. British Museum.

This is an important book that provides new insights into the discipline of garden history, a field which is long due for an overhaul. By viewing the cultivated landscape as both a natural and cultural phenomenon, Laird links the past with current concerns including biodiversity, climate change and habitat loss reinforcing the interconnected nature of all life forms, a concept that is as relevant today as ever.

A Natural History of English Gardening
By Mark Laird
New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015

Copyright © 2015 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved

Fuller Gardens


I am always on the lookout for books to review for the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and grateful when my local library purchases garden books that I can borrow before I decide to add them to my personal collection. It is even more of a treat when I discover a book that, for any number of reasons (size, cost, title, weird personal preferences), I wouldn’t read if it did not appear on the “new titles” shelf.

Thus is the case of Bunny Williams’ book On Garden Style, a three-hundred page, over-sized tome, by one of America’s best-known interior designers. First published in 1998, the book purports to provide both the novice and professional gardener, ways to think about “style, form, ornament and the look and feel of a garden” helping readers to “ imagine and design their own personal sanctuaries.”


What most surprised me was the brief introduction which I truly enjoyed.  If a love of gardens and landscapes is, as Williams speculates a journey begun in childhood, for me that journey began at the Fuller Gardens, located on the coast of New Hampshire just south of Rye Beach, where I spent summers growing up.  I visited the garden in the late spring for the first time in many years.

Governor of Massachusetts from 1925 – 1929, Alvin T. Fuller was a successful businessman and entrepreneur who created the first auto dealership in Boston.


His summer estate, located in Little Boar’s Head North Hampton, was named Runnymede-by-the-Sea.  In 1927 Fuller commissioned landscape architect Arthur Shurtleff (Shurcliff) to design a garden on the property.


Described as one of New England’s “most cherished 20th century estate gardens” the garden is intimately scaled and divided into two areas by a private driveway (seen on the map below) leading to the original (circa 1890) carriage house which is now used for staff purposes.  The gardens to the right of the map are part of the original design.Screen shot 2015-09-19 at 10.49.41 AM

A wooden gate, which I used many times and is now closed, provided access to the front garden from what was the location of Runnymede-by-the Sea (footprint seen above) which was removed in 1961, three years after Fuller’s death.


Designed in the Colonial revival style, the formal front garden is bordered by perennial beds with a recessed parterre planted with roses.




The front garden’s axis terminates in a small lawn panel with a fountain and leads to  the Japanese Garden.


Part of the original design, the Japanese garden is surrounded by cedar trees. Ethereally beautiful, this very intimate space with its koi pond, small bridge and sculptural elements starkly contrasts with the bright colors and sharp textures of the front garden.



According to the Garden’s website Governor Fuller wanted the front garden to serve as a “showpiece” and amenity for the public despite the fact that he and his wife were infrequent visitors. Instead they derived “a great deal of pleasure looking from their bedroom windows over the road into the garden, seeing a great deal of people — especially on weekends — enjoying its charm.”

In the 1930’s the Olmsted Brothers were retained to improve the gardens and design a rose garden in honor of Fuller’s wife, Viola. Containing 1,500 bushes of 125 varieties, the rose garden is enclosed by a privet hedge with circular beds connected by grass pathways and an antique wellhead at its center.



Described as the side garden on the map, the rose garden is connected to the conservatory and the Lydia Fuller Bottomley garden added in 2005.


Honoring Fuller’s daughter, the Lydia Fuller Bottomley garden is centered upon a reflecting pool with a graceful marble statue. It feature statuary gifted to the Gardens by Bottomley.



The Fullers were avid art collectors who donated works to the National Gallery of Art in Washington and The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston including, Monet’s “The Water Lily Pond,” and Renoir’s “Boating Couple.” On their travels abroad they also collected statues and fountains to place in the garden. I like to think the garden was considered part of their art collection.



The Fuller Gardens were officially opened to the public in 1958 after Governor Fuller’s death and for many years they were open free of charge. In 2001 Presley Associates of Cambridge developed a master plan formalizing the entry area, improving parking and adding a gift shop.


I return to that girl on a bicycle who slipped through the wooden gate to a small and somewhat secret garden many years ago. There were seldom many, if any, people there and like Mary Lennox I developed a deep, affection for this place, which was unlike any I had experienced. It’s particular magic never failed to enchant.   The images below of the front and side garden, converted from slides, are from 1988.



The Gardens are open from mid-May to mid October, seven days a week from 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. For additional information visit: The 2015 adult ticket fee is $9.00.


Copyright © 2015 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved


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