Memories of an English Garden
Posted on July 17, 2014
I was driving my family down a tight country lane in the Cotswold’s, following dry-stacked stone walls. Motoring along on the other side of the road, on the other side of the car, driving a stick-shift with my left hand and dodging oversized lorries – this was the beginning of our exploration of the English country side looking for a few of its great historic manors and gardens. This trip had been planned as a musical pilgrimage, my wife’s choir singing Evensong in five great cathedrals from London to Canterbury, Exeter to Salisbury, and me sketching my way through the same. As landscape designer and architect, Heidi and I were taking this opportunity to share our passion for all things English with our two young daughters.
A patchwork of pastoral agrarian fields, framed by thick hedgerows, dotted with white wool as we passed though the multicolor hues of the blue and violet of fragrant lavender fields as we neared Snowshill Manor. This was one for the kids as much as me. Snowshill is the classic Cotswold manor house, containing the collection of Charles Wade. From toys to Asian armor, the home tells the story of a man who spent a lifetime in travel and this was the perfect place to capture the imagination of two creative and curious girls. The house is the personification of Wade’s motto: “let nothing perish”, and the manor’s simple yet impeccable detailing, from the stonework to the accenting color of blue that Wade created himself for the home, immerse us into the wonders of this place.
The Garden, while simple, is a concise example of the English Arts and Crafts movement, designed by Wade and his friend and architect Bailey Scott. It is a series of outdoor rooms playing against, and interacting with, the architecture, while connecting to the surrounding wilderness though the winding hazel run.
The next stop would be one that grew out of my own childhood memories. Although I had never seen this place before, my father is an astute historian who considers himself a “Churchillian” had made me aware of Woodstock and Blenheim Palace, the residence of the Duke of Marlborough and the childhood home of Winston Churchill, as well as the work of one of my favorite English architects – Nicolas Hawksmoor working with John Vanbrugh. The Palace architecturally blends the English baroque with abstracted Palladianism and sits carefully composed within the idealized landscape by Capability Brown. Whether it was exploring the great Library hall by Wren, discovering the simple yet pure Palladian ingenuity of the stable wings, or wandering through the gardens – the immersion in an English estate was the setting for my fondest memory – an afternoon spent sketching with my girls.
As the trip continued to Stowe and its gardens, we continued to be engaged by the stately grandeur and detailing of the manor home and the wrapped up in the beauty and heroic allegory of the landscape, from Kent’s Elysian field and Temple of Ancient Virtue, to Brown and his more naturalistic expressions punctuated by the Palladian bridge framing the bucolic landscape.
A few years later, as Heidi and prepares now to return and sing at Gloucester Cathedral, I returned in my own mind to the Bridge at Stowe, the garden pavilions at Hidecote’s Arts and Crafts gardens, and to a columnar dovecote at Cliveden House. The pleasure of sitting down and creating these images brought me back to the days of wandering and sketching in the English countryside with my family, as my two girls began their own exploration of the world beyond.