Jul 31, 2008

Petworth House and Park

Went to visit Petworth House and Park, which is in West Sussex, a while ago and was amazed by the scale of the place. This another national trust property and a friend suggested i go as it was worth a visit. It is a 17-th century mansion surrounded by a 700 acre deer park.

A tour of the house led us through many rooms, kitchens, a church (they had their own private church!) and servants quarters. Petworth has one of the largest art collections in all of the Trust too with Turners and VanDyck in their possession. Both the house and the grounds have been immortalised in some of Turners paintings. This is an up close view of the house, just to show the scale look at the lady sitting in the window in the lower left. (I wasn't even that close when I took the photo) It was very impressive inside but photos aren't allowed.

Petworth by Turner, circa 1828

The real reason I wanted to go visit was because of the 700 acre grounds surrounding the house, which were landscaped by Lancelot 'Capability' Brown (1716-83). He was given this nickname because when he visited prospective clients he would say their grounds had 'great capability for improvement'. He was known for taking away the existing landscapes and starting over, for surrounding the house with a sea of grass, and always liked to use trees that looked very English- elm, Scots pine, oak, larch and Cedar of Lebanon. He liked to have his landscapes look orderly.

This is the view that you see when looking away from the house, towards the rolling landscape. Before I came to England, this was what my vision of it would look like, that I had dreams of, so to be immersed in it was very breathtaking. Just to notice the scale again, look for the tiny people on the right.

There are tricks that are sometimes built into the landscape to help deceive the viewer.
This is called a ha ha. What is that you ask?! Exactly as it sounds is what it is supposed to mean. These allowed people to 'borrow' surrounding landscape that wasn't always necessarily yours. It is supposed to trick the eye and when you get up close, you would realize it wasn't what you thought. When you stand on the side of the gate with the little tree and look out it leads your eye out to the landscape beyond, as in the other photo. The fence I would imagine was added on later so imagine it's not there. So these Ha-Ha'swere done where a dip was created with one side usually having a retaining wall. This would create the effect of a flat plane to the eye, meaning there was no break in the landscape floor. On the other side, lets say the left side in the photo, was usually where livestock, or in this case the herds of miniature deer that inhabit the park, would roam but not be able to wander where the people would mingle and socialize.

If you have ever been to Longwood there is a form of this there. When you are at Oak Knoll, looking down towards Longwood Road it looks as if it the bottom of the hill connects to the fields on the other side of the road. But you realize, when you see cars go by that there is a strategically placed stone wall that creates the effect of the turf connecting to the other side. Hope your not lost on that one.

The Alcibiades sculpture in the upper pond with the boat house in the background. This pond is created in a serpentine manner which is another characteristic of 'Capability' Brown.

Why does all of this matter? These are lessons to me in the history of landscape architecture and design. When you go to art school you take art history to study and learn from the masters, to me gardening is no different. We have to know where we come from to know where we are going.... These are the types of things i wanted to see to be inspired by.

The house though a little under a mile away, on the other side of the upper pond, is still pretty stately in size.

This is a prime example of a browsing line. This is when animals literally eat off all that they can, which in turn creates a pruned look to the bottom part of the trees. People will do this in their gardens to go for a stately look, or to give the illusion of being in the countryside such as they did at Winfield Place, the garden of the American Ambassador.

The boat house.

Those specks in front of the house are people. The scale of the grounds were unlike anything I have ever experienced, specifically in gardens. I attest this to having grown up in NYC and never having open space like this.

So, I decided to move in. Wanna come visit? All you need to do is mow the lawn.

These are ancient trees, some 800 years old, were planted as a group on top of the hill.

Think those trees look close and tiny, guess again. Look for the people on the right hand side of the trees in the middle of the hill. yup, that is insane. The 700 acres just enveloped you in all their glory, with the way the sun fell across the many tan shades of grasses, you felt like you were alone in the world and nothing else mattered. Vast open spaces have strange effect on me.

And then over there, yes just over there on that hill, did I see them. The herds of fallow deer that have been living in the gardens for years. (The garden is walled so they are in a sense protected and I don't really consider 700 acres tiny for them.) Their fawns were running and jumping like kids after too much candy, it was a sight to watch. They kept their distance though and stayed in their groups far off the path

700 acres of pure silence......

Jul 6, 2008

West Dean

There are so many things I want to share with what I am seeing, doing and learning but find it difficult to really get all of this information out. A lot of driving has been happening to visit different gardens during my time off from a busy work week that I find myself short on time to sit in front of the computer. The summer is different here too because not only is the weather wonderful here but the sun rises at 4:30 am and it doesn't really get dark until 10- 10:15pm. So if the sun is out, I am usually outside..........

The other week I was speaking with a fellow gardener while I was taking some Foxgloves, Digitalis purpurea, out of one of the garden beds. We started talking about how these plants are used in making certain heart medicines. Louise started to tell me about how back in the yesteryear's people would take leaves off the plant and chew them to self medicate their heart problems. -I must say that these plants are poisonous.... so please, I don't want anyone to hurt themselves...... just say no!- So I was told that one of the side affects of taking too much of these leaves was to have your sight go yellow. Louise said that Van Gogh, the painter, was known for having some heart ailments and took Digitalis leaves; maybe to the point of poisoning himself and researchers believe that this what might have been the cause of his "yellow period". These are the odd facts about plants and history that make sense.

Here is a more interesting in depth look at this:


So while there are no sunflowers in this field I did find it inspirational enough to pull the car over and take a shot of while on my way to West Dean in Chichester, West Sussex. It is about a two hour drive west of Great Dixter. West Dean was the home to a man named Edward James, who was born into a privileged life and found himself to be a huge supporter of the arts, specifically Surrealism. He supported painters by purchasing their work (Dali and Magritte to name a few), set up a publishing house to publish the works of poets, and helped finance some ballet specifically Balanchine productions. He also created a large garden in Mexico that you might be familiar with called Xilitla, which has large temples and staircases running through the jungle and is completely covered in vines and ferns. He loved trees and plants and after he passed away he was buried in the Arboretum that is at West Dean. He was a real eccentric man and was a poet and writer himself. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_James

West Dean is now a school for artists, craftspeople, conservators and restorers and is home to an amazing walled garden where there technique is almost next to none. The gardens are run by Jim Auckland and Sarah Wain, husband and wife, who turned the Victorian walled gardens around from decay into the glorious splendor that they are today. The fruit and vegetable gardens here are immaculate and the attention to detail in the way they grow everything is exactly how you would like to know that your food is being grown.
Here is inside the grapevine glasshouse, where the vines are trained up against the glass roof which will then let the bunches of grapes hang down once they start to mature. Notice how clean and orderly the glasshouse is.....
Here is a closeup of some of the vines. Note how they are all growing from one plant, and the thickness of the trunk.
Here is the Nectarine house where it is espaliered against the walls .

Here in the melon house, great precautions are taken against splashing water onto the plant to prevent foliar diseases. Note the raised level of the soil beds to help with quick drainage and how the empty plastic pots are used, pushed slightly into the soil, to help get water to the roots of the plant without splashing soil upwards again.

Outside in the walled garden you will see the orchard where all sorts of hard fruits such as pears and apples are grown. All of the trees are trained to grow in different shapes such as pyramids and circular forms that would help with air circulation to prevent disease and to make it easier to harvest fruit from.

Here is one of the fruit storage houses where they would put their harvests to keep for months after. They would line these shelves with apples and pears.

There were a dozen or so glasshouses in the walled garden which were surrounded by cutting gardens in one area. One of the large fig tree of cultivar 'Brown Turkey' in the glass house, again beautifully displayed, with their cacti and succulent collection on show outside.

Inside one of the many Victorian glasshouses, with a collection of many potted plants such as begonias, nepanthes, ferns and such. Each plant had gravel at the top of the soil level to help with watering, to help prevent the harboring and spread of disease.

Look how clean it is everywhere, the benches, the plants, the pots!! Nancy, who was my teacher in all things greenhouse related at school, would have been proud........

The lovely Pepper house, where every type you could imagine was grown. The aroma in here was so strong due to the heat of the sun. If you love peppers then look no further. They have a huge chili pepper festival here every year.

Here is one of the many vegetable beds filled with every type of Brassica possible. There were some heads of cabbage that were 2x the size of a basketball.


In a corner of the vegetable garden there was rhubarb being blanched (say it with me Liz!) in their cloches.

The view from the walled garden looking towards the glasshouses with the rolling hills beyond, which is where the arboretum was started.

These fields were at the base of the arboretum where there were sheep grazing everywhere.
One of the many picturesque bridges on the estate.
There was a road that led away from the school up into the rolling hills on footpaths, which took you through sheep pastures up to a 40 acre arboretum. It was full of exceptional trees and I saw a grove of Monkey puzzles which is always fun but my camera battery ran out of juice. It was a good thing though because now with digital cameras, we spend so much time taking photos that it is difficult to sometimes put them down and enjoy the moment rather than trying to capture it. And enjoy it I did.....