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......

1 comment:

  1. i would like to visit. im not mowing the lawn but i'll make pancakes in the morning.