In honour of the fact that November 5th is looming on the calendar I thought I’d be topical and investigate the history of fireworks in our parks and gardens.
I soon discovered that fireworks have very little to do with the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 where you might have thought our Bonfire Night traditions began.
Instead their use has a longer and more interesting history, and to start with it includes a lot of dragons
We often talk of the English landscape garden with the emphasis on garden but the wider landscape was equally important in design terms and far more significant in economic terms. Landowners planted trees to ornament their estates for aesthetic as well as patriotic reasons but also to allow their grandchildren to reap the rewards when the trees were harvested and sold as timber for the navy, for fuel, building or furniture.
This attitude had been encouraged since John Evelyn first published Sylva his great work on trees , complaining about the destruction of the nations woodland and calling for mass reforestation. Unfortunately it’s not really until the 1750s that this begins to be taken up and forestry and woodland planting become the subject of more interest, with many books showing how to marry the beauty of trees to the beauty of money.
It was the oak in particular that was the object of most attention, and might explain why Capability Brown filled the land around Fisherwick Park in Staffordshire with oaks assuring the owner Lord Donegal “that one hundred thousand trees had been put in which in due course might fetch £100,000.”
Chambord is one of the greatest chateaux in France with 426 rooms, 83 staircases, and 282 fireplaces – but apart from a few years in the 18thc – no real garden.
It was built as a hunting lodge in the early 16thc on a remote and inhospitable marshy plain, surrounded by dense forest. The man who built it, Francois I, the new young and ambitious king of France, wanted to create an architectural marvel, to be an expression of his power over both man and nature which people would flock to see it no matter how inaccessible.
He succeeded. In 2019 2 million people visited the estate with 1.13 million going into the chateau itself. Now, after what I think is perhaps the largest project of its kind ever undertaken in France, they’ll also be coming to see the newly recreated 18thc gardens.
Chambord just after the replanting
Pre-Covid I was looking for material for a post on Winifred Walker, the botanical artist and discovered that one of the companies who commissioned her flower paintings was Ryders of St Albans. That name sounded familiar but didn’t ring any horticultural bells so I set off down a side-track to see what was known about them too. It was well worth the detour.
Looking back it’s a pity that my brother, a super-keen golfer, wasn’t with me because he’d have told me immediately why the name Ryder was familiar. I decided to leace reporting what I found until the next time the other Ryder Cup happened which apparently it did last week….
We’re all familiar with the idea of the Grand Tour, where young elite men were sent to finish their education touring the great classical and Renaissance sites of Italy. This had been going on since the mid-17thc but the Napoleonic Wars bought most European travel to a halt. Suddenly many people turned to a home tour and began to discover their way round Britain instead.
And now it wasn’t just rich young men who went touring. So did quite a few women, including Anne Rushout, a wealthy aristocrat and amateur artist, whose life I looked at a few months ago. She sketched her way through north Wales as well as keeping an account on her journal. It wasn’t her first trip to the principality, nor was she a rare example of a female tourist.
detail of Ann’s painting of a trip down the Wye in 1802