Fair and Square

Over the last couple of months I’ve done a series of posts about the history of the London square.  We looked at the origins of the square as an architectural form  in the 17thc, then  the development of planting in the squares with Thomas Fairchild who suggested bringing the countryside into the city, and most recently at the march of bricks which saw the square spreading into the growing suburbs of the city and the rise of developers like Thomas Cubitt.  Today’s post is going to look at how its popularity continued to spread through the Victorian city but also how its form was adapted and even began to attract criticism.

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The Wizard Earl & his miniature conundrum

This painting has intrigued me since I first saw it, and I’ve included it in lectures on both Elizabethan gardens and art history, for reasons that I hope will soon become apparent.  The sitter [or rather the recliner] is Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland and the artist Nicholas Hilliard.  The painting showing Henry in an unusual  garden setting is now in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam having been sold by the family in 1937.

Of the two, Hilliard is, of course, the far better known. He was the most famous artist of his day in England and well known for his championing of the miniatureasan art form, although this picture is a little larger. But the Earl was equally distinguished in his day and lived a very intriguing, and often dangerous, life.  

Before you read on take a close look at the picture and see if anything strikes you as in any way unusual or odd.  If it’s doesn’t look again because I suspect it might be  the most cryptic of all Elizabethan paintings.

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Movers and Shakers

Last week’s post ended with the image printed in 1828 of  Sir Henry Stuart’s balance-men being catapulted through the air while trying to move a tree, but over the following twenty years or so  gardeners, foresters and landscapers invented a whole range of variations, adaptations of Sir Henry’s machine and new techniques to avoid such arial acrobatics and move large trees safely.

Six of them were captured by Charles McIntosh in his mini-encyclopaedia The Book of the Garden published in 1852 in a section about “The transplantation of trees of great age and size “, but there were plenty more that he missed.

Since then horsepower has been replaced by petrol power, and  the technology of  mechanics and hydraulics have improved immensely meaning that  modern machines can perform wonders that the Victorian inventors would not easily credit.  Around 50/60 years ago things took another step further forward with the invention of the power spade so that nowadays moving large trees, if done properly, can successfully transform landscapes in a matter of hours.

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Transplanting Trees

 

A 250 year old wild pear tree hit the news headlines recently [Oct 20th 2020] for the second time in recent years.  In 2015 it was voted Britain’s Tree of the Year but the latest mention was no cue for celebration. The tree at Cubbington in Warwickshire had the misfortune to be growing on the route of HS2.  It faced the axe  despite all attempts by the local community to save it. It was dismembered  in apparent disregard of a ministerial announcement  that the removal of ancient woodland  would be halted  while a  review into the HS2 project was undertaken unless ‘absolutely necessary to avoid major cost and schedule impacts.’

But this post is not just about the fate of the pear tree but more about what HS2 proposed to do with it, and how that possibility has evolved.

Artist Stella Carr documented the pear tree and you can see more of her work on Instagram stellacarr.artlandscape and on the website of the Cubbington Action Group

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The Bloedel Reserve

Doesn’t time fly?  This time last year I was lucky enough to visit this beautiful house and its even more beautiful garden.  Despite appearances it’s not an elegant little 18thc chateau in France but  a 1930s building  on an island in the middle of Puget Sound, about half an hour by ferry from Seattle.

It was bought in 1951 by a timber magnate Prentice Bloedel and his wife Virginia.  Their vision was  both ambitious and unique, and led to the creation of what is now  known as the Bloedel Reserve. It was a true case of poacher turned gamekeeper, because the Bloedels took on a place that had been logged and turned it into a place of forest conservation.

It is not by any stretch of the imagination “a place of horticultural exhibition, but a place of contemplation that renews the spirit.” And while it’s difficult to convey the atmosphere  I hope the photos will help show how the Bloedels captured “the genius of the place.”

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