As you probably know the Gardens Trust has been running an extensive on-line lecture programme for the last 2 years, including a regular Wednesday evening slot called Unforgettable Gardens.  April’s lectures were run in partnership with English Heritage and included a talk on the gardens of Brodsworth Hall, a grand mid-Victorian country house in Yorkshire that has survived as an almost intact example of one man’s dream.

As it happened I’d been to Brodsworth  only days before Daniel Hale, the head gardener wowed our audience with an account of the gardens, their history and their restoration over the past twenty years.   Dan gave such a bravura performance  that I almost decided not to write about my visit – but since normally the blog gets wider and longer-lasting coverage than our lectures I thought I could give an account of what you missed and encourage you to get up to Yorkshire to see it at the first possible opportunity.


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Bevis Bawa @ Brief

Bevis Bawa supervising work by the gates of Brief. Pianting by Donald Friend, image from David Robson’s Bawa

Let’s start  with some not very good [actually pretty awful] poetry because  it gives a flavour of today’s subject:

In the land where the jaggery grows
And the skies are raucous with crows
Years ago on a pastoral hill
Which was left to him in a will
A young man was heard to declare
“I will build my kingdom here
And proclaim myself its chief
As the one and only
Bawa of Brief”

The “kingdom” was never particularly  large, and the “chief” gave much of it away during his lifetime but there’s no doubt that what was left – the “one and only” Brief which is an unexpectedly wonderful garden.


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Harlaxton: “Beyond your imagination”

Unfortunately I haven’t had a single answer to the question -“Why did he do it?” – that I posed at the end of last week’s post about Harlaxton the “Jacobethan” marvel dreamed up and then lovingly built by Gregory Gregory.  But even if I had I doubt they’d have been as straightforward as what he told a visitor,  in 1839 during the construction of the house.

Charles Greville noted in his memoirs that Gregory told him candidly  that  “as he is not married, has no children, and dislikes the heir on whom his property is entailed, it is the means and not the end to which he looks for gratification. He says that it is his amusement, as hunting or shooting or feasting may be the objects of other people.”  So Harlaxton is essentially a rich man’s whim that was designed to occupy almost his entire lifetime. Thanks to several lucky breaks and against all the odds it has survived, inspired John Piper,  and is  still a place that the present owners rightly describe as “beyond your imagination.”

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Harlaxton: Gregory’s Dream

On the way to a family wedding last weekend I stopped off at Harlaxton near Grantham in Lincolnshire. Like John Claudius Loudon before me   I “had heard much of this place from various architects and amateurs for several years.”

For Loudon  ” its proprietor, Gregory Gregory, Esq… kindly acceded to our wish to see the works going forward on the new site chosen by him for the family residence.”   For me, although Gregory Gregory has long gone,   the new proprietors were having one of their rare open days over Easter so we could see what was left of the works that Gregory  had started.

All I can say is that Gregory Gregory must have had a vivid imagination, a great interest in history and a strong sense of his own importance because what he created is  simply sensational. 

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The Passion of Mary Lawrance

detail of Passiflora serrafolia 

You never know what’s going to arrive when you  order unknown books at the British Library.  On this occasion I was in for a surprise and needed a trolley to take them to my desk in the British Library.

I’d ordered two books by  Mary Lawrance, a woman I then knew nothing much about. These turned out to be quite spectacular.  The first  was her Book of Roses which became the subject of a post a while back.

Today’s post is about the second book I saw that day, which is a very appropriate choice for Easter. Continue reading

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