The Bucks stopped here…

detail from A Prospect of Carmarthen

For about three decades in the mid-18thc two  brothers from Yorkshire, Samuel and  Nathaniel Buck, toured Britain every summer. They sketched towns, landscapes, estates and antiquities, and every winter they turned their sketches into engravings for publication.

Their work is an important source of evidence of what there was, and what has gone – including gardens – but it is also an important factor in understanding the development of the whole idea of what it meant to be British in the 18thc.

The Buck Brothers, 1774, British Museum

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Crackerbox Palace

Guess who…
from darkhorserecords

You probably recognize the title of this post and  know where it comes from. If you do you probably  recognize the man in the boater too. But anyone who knows me will be amazed  that I’ve used it because I have very little knowledge and even less interest in “modern popular music” and never have had.  So why have I been reading the lyrics of a couple of Beatles songs as well as the biography of one of the Fab Four?  And why am I writing about it on a blog about garden history?

The clue is in the  last 2 posts which  have looked at the extraordinary garden at Friar Park in Oxfordshire created  by Sir Frank Crisp between 1889 and his death thirty years later. Today I want to conclude the story with the story of  what happened to the estate after his death in 1919, before finishing  up [for a change] with some good news.  Because  Friar Park and its amazing alpine garden was saved by the man in the boater. It became “Crackerbox Palace” and then  paid its benefactor  back by showing him how wonderful gardening is and  making it his overwhelming passion. Continue reading

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The Henley Matterhorn

The front page of Alan Tabor’s fold-up map/guide to the garden c.1914

Last week’s post gave an introduction to Friar Park at Henley, the madcap garden project of Sir Frank Crisp.  Crisp was not only rich he was also imaginative and ambitious  – a good combination for someone never satisfied with what he had achieved in his garden.  As Gardeners Chronicle  said in 1899 “small wonder… Mr Crisp.. is ever making such alterations and additions as shall render it ever more interesting and beautiful.”

The whole site was eclectic, drawing on his interest in  medieval and Tudor history, but also his openness to new ideas and directions such as the fashion for the Japanese.  But it’s his Alpine garden which really bought the garden to public attention. It might make you want to giggle as much as admire but there’s no doubt that Frank Crisp had panache and a pronounced sense of humour… as well as a collection of gnomes.

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Sir Frank Crisp and Friar Park

Sir Frank Crisp, frontispiece of The Garden, vol 80, 1916

Sir Frank Crisp                                               frontispiece of The Garden, vol 80, 1916

Way back in March 2017 I wrote about gnome-loving eccentric, Sir Charles Isham, and at the time thought there couldn’t be anyone else quite as besotted with the little men in red hats. But I was wrong!  Don’t be fooled by this serious photo into thinking Sir Frank Crisp, a wealthy London lawyer, was another dull and boring worthy. He was actually a wealthy London lawyer with a difference, because he was also a jovial prankster, who built a Gothic revival  palace near Henley and then added a vast alpine/mountain garden to complement it, despite the fact that there aren’t any mountains near Henley. To make matters more interesting he then decided to people it.

So today’s and next week’s posts are going to be about  this philanthropic eccentric  who died 100 years ago on April 29th 1919,and his garden

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The Passion of Mary Lawrance

detail of Passiflora serrafolia 

Last week’s post was about the first box I opened from my trolley in the rare Books room of the British Library a couple of weeks back: Mary Lawrence’s Book of Roses. Today’s post is about the second box, which turned out to be a very appropriate choice for Easter week.

Inside the archival box was a slim folio-sized volume with George III’s crest embossed in gold on  the green leather cover.  Turning the first leaves there was  the library stamp of Sir Joseph Banks….

…and facing it a hand-coloured engraving of Passiflora serrafolia or the Notched-leaved Passion flower. Even a cursory glance through A Collection of Passion Flowers made me want to know more.

[All the images are from the BL copy unless otherwise stated]

detail from Passiflora caerulea, the common Passion Flower

Lots of plants have Christian  symbolism, even if they’re not mentioned in the Bible, and one of the enduring talents of missionaries, whether they were with a conquering army or on a proselytising campaign, was to  adapt whatever they found, wherever they were, to illustrate their stories and to provide  evidence for their arguments.

The passion flower is probably the best example of that.  As the Spanish subjugated central and south America, thanks to its extraordinary structure,  it quickly became the symbol of Christ’s suffering and crucifixion all round the world.


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