The quirkier side of Chaumont

detail from Liberty, Equality, Fraternity 2012

Last week’s post looked at the history of the chateau at Chaumont-sur-Loire, now home to the famous international garden festival. This week’s is going to look at some of the inspirational, if sometimes [ok often] quirky, gardens that have been hosted there over the last twenty years or so that I’ve been going.

your author captured in a garden of distorting mirrors


In keeping with the silly season that seem to affect the press every year this is perhaps not my most serious piece of well-researched garden history, but it does show that gardens can be humorous too!


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I’ve just come back from visiting the garden festival at Chaumont-sur-Loire. The great Renaissance chateau there has had a very chequered history, but for the last 28 years has been home to a wonderful celebration of gardens  unlike any other that I know.

To start with the festival lasts for months, and combines permanent planting and installations with dozens of temporary ones.  It attracts designers and artists from round the world. It values innovation and sustainability more than most, and recycles materials and plants from year to year.  It’s also open access, relatively inexpensive and surprisingly uncrowded.  Bits of it can be brilliant, others wild and wacky, and sometimes there are miserable failures or a complete mess but thats part of the fun and excitement of going. You never know what you’re going to find!

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Beaudesert: “a desert beautified”

Beaudesert is/was  an enormous estate in Staffordshire’, its name probably coming from the French for  the surrounding landscape – “beautiful wilderness”.  It has a reasonably well recorded architectural and contents history up to the demolition of the great Elizabethan mansion in 1937 but the story of its gardens and grounds is much less well known.

I started this post last year during the Repton celebration because the great man had prepared a magnificent set of designs for the grounds  in a Red Book presented to the owner in January 1814. However as I began to research further I discovered that very little definite seems to be known about his impact so abandoned the effort because there were other things to do. BUT a little more time has meant that I could a little bit more research so read on to find more …


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Hard or Soft?

No I’m not talking about how you like boiled eggs [or even Brexit] but one of the great debates in the history of garden design which has been between the relative importance of the hard landscaping of architects and the soft landscaping of  plantsmen. It came to a head in the later 19thc with the arguments in print between those, like William Robinson who thought that plants should be the dominant player, and those like Reginald Blomfield who claimed it was architecture that should be the prevailing force.

The Downes, Hayle

Blomfield was backed by another architect, nowadays often overlooked in this debate, whose book Garden-Craft Old and New I bought from the bookstall of Essex Gardens Trust when I went to speak to them a few months ago. This was John Dando Sedding, another bearded Victorian you probably won’t have heard of, so read on  to discover more about him and how he launched “a little raft of bladders”.

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The History of Hosepipe

I was sitting in the garden a while back enjoying the weather and discussing politics with a group of family and friends when the subject of a piece in a well-known newspaper came up and my niece said  to my mother: “Sorry, Nan, I don’t EVER want to read an article in the Daily M***, I rather read anything…anything …even a history of hosepipes” So to make sure she always has an alternative here it is!

There is as yet no definitive history of hosepipe, [no surprise there really] or any more than a couple of lines in any garden history book so  if anyone out there is looking for an unusual PhD topic here’s your big chance…until then you’ll have to make do with this!

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