Goldring and Public Parks

A couple of weeks ago I began  looking at the work of  William Goldring, the prolific landscape and garden designer who died one hundred years ago this year. In England, he is supposedly associated with work on more than 700 projects, many of them public parks and open spaces or the grounds of institutions, but even in his own day he was often overlooked.

His obituary in Gardener’s Chronicle  starts its appreciation by saying “we gather” these are some of the places he worked, before listing just a handful of public sites.





Today’s post is going to look at a few of these public park commissions.


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The adventures of Maria Graham

As most people know the role of women in  garden history – ok all history – has been under-recorded and severely underrated.  But things are changing. In particular women’s  place  in the study and collection of plants in the late 18th and early 19thc has been the subject of much research and re-evaluation in recent years.  Not only did women start writing books about botany – admittedly originally aimed mainly at children and  their own sex – but there’s plenty of evidence they collected, grew and studied plants too.  Of course most of that was  done within easy reach of where they lived, but a few, notably the wives and daughters of “empire-builders” [those in commerce, the army or navy and government officials] were able to travel overseas and continue to pursue their interests. Such work  usually ended when their husband or fathers  finished a tour of duty, or died.   But today’s post  is about  Maria Graham,  an adventurous woman who decided her husband’s death was not going to be the end of her life as well…

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“An easy first in his profession”

If you’re someone who reads this blog regularly then you can probably name many of Britain’s great garden designers, but who is/was the most prolific?  Was it Capability Brown with more than 200 major projects? Gertrude Jekyll who is now thought to have had a hand in over 400? Humphry Repton?  William Sawrey Gilpin?  Percy Cane? Whoever you’ve guessed I doubt  it was today’s subject, or that they would even have figured on your shortlist.

Here’s a clue. This year marks the centenary of his death which followed  a long career that spanned journalism, designing the grounds at the new exhibition centre at Earls Court, and laying out the gardens of vast new palaces in India as well as many parks and gardens in Britain. Yet nowadays  his name is virtually unknown.

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THE Concise British Flora….

Recognize this?

In the early 1960s a shy Devon clergyman  was persuaded to send in some of his drawings and watercolours of British wild flowers to a publisher.  They agreed to publish but could hardly have been expecting the public response to the book. It was an immediate best-seller and became a standard reference work almost overnight,  and hardly  out of print ever since. My own copy bought when I was still at school with Christmas or birthday present money is a bit battered but still much loved and used.  The idea may have been simple, but the layout, classification and notes were impeccable, and the drawings themselves both accurate and delicately beautiful.  

I’d guess most readers of a certain age in the UK will have known instantly from the image  which book I’m talking about and the name of its author, who died 50 years ago this coming week, but if not read on to find out more…

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Piranesi and the Gardens of Rome

detail from the Villa Albani

Italy has always been famous for its classical monuments and, since the Renaissance,  for its gardens too.  Both attracted tourists in growing numbers, particularly as the Grand Tour became an essential part of the education of almost every young northern European member of the elite.

Aristocratic or not  tourists have always  wanted souvenirs. Some wanted to take home antique sculptures, others to have their portraits painted in Italian settings by Italian artists, but others less wealthy had to be content with buying prints, and so the production of engravings of the major sites, towns and landscapes became a lucrative business.

The greatest exponent of these views – or vedute as they are known – was Giovanni Battista Piranesi  who possessed “one of the most imaginative minds ever to have brooded on the visual arts”.

detail of the Villa Pamphili

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