*all photos copyright Todd Haiman unless otherwise noted
*all photos copyright Todd Haiman unless otherwise noted
"ENGLISH LANDSCAPE DESIGN"
Born in Hartford, Connecticut and raised by his father, unable to attend Yale College because his eyesight had weakened due to sumac poisoning, Frederick Law Olmsted sailed off to China where he returned a year later with scurvy. After recovering, he set out his hand at farming on Staten Island, failing miserably to profit from his land holdings. Next he embarked for England and Wales with his brother whereupon they encountered magnificent estates, parks and rural scenery. Such was the indication of things to come. Most influential in his journeys were Joseph Paxton’s design for Birkenhead.
Paxton sought to bring the grandeur of the aristocratic garden to the working people of Birkenhead. The park was a declaration of civic pride to nearby Liverpool and an attempt to tempt wealthy taxpayers to either build or purchase homes in Birkenhead. It is widely believed to be the first civic park in Britain, but more importantly within this context it provide the inspiration and template for Olmsted (and Calvert Vaux's) work. Olmsted wrote "
"five minutes of admiration, and a few more spent studying the manner in which art had been employed to obtain from nature so much beauty, and I was ready to admit that in democratic America there was nothing to be thought of as comparable with this People’s Garden"."
Illustration and photograph of Birkenhead Park (youyesterday.com/flicker.com)
“Olmsted was much impressed with the meandering footpaths and open meadows spangled with rocks and scattered trees. He wondered how cleverly "art had been employed to obtain from nature so much beauty." And wonder of wonders, this was not just a sanctum for some noble lord but a park open to the public, a park for people of all stations in life. In all the cities of democratic America, he had to admit, there was nothing quite like it. Not yet, anyway.” National Geographic Magazine, March 2005.
Illustration of Central Park/Bethesda Terrace and fountain
Much has been written on Olmsted’s intriguing life, including the most recent bestseller “A Clearing in the Distance”by Witold Rybczynski. Thanks to the efforts of the Olmsted Legacy a film that was initially screened last year at select locations will now be coming to public television.
An aesthetic revolution that occurred in Britain in the eighteenth century revolved around several main theories, but the most important theory that applied to landscape was that of “the Picturesque”, most often associated with the writings of William Gilpin.
Originally an ordained minister in the Church of England, he began writing these popular treatises as a means to raise funds for his school.
The picturesque emphasized roughness over smoothness, boldness over elegance, and variety over uniformity. These concepts were initially influential in painting and then to landscape design.
Gilpin’s defining ideas influenced friends such as Horace Walpole and the royal family, including King George. While the wealthy could afford to indulge themselves with the Grand Tour (the traditional travel of Europe undertaken by upper-class European society), appreciating and purchasing great paintings and ultimately contracting landscape designers such as Lancelot “Capability” Brown and Humphrey Repton, Gilpin was instrumental in influencing the rising upper-middle, the minor gentry and tradesmen. By leading tours through the countryside and publishing aquatint landscape prints he created an aristocratic taste level among the rest of the public.
His concept of "the Picturesque," which first appeared in the Essay on Prints as an additional concept to "sublime" and "beautiful," was intended to formulate an appreciation for landscape in the paintings of Nicolas Poussin or Claude Lorrain.
Essay II: On Picturesque Travel is a manual for appreciating travel and sketching the landscape as a way to preserve the beauty in one’s mind.
Meanwhile, Jane Austin’s novels (Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice,
Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey and Emma) used the picturesque as a backdrop. While a fan of her writings illuminated his concepts to a larger audience, although at time it has been suggested that she satirized him.
Throughout each of these novels the landscape holds a defining and center-stage role. Her heroines are brought up in well-established homes and were receptive to the matters and opinions of current taste. Her novels reflect the social and landscape history of England.
Her novels assimilate and promote the ideals of Gilpin, yet also satirize them. In one of Gilpin’s publications he provided instructions for the groupings of cows in a pasture – “to unite three and remove the fourth.” Many landscape painters followed suit. But, in Pride and Prejudice, one character refuses to join in a stroll with the teasing observation, "You are charmingly group'd, and...The picturesque would be spoilt by admitting a fourth."
William Gilpin illustrations of how to group cows Bodelian Library In Sense and Sensibility, one character is dismayed that another is apparently ignorant on picturesque theory and promptly instructs him… “ I shall call the hills steep, which ought to be bold; surfaces strange and uncouth, which ought to be irregular and rugged: and distant objects out of sight, which ought only to be indistinct through the sift medium of a hazy atmosphere. It unites beauty and utility – and I dare say it is a picturesque one too.” When Elinor Dashwood teases her sister about her passion for “dead leaves” she responds by reminding Elinor that it is her appreciation of the picturesque.
Created by Ralph Hancock in the 1930’s, it is still functioning as a public space after 75 years. Originally the Roof Garden above Derry +Tom’s department store, it is now owned by Sir Richard Branson and known simply as
A bit about Ralph Hancock…
Clarence Henry Ralph Hancock (known as Ralph) was born in Albany Road, Cardiff, in 1893. In 1926 he paid his membership fees and became a Fellow of the Royal Horticultural Society. The following year the family moved to Surrey. It was from here in 1927 that Ralph undertook the first of his more famous garden projects designing and constructing a rock and water garden and also an Iris garden for HRH Princess Victoria, (Edward VII’s daughter) at her home” in Buckinghamshire. Photographs of the garden show a naturalistic style with the use of huge rock outcrops. This fondness for the use of rock combined with the influence of the “arts and crafts” movement is not surprising given the time that Hancock was constructing gardens.
On May 31, 1930, Ralph, set sail for New York. In order to promote his work in the US, he published an illustrated booklet titled English Gardens in America and described himself as being “Landscape Gardener to HRH the Princess Victoria of England”.
The gardens show some of Hancock’s trends, the use of low Cotswold stone walls combined with wrought iron used to construct the gates. He comments that “Cotswold stone harmonizes perfectly and is difficult to beat for this purpose”.
The promotional booklet must have worked as Hancock went on to design an exhibition garden at Erie Station in New Jersey. He also staged exhibits at the Massachusetts Horticulture Show where he won several awards, including in 1933 the Presidents Cup. He was one of the designers of the Lydia Duff Gray Hubbard garden in New Jersey which now forms part of the Garden Club of America Collection. Between 1933 and 1935 Hancock was to embark on the construction of one of his most ambitious projects, a series of roof gardens called the “Gardens of Nations” on the 11th floor of the Rockefeller Centre in New York. The gardens at the Rockefeller Center were visited by Trevor Bowen, the managing director of Barkers who had taken over Derry and Toms in Kensington, London. Bowen liked what he saw and employed Hancock to create a similar effect in the heart of London. Again the logistics involved in the construction are impressive. On opening, the gardens contained over 500 different varieties of trees and shrubs.
n common with the gardens at the Rockefeller the gardens at Derry and Toms had an international flavor and featured Spanish, Tudor and English woodland gardens. The gardens were completed in 1938 at a cost of £25,000. In common with the Rockefeller there was an admission charge of a shilling (5p) but this time the money went to support local hospitals. Over the next 30 years it was to raise over £120,000.
This must have been a particularly busy time for Ralph as he was also winning Gold Medals for his display gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show. Ralph continued to be a very successful exhibitor at Chelsea, winning gold medals in 1936, ’37 and ’38. The gardens constructed at Chelsea had moved away from the naturalistic rock garden style towards the more arts and crafts style that we associated him with. One of Ralph specialities became the use of Moon Gates, which he used both at Chelsea and a number of other gardens.
Original illustrations of Derry + Tom's Roof Garden (courtesy Ralph Hancock archives)
Present day photographs I took earlier this month on a rainy day.
A thoroughly lovely video off of YouTube on this garden...
I will be attending the Chelsea Flower Show in late May. The “Great Spring Show” (as it was once labeled), has become an annual pilgrimmage for my family. As a precursor to this show and as a way to share my enthusiasm for it, I will frequently be writing posts about context, history of the show and providing past designs of show gardens from recent years. Enjoy.
A very young and spry (then) Princess Elizabeth at the Chelsea Flower Show (circa 1949)