The word "hedge" appears to stem from the Old English word "HEGG" which is believed to be derived from the Anglo-Saxon words ;
HAEG - hurdle 
HECG - territorial boundary dead or planted
HEGA - living border boundary 1
Hedges are a bordering and design tool. They enclose and subdivide fields, orchards, yards, parks and gardens. They form vegetative edges, topographic spaces, garden rooms, gateways, screens, enclosures, foci and forms within the landscape.

The term Hedgerow used to refer to 2 hedges running side by side separated by a track or pathway. These hedgerows served 2 traditional purposes , that of being a barrier to livestock and as a means of marking out territory or property boundaries. The term however tends to be used these days to describe a hedge of shrubs and occasional trees that create a border between fields and gardens or to create a privacy wall for a homeowner.

An extreme privacy hedge

It is believed that the Romans may have first planted hedges in Britain but most of the few ancient hedges date from Saxon times, making some of them 1000 years old. The Saxons organized ‘strip farming’ in which each community of people would have a field which was divided into strips separated by grass verges. Each strip was one furrow long (one furlong or 201 metres). People were given a number of strips to farm by the lord of the manor. This system changed in the late Middle Ages when landlords wanted to put boundaries around their property, so they enclosed their land with walls or hedges. Enclosure Acts in the 18th and 19th centuries allowed farmers to put more hedges round their fields and most of Britain’s 300, 000 miles or so of hedges date from this time.

“During the 16th and 17th centuries, dense hedgerow patterns provided shelter for persecuted Protestants in France and Holland to organize their clandestine religious meetings. During the WW II the dense bocage in Normandy caused the invading Allied forces much trouble in advancing to conquer the Nazi regime.”2

In the past hawthorne (Crataegus monogyna) was the most popular choice for hedgerows in the ancient woodland for marking territory or as barriers to contain livestock. Nowadays hedges are commonly constructed of various plant and non-plant material for more ornamental purposes yet still as a privacy tool.  Boxwood, Privet, Beech, Cherry Laurel, Hedge Maple, Hornbeam, Holly and Yew are but a few of the more desirous plants used currently for hedges.
 Designer Luciano Giubbilei's masterful use of hedges at a Chelsea Flower Show garden in 2009

1. Hedgerows, Hedges and Verges of Britain and Ireland
2. Natural History Museum of Britain. www.nhm.ac.uk/index.html

*all photos copyright Todd Haiman unless otherwise noted


The formal layout of the beloved Sissinghurst rose garden includes a central yew hedge planted in a circle with four tall yew-lined paths leading away from it.  This is known by it’s creator Vita Sackville-West as “the Rondel”.

 Sissinghurst photos: ©toddhaiman2011

Outside the Rondel, there are low, neatly clipped box hedges separating huge beds filled with roses.  The rondel assists in masking an a geometric garden layout whereby the two garden paths and axes do not cross at perfect right angles.  Some say a brilliant move by the designer correcting the obtuse positioning of the buildings they connect with, others claim that this was an error by a young worker on the estate who miscalculated while laying out the path.  No matter, the end result all agree is breathtaking.

Vita Sackville-West pays homage to the surrounding countryside, which is dotted with oast houses by referring to this garden structure as a rondel. Rondel is an old Kentish word employed for the shape of the hop-drying floor in the oast-houses, where hops lay in mounds.

Oast houses are buildings designed for drying or “kilning” hops as part of the beer making or brewing process.  They are true examples of vernacular architecture -- many of which have over time have been converted to homes. (Vernacular architecture is a term used to categorize methods of construction, which use locally available resources and traditions to address local needs and circumstances. Additional examples would be igloos and log cabins. Vernacular architecture tends to evolve over time to reflect the environmental, cultural and historical context in which it exists.)

Oast house photos, wikipedia

In “Sissinghurst, Portrait of a Garden”, the author Jane Brown believed that this hedged circle in yew is  “of Italian Inspiration.”

Rondels are also considered in architecture a circular window opening or the beadmolding of a capital.   But, upon further research the word “rondel” is either from the old French or old English word “roont”, meaning round or small circle. Present inspiration for the rondel can be found in the London Underground as its logo.  Past history also finds it as the logo for the RAF.
London Underground logo, wikipedia

 Castlerigg stone circle/ wikipedia

Excuse the pun, but “coming full circle”, a roundel enclosure is a type of pre-Christian and prehistoric enclosure found in Europe.  Stone circles. Timber circles, prehistoric earthworks enclosures are all examples of this.  Stonehenge, a megalithic structure of stones is recently believed by some to have had multiple rondel hedges surrounding it thousands of years ago.


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.

The Olmsted Legacy, with its name slightly tweaked to "Olmsted and America's Urban Parks" was aired appropriately on PBS for Earth Day, April 20th.



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.

anonymous engraving, Ackerman's Repository of Arts, The Strand 1809

anonymous engraving, Ackerman's Repository of Arts, The Strand 1809

 Edward Austen (Jane's brother) on the Grand Tour unknown creator, the Jane Austen trust

 Edward Austen (Jane's brother) on the Grand Tour unknown creator, the Jane Austen trust

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.

Lorrain: The Marriage of Isaac and Rebekah, 1660

Lorrain: The Marriage of Isaac and Rebekah, 1660

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.

Humphrey Repton, General View of Longleat, Stapelton Collection

Humphrey Repton, General View of Longleat, Stapelton Collection

Thomas Cole (Hudson River School), The Garden of Eden 1828  wikimedia commons

Thomas Cole (Hudson River School), The Garden of Eden 1828  wikimedia commons


Once upon a time it became the fancy for many of the ruling class in Europe to include concealed fountains, controllable at a distance in their ornamental gardens.  Seats became flooded, grottoes became showers, trees sprouted a shower of water, water jets would spring up under ladies dresses and statues would spray passing visitors from their body parts… including (the statues’) private parts. These amusing “joke fountains” were used to provide entertainment for the visitors and guests at significant estates and castles.

Water had originally been used in Rome within sculpture as a way to animate these allegorical figures. This evolved as fountains created in medieval times (overflows from spring-heads) were in the shape of an animal heads spouting water. (Windsor Castle had a stone fountain on its grounds in the mid 1200’s). A popular feature of the Italian Renaissance garden (including Villa d’Este) was these hidden fountains, which could be turned on to drench unsuspecting visitors.

Among the fountains of Peterhoff Palace, one of Russia’s most famous tourist attractions a joke fountain was constructed -- one which sprays passers-by who step on a particular paving stone. The Palace is sometimes referred to as the Russian Versailles, built and primarily designed by Peter the Great, beginning in 1714. Peter had visited the Garden of Versailles and had been so impressed by the fountains there that he was inspired to make the fountains in the same cascading style.  Subsequent Russian rulers and regimes had augmented it up until the Second World War when the German Army essentially destroyed it. Thankfully, restoration work began immediately after the war, and continues today where it has become a UNESCO World heritage site.
The Bench Fountain - walking on the cobblestones initiates the spray of water
images: flicker.com

The water for the Peterhoff fountains is drawn from springs and aqueducts at a higher elevation, thereby creating the technological achievement of eliminating the need for pumps by the use of a gravity fed system!  All the fountains run simultaneously. As a contrast… there were so many fountains at Versailles that it was impossible to have them all running at once; when Louis XIV made his promenades, his fountain-tenders turned on the fountains ahead of him and turned off those behind him. “Louis built an enormous pumping station, the Machine de Marly, with fourteen water wheels and 253 pumps to raise the water three hundred feet from the River Seine, and even attempted to divert the River Éire to provide water for his fountains, but the water supply was never enough.”1

Young Princess Victoria, who was to become Queen of England, was particularly fond of the artificial willow tree at Chatsworth Gardens, originally created by William Cavendish in 1693. Cavendish hired Grillet, a pupil of Andre LeNotre to design it.  It was composed of 8,000 pieces of copper and brass and had 800 jets of water hidden in the branches and leaves. Supposedly, it would spurt into life squirting water from every branch and leaf over the unsuspecting passer-by. To be soaked to the skin in the early 1700s was generally no laughing matter, as fine clothes were very expensive and not usually washable.
Spouting Willow 

Was that anyway to treat your guests?

1.Robert W. Berger, The Chateau of Louis XIV, University Park, PA. 1985, and Gerald van der Kemp, Versailles, New York, 1978


Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) is recognized as the founder of American landscape architecture and the nation's foremost “parkmaker.” Olmsted moved his home to suburban Boston in 1883 and established the world's first full-scale professional office for the practice of landscape design. During the next century, his sons and successors perpetuated Olmsted's design ideals, philosophy, and influence.

Over the course of his career projects  he designed, established and contributed to scenic reservations (i.e.: Yosemite Valley 1865, Niagara reservation 1887), major urban parks (i.e.: Central Park 1858, Prospect Park 1866) park systems (i.e.: Buffalo Park system, Boston’s ‘Emerald Necklace’, Rochester and Louisville), residential campuses (Stanford University, Hartford Retreat), government building grounds, parkways and site planning for the World’s Exposition of 1893.

Lesser known and spoken of are the designs of country estates for wealthy clientele, of which Olmsted designed a number of.  His greatest private client was the Vanderbilt family and it’s many heirs to the fortune of William Vanderbilt. (Olmsted had actually been a neighbor to William Vanderbilt on Staten Island in th 1840's and was now designing the family mausoleum in that same area.)   Olmsted created the Biltmore estate (beginning in 1888) in Asheville North Carolina for George, the youngest of the eight children. Three of George’s sisters had also engaged Frederick Law Olmsted to design their properties.

One of these sisters was Eliza Vanderbilt who married Dr. William Seward Webb, who left the medical profession at the urging of the Vanderbilt family. Webb was propelled into the finance and railroad industries, eventually increasing his fortune as builder of Adirondack Railway Services. The couple lived in New York City and built an ambitious estate in Shelburne, Vermont, which has survived and become notable for its agricultural, technological and architectural achievements. A working farm, at it’s peak in 1902, "Shelburne Farms" included nearly 4,000 acres of farmland with 300 employees to maintained this estate. Between 1886 and 1902, the Webb’s purchased 32 farms on Shelburne point, amassing all this land situated on Lake Champlain in Northern Vermont, framed views of the Green Mountains in the distance, just south of Burlington. 
Shelburne House
view from house looking east
view from south lawn of house looking west

The architect was Robert H. Robertson, who worked alongside F.L. Olmsted.  Shelburne Farms includes four major building on the site – “Shelburne House” (now an inn) the “Coach Barn,” Farm Barn,” “Horse Breeding Barn  Sheep and “Dairy Barn” -- dairy cattle, horses, pigs, gaming pheasants and poultry were raised on this farm.  As many as 100,000 trees a year were planted to create the sculptural landscape, (Capability Brown would be envious), 20 miles of roads and carriage trails were built.
serpentine road leads through...
opening to a clearing in the distance..
with the house perfectly sited on a hill.

Olmsted brought to this site an organizing concept that separated the farm into three types of spaces: farm, forest and parkland.  He also brought design principles learned from his early European travels and mastered in parks such as Prospect Park, Brooklyn.  
Shelbourne Farm: a (Lancelot "Capability') Brownian landscape via F.L. Olmsted
These design principles, commonly though of as the  English naturalistic landscape tradition of the early 18th century – are broad meadows with occasional clumping of shade trees, undulating hills, rich and diverse woodlands that transition into these meadows, looping roads strategically through the landscape to alternately reveal and obscure views and the appreciation of an expanse of water to reflect the sky.
rolling hills + meadows meets lake

(framed views from house)
Guests would tour the farm and horse operations, enjoy carriage rides, boating on Lake Champlain, croquet or golfing on the estate’ golf course. Presently, the site is designated a national historic landmark and has evolved into a non-profit (supported by significant donations) with a teaching component (environmental education center) working farm and an inn.

**With exception of F.L.Olmsted public domain portrait, all photos ©Todd Haiman 2010


Additional information on the life work of Ralph Hancock can be found through a site was developed by his family   www. ralphhancock.com.

And here's a podcast link off BBC radio...

Ralph Hancock - Dear Tempestuous Genius from Robin Hull on Vimeo.


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

The Roof Garden


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)