Book Review Heading


Restored Period Gardens
Middle Ages to Georgian Times

By John Harvey
Published by Shire Publications Ltd, Princes Risborough, UK, 1993
Shire Garden History Series no. 1, 2nd edition

Reviewed by Joan Dingley

Interest in Britain in garden history increased with the founding of the Garden History Society in 1965, and extensive literature searches on period gardens have been undertaken. Archaeological excavations have also contributed to the restoration or recreation of gardens more than a century old, many sponsored by the National Trust.

John Harvey's concepts for the restoration and recreation of historical gardens have wide applications in maintenance programmes for all gardens and parks. Harvey stresses that long-term upkeep of restored gardens must be considered. A garden changes naturally at a fast rate, and heavy costs of a major restoration can be wasted unless both an annual and longer-term phased management plan of work is drawn up and strictly followed.

Sound restorations or recreations cannot be hurried, for all aspects of researches of original archives and archaeological excavations have to be considered. Plantings need to match the main period of the buildings in the area. The author quotes the anomaly of using modern floribunda roses, with no counterpoint in the 17th century, in a period rose garden at 17th century Edgell Castle, Tayside.

Harvey comments on the contribution trees made to the English landscape in the 18th and 19th centuries, and asks how this influence can be perpetuated. Clear-felling and replanting has been shown not to be the answer, and he urges better efforts to preserve original trees and hedges.

Restoration of period gardens in Britain is described under five historical periods, and examples are given for these periods, as well as some back-ground on the historical influences of the time.

In the first period, the Middle Ages (1066-1485), there are no written texts to serve as guides, but fragments of information have been collected from many sources. The Queen Eleanor Gardens, Winchester Castle, is a restored garden of this period.

In the Tudor period (1485-1540) and a later period (1540-1605) a more ornate type of formal garden developed, with elaborate topiary and 'knot' gardens. With the invention of printing the first English books on horticulture appeared: Thomas Hill (1558) on horticultural practice, William Turner (1558) on garden plants, and Gerard's Herbal or Generall Historie of Plants (1597). With the Reformation, new eastern European plants and trees were introduced to the West, e.g., tulips, ranunculus, horse chestnut. There is a Tudor garden at the Tudor House Museum, Southampton.

The author divides the Stuart period into two phases, 1603-1660 and 1660-1714. Extravagance marked the first period, with wealthy courtiers establishing the ornate layouts seen in France and Italy, building terraces and grand staircases, lakes and waterways. Plant lists and catalogues produced in this period provide a good background to the plantings of the times. The year 1650, however, marked a downturn in our horticultural history, with the Parliamentary confiscation of large estates following the Civil War. The later Stuart period thus ushered in the era of the more modest 'home garden', incorporating orchard and kitchen garden.

In the first Georgian period (1714-1760) the author notes the development of the nursery trade, the most notable being Furber of Kensington Gore, London. A number of North American trees were introduced. The Georgian period 1760-1800 saw foreign trade and exploration introducing plants from all over the world, and the rapid development of Kew Gardens followed. The designer Lancelot 'Capability' Brown began to make an impact on garden landscapes. The flower border developed as a garden feature.

The book concludes with a short bibliography, list of abbreviations, and appendices. Appendix I provides a summary of sources and connections under the different chapter headings. Historical plant lists are given, taken from texts mentioned in the bibliography. These lists are arranged in chronological order, and to me are one of the most interesting features of the book. The list from Robert Furber's catalogues, Kensington 1724-1730, is truly remarkable. Appendix II lists roses in cultivation in Britain before 1830, an interesting addition.

The book provides a valuable and useful guide for visitors to Britain who are interested in garden history. It is interesting to consider these phases of early garden development in the context of New Zealand gardening. Cooks voyages to New Zealand occurred in the periods 1768-1772 and 1772-1776. Before this Maori immigrants had developed gardens based on food crops brought from the warm Pacific Islands. Helen Leach's book '1000 Years of Gardening in New Zealand' (1984) has described the course of pre-European Maori gardening identified by archaeological studies and followed the introduction of European food crops into New Zealand.

Reading Harvey's historical account of period British gardens shows how early European settlers in New Zealand would have been influenced by and profited from years of gardening experience in Britain. I found this book very interesting and valuable.

Horticulture in New Zealand: Journal of the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture 1993 4(2): 5, 9

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