Thomas Reads: This Other Eden

Written by Historian Andrea Wulf and Academic Andrea Gieben-Gamal, This Other Eden is the story of seven great gardens over 300 years of English history. Using notable Country Houses and Estates as examples, you read about their design, the stories, the notable figures involved, the background politics, and the vast sums of money spent to bring ideas to life.

Split into seven chapters, (303 pages of main text, excluding comprehensive Appendix et al.), you start in 1611 with Sir Robert Cecil and James I and finish in 1908 with a famous Arts & Crafts collaboration.

  • Hatfield House, Hertfordshire - a former Royal property rebuilt in 1611, Hatfield featured Italian-influenced Baroque grounds with a nod to earlier English features. The owner Sir Robert Cecil, Politician turned Lord Treasurer, recruited the help of Head Gardener & Plant Collector John Tradescant (The Elder), Salomon de Caus and, whilst albeit briefly, the classical Architect Inigo Jones to make his grand ambitions become reality. Hatfield is a story of politics, a turbulent Royal relationship, never-ending bills, and an ultimately sad ending as Hatfield died before seeing his dream complete. The grounds included a privy garden, a mount, parterres, and intricate waterworks.

  • Hampton Court, Surrey - A Royal property, refurbished by William III & Mary II in 1694, featuring highly French-influenced Baroque style grounds. An intertwined Political world led to Anglo-Dutch rule over England. William, also King (Stadtholder) of Netherlands, was obsessed with the gardens of Versailles and wanted to out-do the French 'Sun King' (Louis XIV). Having already built a beautiful Baroque Palace with sublime gardens in Apeldoorn, William was known for his refined taste. He employed Sir Christopher Wren, George London and Henry Wise to re-design the palace, install extensive parterres, a maze, multiple fountains, a privy garden and more.

  • Stowe, Buckinghamshire - A Privately owned property by Richard Temple, 1st Viscount Cobham, a gentleman recognised for his Classical taste and moral virtues. Stowe provides a lasting account from the shift of Baroque to the Landscape Park. From around 1722, for nearly 30 years Cobham employed the very best (Charles Bridgeman, William Kent, Capability Brown) to bring his ideas to life. The formal planting schemes were ripped up and the site opened to accept nature with the help of an extensive ha-ha. Many features were installed around the grounds including multiple follies (decorative garden buildings), nearly 50 statues, and 40 busts.

  • Hawkstone Park, Shropshire - A Privately owned Estate, inherited in 1783 by Politician Richard Hill (a keen Methodist known for his good deeds). Hawkstone is an exciting site set in rugged stone valleys featuring the ruins of a Medieval castle. Whilst the achievements of Stowe were groundbreaking and celebrated (even by King George), Hill took the notion of a picturesque Landscape Park to a new level. In a more pure motive than Cobham, Hill set out to celebrate God through stirring intense emotions as tourists travelled throughout Britain to venture through his park.

  • Sheringham Park, Norfolk - A 1000 acre Farming Estate purchased in 1811 by traditional family-man, Abbott Upcher. Upcher immediately employed Humphry Repton to improve its naturally rich & rolling grounds. At the turn of the 19th Century Landscape Parks were still the look, however Upcher relished farming life and recognised his moral duty to his tenants. So rather than raising structures to display his status and wealth, he focused on improving the forests and views that were on offer along with establishing good agricultural methods and fixing his tenants homes.

  • Chatsworth, Derbyshire - Inherited from his Father in 1811, William Cavendish (the 6th Duke of Devonshire) was known for his collection of fine arts and extravagant tastes. In 1826 he hired John Paxton, one of England's first formally qualified Gardeners through the Horticultural Society, to simply maintain the grounds. Over a 24 year Period, Paxton went on to install a Pinetum, extensive hot houses in the 12 acre kitchen garden, a great conservatory, a monster fountain, a dramatic rockscape and a Lily House. Through Paxton's skills and Cavendish's budget, Chatsworth contained Britains finest plant collection.

  • Hestercombe, Somerset - A Country House owned by the Honourable Edward William Berkeley Portman. The existing grounds dating from the mid-18th Century were laid out as a Landscape Park featuring multiple follies, views and established paths. In around 1904 popular Country House Architect Edwin Lutyens and partner in business Horticulturist and Garden Designer Gertrude Jekyll were hired to establish a more intimate garden for the house. Both with a strong belief in the Arts & Crafts movement, Lutyens' design included a formal terrace, a sunken (and raised) parterre, an Orangery, and a long Pergola, with Jekyll establishing harmonious natural herbaceous borders and flowers to fill the gaps.

This is a cracking book as you learn about design, plants, styles and popular features. Working through the examples in a chronological order makes it much easier to see how fashions changed over time (1611 - 1694 - 1722 - 1783 - 1811 - 1826 - 1904). It's interesting towards the middle - end of the book as you notice older features being re-used in newer settings.

Overall, this is a fantastic read full of explanations and stories as to why our Countries greatest gardens turned out the way they did. Aside from discovering grand fountains and great follies, you also learn about Politics, State Affairs, plant collectors, and the leading Designers, Gardeners and Architects of the time.

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