ISSUE 89  |  Back in Business

The New English Garden, by Tim Richardson

September 12, 2013 1:00 PM

BY Kendra Wilson

Tim Richardson is Britain’s leading garden thinker, contributing to every garden journal of note and directing the Chelsea Fringe Festival when not thus engaged. His latest book, The New English Garden, is a large tome sumptuously photographed, but it is not really a coffee table book. It does actually need to be read.

Photograph by Jane Sebire.

“How can a well-known garden such as Great Dixter, or Trentham [shown above], or Highgrove, be described as ‘new’?” asks Tim Richardson in the introduction to his fascinating book. The focus here is on gardens which have been made or re-made in the last decade. Gardens which have a bright vision, which feel alive even in the most historic surroundings. This can require genius.

For an insider’s tour of Prince Charles’ private gardens at Highgrove, see At Home With Prince Charles: A Garden Ramble

There are a few geniuses in this book, like Tom Stuart-Smith (who appears twice and is responsible for revitalizing the Victorian park of Trentham near the potteries in Cumbria), and his Dutch counterpart Piet Oudolf, another card-carrying genius who has helped to make English gardens “new” again.

Photograph by Andrew Lawson.

It takes a visionary to get beyond the yew hedges of an old garden made famous by its yew hedges. Packwood House (Above) is run by the National Trust and gains bonus points here for rising above the something-for-everyone feel of many public properties. This is a credit to Mick Evans, head gardener at Packwood, who has moved beyond topiary maintenance to bring non-traditional excitement to other parts of the garden.

The borders manage to move away from the pictorial ideal laid down by Gertrude Jekyll, followed so closely through the 20th century. Instead–and Richardson describes Cottesbrooke Hall in this way–the garden visitor is less of a spectator and becomes immersed in the repetition and intermingling of the planting: “It’s a garden style that is very much in tune with today.” 

Photograph by Andrew Lawson.

Temple Guiting (Above) designed by Jinny Blom, is “intensely romantic yet highly controlled,” says Richardson. Like her mentor Dan Pearson, Blom brings a feeling of intimacy to her designs which contrasts with the theatricality of a player like Tom Stuart-Smith. Without diving into nostalgia, she has a style which we can relate to. At Temple Guiting, which is in the Cotswolds, she finds a mood which is entirely in keeping with the surroundings: “The tone is somewhat reminiscent of the work produced by Norah Lindsay at a succession of country houses in the 1920s and 1930s–very light of touch.”

Other “new” English gardens examined in this book include Prince Charles garden at Highgrove, Olympic Park, and the Living Wall at the Atheneum Hotel in London.

The New English Garden by Tim Richardson, photographs by Andrew Lawson, published by Frances Lincoln; £40 Hardback.

For another New English Garden with strong links to the past see Garden Visit: Great Dixter.