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Garden Visit: An Artist’s Palette at Charleston Farmhouse

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Garden Visit: An Artist’s Palette at Charleston Farmhouse

June 21, 2023

The artist’s garden has been a hot topic of late, pulled back into focus with Sarah Price’s interpretation of Cedric Morris’s garden at Benton End for the Chelsea Flower Show last month. A garden as a space to paint or as a source for cut flowers for still-life compositions is a different thing entirely from a garden choreographed and designed to view as one.

For the artist Vanessa Bell, who moved to Charleston Farmhouse with her husband Clive Bell, her lover Duncan Grant (the Bloomsbury Set dynamics were nothing if not unorthodox), along with her children Julian and Quentin (she’d later have another child, Angelica, with Grant), the walled garden, with its old fruit trees and vegetables, would become a flower-filled haze and the source of stems that she’d paint in her studio, which opens directly out into the garden.

The garden was redesigned by their friend Roger Fry (who also devised the handbuilt fireplaces throughout the farmhouse that were essential in the bitingly cold 1916 winter when the artists arrived as conscientious objectors in the middle of the First World War). Long paths are lined with flower-filled borders, with a central lawn punctuated by a tiled pond. A terrace with another small pond and table was placed to catch the evening sun and towards the back of the space, there was a vegetable garden which remains today.

In 2020, in the midst of the first few months of the pandemic, Harry Hoblyn took over as head gardener, having served a year-long traineeship, and continues to negotiate the balance between a garden’s rich heritage and driving it forward. On a baking midsummer day we stopped by for a closer look.

Photography by Clare Coulson.

Above: The front of the farmhouse is covered in huge climbers and looks out onto the large pond. To the north of the house sits the walled garden.
Above: In early summer the borders are dotted with oriental poppies in pinks, plums, and lilacs. Here they mingle with swathes of oxeye daisies and the white spires of Salvia sclarea turkenstanica alba—a white form of the biennial clary sage.
Above: Roses are trained up the garden’s brick and flint walls where they meet stone busts that watch over the farmhouse’s idyllic pond.
Above: A candy store clash of delicious color reverberates through the midsummer borders with rambling roses, poppies, allium seedheads, and sky blue delphiniums.
Above: When the couple first arrived at the farmhouse the garden boasted various fruit trees. Now roses clamber up through their branches and long borders run alongside them.
Above: The extraordinary looking raspberry ripple striped Rosa mundi emerges in the borders.
Above: The garden is divided by a long cloud pruned box hedge that lends a dramatic sculptural dimension to the space but also envelops one of the garden’s many statuary pieces.
Above: Fragrant, blousey roses hang down above the flower-filled borders, including this particularly beguiling cream variety.
Above: The garden includes a large productive area, and beyond the walls a large greenhouse is filled with seedlings waiting to be planted out.
Above: Long vistas were central to the garden’s original design, providing a rigid structure to contrast with exuberant borders where a chaotic mix of annuals, perennial, roses and shrubs vie for attention. To the right a delicious orange-scented philadelphus greets garden visitors.
Above: The house’s whimsical facade and pastel pink front door is arched with Rosa ‘Zephirine Drouhin’ (a vivid pink climber with an intense raspberry scent) and a huge Fuchsia magellanica.

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Frequently asked questions

What is the Charleston Farmhouse?

The Charleston Farmhouse is a historic home and garden located in Sussex, England. It was the country retreat of the Bloomsbury Group, a collection of artists, writers, and intellectuals, during the early 20th century.

Can I visit the Charleston Farmhouse?

Yes, the Charleston Farmhouse is open to the public. It offers guided tours of the house and garden, allowing visitors to explore the artistic legacy of the Bloomsbury Group and experience the unique charm of the property.

Are there any special features in the garden?

Yes, the garden at Charleston Farmhouse is known for its artistic and experimental design. It features various outdoor spaces, sculptures, and vibrant plantings inspired by the artistic vision of the Bloomsbury Group.

How can I get to the Charleston Farmhouse?

The Charleston Farmhouse is located in Firle, near Lewes, in Sussex, England. It is accessible by car and public transportation. The farmhouse also provides on-site parking for visitors.

Can I bring my children to the Charleston Farmhouse?

Yes, children are welcome at the Charleston Farmhouse. However, it's important to note that the property includes fragile artworks and historic elements, so children should be supervised by adults at all times.

Are there any nearby amenities or facilities?

Yes, there are amenities available near the Charleston Farmhouse. The property has a café offering refreshments, snacks, and meals. Additionally, there is a gift shop where visitors can purchase souvenirs related to the farmhouse and the Bloomsbury Group.

Can I take photographs during my visit?

Yes, photography is permitted in the garden and outdoor areas of the Charleston Farmhouse. However, photography is not allowed inside the house to preserve the artworks and maintain the historical integrity of the property.

Can I host events or weddings at the Charleston Farmhouse?

Yes, the Charleston Farmhouse offers event hosting services for weddings, special occasions, and corporate events. However, it is recommended to contact the farmhouse directly for more information and specific arrangements.

Is the Charleston Farmhouse accessible to individuals with disabilities?

The Charleston Farmhouse strives to provide accessibility to all visitors. However, due to the historic nature of the property and its uneven terrain, certain areas may be challenging for people with mobility issues. It is advised to contact the farmhouse in advance to discuss specific requirements and accommodations.

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