English Arts and Crafts gardens and how they can be modernised in Sweden

University essay from SLU/Dept. of Urban and Rural Development

Abstract: The aim with this thesis was to investigate what characterises an English Arts and Crafts garden how they could be modernised in Sweden. My research was limited to 20 weeks of full-time writing and worth 30 ECTS. Through literature studies, interviews and site visits I could analyse my findings which resulted in a concrete garden design project. The Arts and Crafts was a movement that started in England during the 1880’s and evolved as a reaction towards the industrialisation. The influence came from the writings and practices of John Ruskin (1819-1900) and William Morris (1834-1896) who advocated the importance of craftsmanship. The Arts and Crafts movement also became a “recipe for life” and was associated with a healthy and morally pure way of living. The movement also influenced the view on the garden design and the previous “Gardenesque” gardens were rejected. One of the main philosophies was to create the garden in partnership with nature and the gardens are characterised by naturalistic planting schemes within a formal structure. The garden was created into a series of garden rooms and connected by axes and vistas. These rooms created drama and mystery as the entire garden could only be experience by walking through them. Focus was also on the connection between house and garden as well as to use traditional plants and local materials. The inspiration came from Tudor and British medieval gardens which were intimate gardens with strong architectural structure that created rooms while also standing for timeless English quality. The inspiration to the Arts and Crafts gardens also came from William Robinson (1838-1935) in 1870 with his revolutionary book called The Wild Garden where he promoted the use of hardy plants that were suitable for the environment it would be planted in. By doing so it would also decrease maintenance. Although Robinson’s ideas of a wild garden were very successful, he was heavily criticised by architects who did not agree on that the garden should be designed as “natural”. In 1892, the architect, Reginald Blomfield (1856-1942) released his controversial book The Formal Garden, which started an overall discussion whether the garden should be considered in relation to the house or not. He thought the garden should be inspired by the order and formality of the house and also be laid out by the architect. The debate between Blomfield’s formal gardening and Robinson’s wild gardening was intense since it was also a battle between architects and horticulturists. It was not until Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932) combined both of these thoughts when the Arts and Crafts gardens begun to form its characteristics. Gertrude Jekyll also started a ground-breaking collaboration with the architect Edvin Lutyens which made a clear stand against the current fight between “architects” and “gardeners”, as they found more benefits from working together. Their first project together was Munstead Wood, which was to become Jekyll’s own home. In their collaboration Lutyens became responsible for the architecture of the house and Jekyll designed the naturalistic plant arrangements in the garden. The structure and division into garden rooms was, however, designed by both of them together. The garden at Munstead Wood demanded a skilled plants-woman since the garden had a poor and well-drained soil and was, as the name implies, located in the woods. Jekyll was well-educated and also used plants as colours to paint a picture. As a previous painter, she also introduced a new way of colourthemed planting schemes which were based on rules about complementary colours accenting each other. In order to analyse the characteristics of an Arts and Crafts garden I visited Hidcote Manor which is one of the most famous Arts and Crafts gardens. The garden includes Hidcote has many of the typical Arts and Crafts element, for instance having a sequence of 28 garden rooms, a formal structure and a naturalistic planting scheme. The layout is based on a T-shape where the two main vistas are running along these two axes but none of them are connected to the house. The planting schemes are mixed with large shrubs, climbers, perennials but often offer too many impressions. Some garden rooms are, however, planted with a specific colour scheme in mind. The most famous example of this is the Red Border which, despite its bright colour spectrum of red, expresses a longing for simplicity. The garden also included more naturalistic areas as a contrast to the otherwise common geometrical layout. Simple green rooms were also included and differed from the rest of the garden. These gardens, however, demand extremely high maintenance with a staff of gardeners caring for the almost 5.4 hectares and seven kilometres of hedges in addition to caring for annuals, deadheading and trimming the lawn. A site visit at Sissinghurts was also conducted since it is also one of the most famous Arts and Crafts gardens, even though it is one of the latest since it was not started until 1930. It does, however, comprise the main ingredients of a typical Arts and Crafts garden with its long axes, formal hedges, intimate garden rooms and naturalistic planting schemes. What differs Sissinghurst from Hidcote is that its axes actually are connected to the house. The planting schemes are also more simplified which could be explained by being created during the modernism in the 1950’s. The influence from Jekyll is also very clear. Just like Hidcote, Sissinghurst also demands high maintenance such as trimming hedges, growing annuals, deadheading and replacing borders. The Swedish private garden of Ulla Molin (1909-1997) which she created during the 60’s was also examined since she used the English Arts and Crafts as a source of inspiration, among others. In Molin’s early career she was influenced by the ideology of the functionalism and its aesthetics but later realised its negative effects for example lacking intimate space and places for rest. Her answer was to create smaller garden rooms within the garden and her inspiration came from the garden at Sissinghurst Castle. The garden was divided into eight different rooms despite the garden only being 800 square meters. Molin, however, took the philosophy of the garden being connected with the house one step further when she created the part of the garden called the Bird bath which could be viewed from large windows in the living room. She arranged the plants as to form a scene where rounded yew created scenery flats, grey-foliaged groundcovers as a floor and a birdbath where the birds became actors when drinking and bathing. To further connect house and garden she also planted climbers, trees and other plants close to the house to create a smooth transition. Molin also advocated low maintenance, in contrast to the labourintensive gardens at Hidcote and Sissinghurst and found her inspiration from nature. She replaced the time-consuming lawn for a planting scheme inspired by the plants thriving on the nearby beach which suited her sandy soil. In comparison to The Arts and Crafts, Molin’s planting scheme is much simpler and she used large carpets of groundcovers within a more muted colour scheme. The division into garden rooms is also different to the Arts and Crafts since her rooms are not as clearly defined or connected with axes or vistas as the English examples. The Swedish gardens were not influenced by Molin’s ground-breaking philosophy at the time but instead followed the ideals of functionalism. During the 1980’s, however, the Swedish gardens became seen as nothing but practical and static without any interest and surprise. Their heads turned to England but despite its influence, few had the courage to compose intimate garden rooms as many were still “lawn lovers” and kept the hedges low. Today the main garden trends are to use decorative grasses in the herbaceous borders or adding traditional kitchen plants to the scheme. Colour-themed planting schemes are popular and origins from the English Arts and Crafts gardens. In today’s society it should not just be the garden trends which determine the design of our gardens; we also need to consider sustainability. But what is a sustainable garden? Sustainable gardens can be achieved by choosing the right plant for the right location so that no extra water or fertilizers needs to be added. In other words, find inspiration from the habitats of nature which in turn will decrease maintenance. Other ways are of minimising labour are using hardy plants, turning the trimmed lawn into meadow, composting garden waste and harvesting rainwater. The use of natural and local paving material and permeable surfaces are also important. One of the most famous landscape architects in modern Sweden is Ulf Nordfjell. In 2009 he showed in his Daily Telegraph garden at Chelsea Flower Show that a traditional English Arts and Crafts garden can be modernised with Swedish simplicity. His source of inspiration came from Hidcote Manor, where he was influenced by the enclosed garden rooms, the views from the pavilions and its right angle axes. In his Chelsea garden he took the philosophy of a wild garden within a formal setting (which is one of the main characteristics of an Arts and Crafts garden) even further as he divided the garden in four different habitats (where he simplified and enhanced the essence of that specific habitat). Bo doing that he emphasised the ideas behind ecological sustainability. However, since this was a show garden without any connection to the surrounding landscape, these habitats are more or less fictive, but spreading the idea is still encouraged. The fact that the plants are also planted in blocks adds to a higher maintenance in order to keep them in place. In order to gain a deeper understanding for Nordfjell’s design philosophy when creating gardens, I got the chance to interview him. In terms of connecting house and garden, Nordfjell is a strong advocator and believe that even rooms like the bedroom or bathroom should be extended in the garden. In terms of views and vistas, Nordfjell is inspired by how scenes are created at the theatre just like Molin. The main advice from Nordfjell is that simplicity is key to a successful design and that less is more. The background research and analyses lead to a design program which combines the most favourable features from the Arts and Crafts gardens and the Swedish garden design. The overall elements to emphasise was the connection between house and garden as well as garden with the landscape, using sustainable solutions and lower maintenance, using simple aesthetics and include the functions a garden of today demands. The garden is situated in a garden suburb in Eskilstuna, Sweden. The site was previously a pine forest but was, however, converted to a housing area around 2005. The garden comprises 1400 square meters and the soil is well-drained due to large amounts of construction gravel with a small amount of top soil. The analysis of the garden showed it is exposed, lacks privacy and does not trigger any of the five senses. The garden design proposal is inspired by the formality and enclosing garden rooms found at Hidcote and Sissinghurst and combined with the inspiration of bringing in nature but in a simplified and sustainable version like Nordfjell and Molin. The concept is that the forest to the north and west of the garden is extended towards the garden while the formality of the house and the adjacent housing area is stretched towards the garden from the south/east. The garden is enclosed by tall hedges on three sides with no hedge towards the forest in order to elongate the view. The planting material is mainly chosen because of its native origin and commonality to the area as well as for its ability to thrive in the different conditions around the garden regarding sun and water. The garden is divided into six enclosed garden rooms, each with its own character. These rooms are; The Entrance, the Fruit Garden, The Corridor, the Moorland, The Nuttery and The Meadow. The Entrance garden has many similarities to an Arts and Crafts garden with its formal layout based on the symmetry of squares and circles. The colour scheme is vibrant with a palette of wine-reds, blues and greys and includes plants like Sedum, Salvia and Nepeta. The Moorland is inspired by the planting scheme found in pine tree moorlands, which is similar to the adjacent forest. This part of the garden is designed to be viewed from inside, and horticultural version of forest plants have been added to increase seasonal interest. The colour scheme comprises a palette of muted greys and greens with dashes of dark purples hues to add drama. A gazebo covered by Hedera helix elongates the view while also mirror the architecture of the house. The Nuttery is a grove planted with hazels with a groundcover of different ferns similar to the adjacent forest. The Nuttery is thought to resemble the natural edge of where a forest meets the open land. By doing so it becomes the transition zone between the garden and the forest. The Corridor is similar to a hallway in a house with a clear axe connecting the different garden rooms. It creates a soothing contrast to the rest of the garden while also adding some drama. The Meadow is an open garden room created as a minimalistic interpretation of nature. It has a simple design with a colour scheme in green with a tint of yellow to emphasise its openness and light. The meadow is edged by Betula pendula ‘Julita’ planted as saplings closely together to create a similar effect of birch trees conquering an open area of land. The Fruit Garden is not a traditional kitchen garden and these productive plants are instead creating a decorative groundcover rather than lined up in raised beds. By presenting a concrete design proposal for a Swedish garden I have showed that it is possible to combine the philosophy behind the Arts and Crafts garden with modern design ideas and demands on sustainability and lower maintenance. Historical gardens should therefore not be seen as a remnant from the past but rejuvenated in new creative landscape architecture solutions and garden designs for the future.

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