Friday, May 8, 2009

Regency Gardens

I've been thinking a lot about gardens recently as I clean up my own flower beds and prepare my terracotta pots for summer blooms. And of course, I began to think about Regency gardens.

That led me to the internet and my favourite thing, research. What I found confirmed that Regency garden information is dominated by the work of Humphrey Repton, the Picturesque movement and its natural woodland 'look'--trees, water and classical statuary and follies. Sezincote in Gloucestershire is the classic example of this style of gardening.

But I was thinking about Regency gardens on a smaller scale. I was hoping to find (easily) what plants the gardeners of the Regency favoured, in cottage gardens, in walled gardens, and in the flower pots on the terraces of the grand houses. Empress Josephine's roses are the only thing that came up, and certainly roses have featured repeatedly in Regency romance. I discovered that it will take considerably more research to discover other popular plants of the era.

But I found several other things. One is a book that looks delightful--"In the Garden with Jane Austen" by Kim Wilson. Here is the official blurb; I can't say it better: Bringing Jane Austen’s gardens—real and fictional—to life with excerpts from her novels and letters, period songs, poetry, and illustrations, this charming recollection offers tips for creating English gardens alongside Austen. This lavishly illustrated exploration with color photographs of gardens associated with the writer offers a rich experience to admirers of both Austen and gorgeous gardens. Complete with a reference section that includes important dates in Austen’s life, locations and dates of her houses, and a map of 1809 England, this delightful book is perfect for the history and garden enthusiast alike.

Another thing I found is a BBC TV series, with a companion book, called "Gardens Through Time". It is about the history of garden design, and follows the development of the Royal Horticultural Society from 1804. This series apparently has an episode titled "The Regency Townhouse Garden 1805"; presumably the book has a chapter with the same title. I would love to see/read that.

Two other books deserve mention. "Wordsworth's Gardens" by Carole Buchanan looks fascinating. With a scholarly bent, it covers Wordsworth's landscaping and gardening plans and connects his poetry to the gardens at Dove Cottage and Rydal Mount.
And Shire Publications, who do wonderful historical booklets, have one titled "Regency Gardens" written by Mavis Batey. It is out of print but it seems to be available in the out-of-print book world. It sounds like a must-have.

Then there are the gardens in England. Shugborough estate in Staffordshire has a Walled Garden restored authentically to 1805--same plants, vintage tools and planting methods. The Royal Pavilion at Brighton has authentic Regency gardens--they again emphasize the 'picturesque in nature', but include herbaceous plants, annuals and bulbs. The plantings began in 1816.

It will take more research to discover other Regency restorations; here are some websites I plan to investigate:

Two final notes: Jane Austen's World has several blogs on Regency gardens. Use 'regency-gardens' on their blog to search for them. And, if you are going to Britain in June, don't miss 'Regency Gardens', an afternoon talk by Cassie Knight at Chawton House (yes, Jane Austen's home!) in Hampshire on June 30. The afternoon includes garden tours and a tea. Oh, how I'd love to be there.

Till next time,



Hayley E. Lavik said...

A fascinating topic, Lesley-Anne. It's these little details that can be so hard to find, and truly bring things to life. I'd be interested to hear how gardening in the Regency period varies from those around it, as Regency seems to be very distinct in most ways.

It reminds me of reading Austen's description of Pemberley in P&P, and finding it not at all meeting my mental image on film. I wonder whether my own impression was off, or if the grounds were out of historical context (which they most likely were, hehe).

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

Yes, there aren't many Regency gardens around for the film producers to use! I am a stickler for film accuracy to book content--too much so my daughter says. I guess it's unrealistic--they can't match my mental images. But I can still wish...

Off to work in my own garden.