English Country Houses: Part II

English Country Houses: Part II

“Tim is truly a treasure for Robinson Gardens; we are so lucky to have him,” exclaimed Marian Power, our Chair of Education Programs, as she introduced Timothy Lindsay, the Superintendent of Robinson Gardens. He proceeded to give us the second part of his lecture on great English Country Houses. Tim attended the prestigious Attingham Summer School Program in Southern England for 17 days where museum professionals visited numerous estates and their magnificent gardens.

Chatsworth, one of the grandest English houses, owned by the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, is also one of the most visited. It is a showcase house, and through the centuries it was intended to impress and to encourage visits from the King and Queen, in the hopes of winning political favors and securing business opportunities. A beautiful and extravagant state room for the visit had to be furnished with expensive tapestries and silks. The tapestries were woven with gold and silver threads, as they were designed to look best by candelight. Since it was quite costly to entertain the royals with their staff of 1000, Tim explained that “if they stayed too long, the family could go bankrupt.”

Tim also showed us the gardens of these estates. Closer to the house, they are usually quite formal with topiaries and hedges. This geometric formality transitions into what appears to be naturalist informality, but the natural scenery is in reality very well-planned.  Streams are diverted, and bridges are built to create a story-book feel. All the trees have to be catalogued, because as they mature and die, new ones must be planted to retain the same view. In one country house, paintings of gardens were placed next to a window depicting the same vista. Even though the pictures were painted centuries ago, the view of the landscape had hardly changed.

Modern art is sometimes displayed in the gardens of these grand houses as well. In one stunning example, a tall sculpture of a giant champagne glass, made of resin and plated in silver, was high enough for people to walk under. Looking up on the exterior of its bowl, a glorious panorama of the landscape was reflected. The clouds hovering in the sky looked like steam emanating from the edge of its glass. Tim concluded the lecture with a slide of a charming vegetable garden planted with alternating green and purple squares of lettuce, resembling a chess board, with a large topiary of a beautiful swan resting in the middle.

After the lecture, a delicious English tea was served on festive tables, decorated by Marian Power and Jeanne Anderson with whimsical teapots and beautiful rose centerpieces. The group enjoyed tea sandwiches, pastries and scones with traditional Devonshire cream and jam.

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