Fiona’s Spring 2012 Blog
FIONA’S SPRING 2012 BLOG
Although my intention was to update this blog for the late autumn/winter, events conspired to prevent this, with various other activities needing to be done more urgently. They include work on the Trust’s responses to several planning issues and in particular the recent Bracknell Forest Council’s consultation about planning policy in relation to Broadmoor, a Grade II registered landscape near Crowthorne. Research is another important area. We have been revising the research form and prioritising sites which need to be looked at, to provide some examples to encourage others to join us.
The Trust has also been busy with the Hungerford Tragedy Memorial Garden and Watlington House projects, contributing an article about the Hungerford garden for the 2012 Association of Gardens Trusts’ Yearbook, about which you will find more elsewhere on the website and in the Spring/Summer Newsletter. The AGT publication contains articles about all sorts of activities with which County Gardens Trusts are involved across the country and makes interesting reading; a copy is available for each Berkshire Gardens Trust member and can either be
collected at a Trust event or acquired if you email or telephone enquiry to us
(we still have some 2011 copies available too if you missed out on this).
On a personal note, I have been lucky enough to go on some great visits to some exhibitions about designed landscapes over the last few months. Some of you may have seen last autumn’s excellently displayed ‘Capability Brown’ exhibition at Compton Verney, Warwickshire. As well as paintings and plans, it was interesting to see some of the equipment which Brown and others would have used in the course of their work in the 18th century. Another exhibition a bit closer to home was at the Ashmolean in Oxford, where a huge number of prints and some large-scale paintings illustrated the sorts of details observed by the French artist Claude-Lorrain,
who together with Nicolas Poussin, influenced so many of the classically-inspired 18th century and subsequent garden landscapes in Britain.
In terms of garden visits, I enjoyed my annual ‘pilgrimage’ to Welford Park, near Newbury in West Berkshire, to see the snowdrop display. Although the sharp cold spells in February and lack of rain has affected so much in the garden, they were still a delight, even on a dull day. The mixed crocus, aconites and hellebores nearer the house complemented them perfectly. It is lovely to have such a special place relatively close by to visit towards the end of winter.
More recently, I was lucky enough to experience several hot, sunny days in Paris. While the trip to Versailles was a little disappointing, due to the statues still being ‘under wraps’ and the various ponds drained, it was still impressive (see opening picture) and also interesting to see the last of the winter work to get the gardens ready for Easter and the summer season: an excuse for a future visit to see the fountains!. We were however, enchanted by Le Hameau, Marie-Antoinette’s beloved and delightful hamlet with farm and other ornamentally ‘rustic’ buildings: I quite forgave her any extravagances!
I also took Mike on a mini-tour of some of the wonderful public parks in Paris, all of which have played a role in the regeneration and ‘improvements’ to the city in recent centuries. It was interesting to note how they were being enjoyed and
used as well as some of the maintenance issues which it seems beset so many landscapes the world over, especially where economic pressures are present.
The largely 18th century styled peaceful Parc Monceau, towards the north-west of the capital, towards the north-west of the capital, is a few streets from the bustle of the Arc de Triomphe and still quite well tended.
Well used, especially by nannies and businessmen, its columnade, arches, other carefully placed features and lawns were in good condition.
To the north-east, the sloping and lake-side lawns of the dramatic 19th century Parc des Buttes-Chaumont (commissioned by Napoleon III in the Baron Haussmann era, when huge swathes of Paris were ‘modernised’ and ‘improved’), were full of all sorts of Parisians and visitors picnicking and sunbathing around the 50 metre man-made rocky promontory rising out of the lake.
Complete with its belvedere, modelled on the Temple of Sibyl at Tivoli, Italy, it is ageing well.
The late 20th century Jardins Atlantique, above the Gare de Montparnasse and surrounded by tall buildings, contain some hidden delights, both in terms of planting and stylish design features such as stylish ‘art nouveau’ lamps and paving designs as well as stepped, scalloped lawns whose shapes were echoed by perimeter seating, raised walkways through lush vegetation within which interesting slate/stone structures were positioned and with a colourful children’s play area and tennis courts to either side.
The centre of the park has some metallic sculptures; actually a series of instruments for measuring elements of the weather. Sadly, the concrete used for some of the central paths and the wooden-slatted seating were deteriorating, although it was well used, both as a resting place and a thoroughfare.
Another late 20th century venue, the Parc de la Villette, towards the north-east of Paris, is a real ‘green, cultural lung’ through which the Canal Martin runs with a near-by basin and locks. The park provides a short-cut to and from the River Seine for large boats. It has a lot of open grassy areas and some modern sculpture; we were particularly taken with the ‘de-constructed’ bicycle. However, much of the ‘prairie area’ to the north of the canal and some of the other ‘compartments’ which I remember from a previous visit 10 years ago, appear to have been ‘sacrificed’ for the extension of the musical conservatoire, theatre and science park and large exhibition buildings. Once again it was certainly very well used, especially by families and youngsters taking advantage of the sunshine after school and ‘in transit’ workers and tourists.
Close by is the Promenade des Plantes, yet another recently created green thoroughfare on the site of an old railway-line; an urban regeneration project to and from the Canal Martin near the Bastille. A few kilometres in length, it incorporates some interesting planting in ‘compartments’ punctuated by trellis and other features, as well as lots of seating. Part-way along, there is also a cafe and upmarket artisan workshops to visit below.
Finally, the late 20th century Parc Andre Citroen, parallel to the Seine on a previous car and munitions factory site to the south-west of the Hotel des Invalides and the Eiffel Tower, provides what is said to be the third-most expansive urban view in Paris. Although the sunken garden ‘rooms’ and sloping, geometric concrete rills and other features, showed some signs of neglect (the lining of the drained, long rectangular water trough was heavily patched with fountains and concrete edges not looking good),
the overall impact was still as great as when I first visited earlier this century. Certainly the computer-controlled fountains set between two large ‘glasshouses’ are still dramatic, while the geometry of the planted hedges and of the paths between them and across the lawns bisecting the site, remains largely intact and creates an impact, despite the intrusion of a tethered hot-air balloon (which you can pay to ascend in), promoting the services of an environmentally-friendly French bank!
Happy Garden Visiting this Spring to all readers!