Caroline Holmes talks on “Sheer Folly – Garden History”

Caroline Holmes, lecturing on Garden Follies.

I went on line to find images of gardens Caroline spoke about, but was diverted by this topiary in St James Park, London, created for the Tour de France visit to London, July 2007.

A regular pleasure of the Waikato is attending the Decorative and Fine Arts (DFAS) lectures at Southwell School. Lecturers accredited by the UK body NADFAS, give fascinating presentations on all aspects of the arts and any manner of cultural topics.

Last night’s lecturer, Caroline Holmes, came to the topic of garden follies when asked by a photographer to produce the text to accompany his images of garden follies all over the UK for a book. Her lecture last night, accompanied by images of exquisite artworks and massive, enviable gardens, took us from the Garden of Eden to the rather less romantic follies (such as glass pyramids à la the Louvre) of contemporary gardens. The justification for early gardens, she told us, was to glorify God.

Caroline told us about Hampton Court, where the garden was developed by Cardinal Wolsey. When Henry VIII asked him why he established the garden, Cardinal Wolsey – aware that he was rapidly going out of favour – told his king that it was so that he could gift  the garden to him. (I could do with a friend like Cardinal Wolsey.) The original Hampton Court gardens were uncovered in the 1990s and replanted. The yew trees came from cuttings from Hampton Court’s original yew trees.

The Tudor gardens with their elaborate knots especially appealed to me. The knot, which is endless, symbolises God’s perfect and unending love. The rectangular gardens are in green and white striped frames which are supposed to be symbolic of verdant growth and pure love but which, Caroline said, reminded her of road works! I happened upon the Tudor Garden under construction at Hamilton Gardens recently and look forward to taking my blog readers to see the completed garden, perhaps in spring.

Iggy especially liked the work of Capability Brown – rolling pastures, the grass kept clipped short by sheep, and stunning specimen trees beautifully placed. I was rather taken by the comment of one garden designer who said that “any garden, no matter how small, should have at least five acres of woodland”.

My imagination was captured by the story of Rev. David Edwards who married a “rather stout” wealthy woman for her money. At Stancombe Park in the Cotswolds, he established a garden of archways, pergolas and passages, all so narrow that his wife could not fit through. He would make his way through these to meet his gypsy lover for trysts in the folly (“one large bedroom” said Caroline) overlooking a lake.

An example of a contemporary folly was one constructed entirely of used wine bottles – “the ultimate tribute to Bacchus,” we were told.

I asked Caroline, if I could fit in a visit to only one garden in England, where would I go. Her recommendations were almost limitless. Of course, Sissinghurst is a must. Having ascertained that it was not to get ideas on which we could model our own little backyard, but to indulge romantic fantasy, she did recommend Houghton Hall. It’s on my bucket list!


8 thoughts on “Caroline Holmes talks on “Sheer Folly – Garden History”

  1. Judith Cartwright says:

    Like many British speakers, Caroline combined rich knowledge with a distinctive, quirky sense of humour. It was a memorable hour!

  2. Ana says:

    I wonder if I can trim the bushes out the front to look like all of us on our bicycles.

    • From memory, the plants you have at your place would be perfect for training into shapes, Ana. Perhaps there would need to be decisions made as to whether the bikes were heading towards the door, going out for a ride somewhere, or just passing by!

  3. I love your insightful article. awesome work. I hope you write more. I will carry on reading

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