Charleston’s walled garden was created by the artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant to designs by Roger Fry.
Together they transformed vegetable plots and hen runs, essential to the household during the First World War, into a quintessential painters’ garden mixing Mediterranean influences with cottage garden planting. In the 1920s a grid of gravel paths gave structure to beds of plants chosen by Grant and Bell for their intense colour and silver foliage. These became the subject of many still lifes over their long residence at Charleston.
Part of the garden’s sense of luxuriance and surprise comes from the variety of sculpture it contains. Classical forms sit side by side with lifesize works by Quentin Bell, mosaic pavements and tile-edged pools. The orchard offers shade from the sun and the pond a focus for tranquil contemplation.
Above all this was a summer garden for playing and painting, an enchanted retreat from London life. As Vanessa Bell wrote in 1936, “The house seems full of young people in very high spirits, laughing a great deal at their own jokes… lying about in the garden which is simply a dithering blaze of flowers and butterflies and apples.”
In August 2014 John Tebbs of The Garden Edit visited Charleston with photographer Amber Rowlands. He spoke to our Gardener Mark Divall about ‘spider days’, oriental poppies and what Charleston means to Mark.
Behind the Garden Wall
Photo (c) Penelope Fewster
A wonderful image that caught Penny’s eye this month, is of the climbing Hydrangea that is growing against the wall of the Garden Room. It epitomises this time of the year as it shows the desiccated flower from earlier this summer , combined with an already swelling bud that brings thoughts of next year. The Hydrangea petiolaris was a particular favourite of Duncan Grant’s. A native of Japan, it has panicles of white flowers during June and July.
The other image shows an area just inside the entrance to the walled garden where the first phase of the reinvigoration of this border is taking place. The procedure here is particularly complicated as the border has become over run with Ground Elder, one of the gardens most pernicious weeds. We remove all plants where possible, and the soil down to a depth of 30cms. A special membrane is then placed on the sub-soil, followed by fresh soil, mixed with grit and manure. If original plants are to be returned to the bed, great care has to be taken that not even a centimetre of the Ground Elder is included with them.
The rest of the bed will be replanted following recommendations from the plans drawn up for the garden restoration in 1985. I hope you will be able to visit the garden next year to see the improvements made during the closed season.
-Mark Divall, Charleston Gardener, December 2014