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.”
Mark Divall, Charleston gardener, shares insights about what goes on in and around the garden at Charleston with photographs by Penelope Fewster.