Henrietta Garnett’s love of the unkempt garden

The following is taken from the eulogy read at Henrietta Garnett’s funeral at St Peter’s Church Firle, on 24th September 2019 by Mark Divall, who gardened at Charleston for 16 years between 1985 and 2017…

The Poppy Garden with The Luberon mountains beyond. Provence 1993. Photograph © Mark Divall. 

Greeted by the wild flowers of Provence after Mark and Henrietta’s journey from Charleston, Spring 1990. Photograph © Mark Divall. 
















One of Henrietta’s particular joys was a love of wild landscapes and the myriad ways that an interesting flora could raise one’s spirit.

I first met Henrietta in 1988, when I was the gardener at Charleston. She was standing under an arch of wild honeysuckle growing over the front door of the Dower house near Firle, the home of Quentin and Olivier Bell. Later I was to become aware that honeysuckle was one of Henrietta’s “special” plants.

After a year she moved in with me to live in the attic at Charleston. It was the start of an intriguing insight into her almost spiritual fascination with the magic that certain plants can create in a garden or wild space. It is difficult to categorise those plants that were held in her highest esteem, but if I mention some more, a pattern might emerge. Heartsease, Cornflower, Love-in-the-Mist, Cowslip, Narcissus poeticus,  English bluebells, Lily-of-the-Valley, Snakes head fritillary, Pasqueflower and Speedwell.

Henrietta’s enchantment with these flowers was infectious and although they didn’t exactly “warm the cockles of my heart”, to use a favourite Hen saying, her uninhibited ways with nature inspired in me a freedom to treat plants in a much more relaxed way.  Choosing plants for a border was much like gathering a group of friends together, knowing they would get on well.

The walled garden at Charleston captivated Henrietta from an early age, feelings passed down to her from her grandmother Vanessa Bell and her mother Angelica.

She believed that gardens could be exotic as well as exquisite. Warm Summer days spent in the garden surrounded by the voluptuousness of the masses of foxgloves, hollyhocks, and red hot pokers would leave an indelible impression, and Henrietta would subsequently recreate some of that magic wherever she made a garden.

Walking through the garden with Henrietta could not be a hurried affair. She might spy a violet that was trying to force its way through a low drift of dry leaves to reach the light. A stick might be employed to clear its path. Perfume would have to be inhaled, and a herb or two collected for supper.

A favourite poem of Henrietta’s that perfectly evokes being at one with place and landscape is The Lake Isle of Innesfree by W.B.Yeats.

It is my feeling that, in her life, Henrietta had many Innesfrees: Charleston was certainly one; the house on the hill we shared in Provence a second, and I was very pleased that in these last years, Henrietta made a third with John Drane at their cottage in Sussex.

The house is typically quirky, has a sweet garden, and beyond it a restful landscape that, if you are lucky, can be graced by an ascending sky lark.  


The Lake Isle of Innisfree by William Butler Yeats

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.


Henrietta working near her special raised garden, Provence 1995. Photograph © Mark Divall. 

Henrietta and Mark in Charleston’s Garden, November 2017. Photograph © Carlotta Luke.

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