In 1916, when Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant first moved to Charleston, the walled garden was given over mainly to vegetables and fruit trees.
After the First World War, Roger Fry made designs for a rectangular lawn, pool, and flower beds intersected with straight paths. A spring and summer garden gradually evolved. The piazza was made by Quentin Bell in 1946-7, the painters making the mosaics from broken crockery.
‘I’m painting flowers – one can’t resist them – when the sun comes out you can’t conceive what the medley of apples, hollyhocks, plums, zinnias, dahlias, all mixed up together is like.’ Vanessa Bell to Roger Fry, 1930
The 1950s saw the full flowering of the garden under Vanessa Bell’s direction, assisted by gardeners including the ‘Young’ Mr Stevens and, later, Grace Higgens’ husband, Walter. The garden flourished, Quentin Bell observed, ‘as though the exuberant decoration of the interior had spilled through the doors’.
After Vanessa Bell’s death in 1961, the garden began to decline, and by 1978, when Duncan Grant died at the age of 93, it was overgrown and neglected, the walled garden mostly grassed over.
The restoration of the garden began in 1984 under the guidance of Sir Peter Shepheard, who drew up a plan extensively researched from paintings, photographs and the memories of those who once knew it.
The garden opened to the public in 1986.