An Infinity of Graces, Cecil Ross Pinsent, An English Architect in the Italian Landscape

Author: Ethne Clarke Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 2013
Author: Ethne Clarke
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 2013
Ethne Clarke's book, An Infinity of Graces tells the story of Cecil Ross Pinsent, an English architect in the Italian landscape. Mr Pinsent, as described by Ms. Clarke, "was trained not to look at any style...but with the full knowledge of what had been done in the past...."  The time of Mr. Pinsent's work was a time of change in the theories of English gardening.  What ultimately became acceptable was the style forged by Gertrude Jekyll and Edwin Lutyens, a style with some formality mixed with informality. Pinsent left England, drawn to Florence, Italy, for its architecture and the expatriate world who lived there Ms. Clarke writes.  She continues that the Italian Renaissance garden was a template for perfection in the landscape.  Pinsent was an architect.  He was hired to renovated both indoor and out.  He treated the outdoors as an extension of the house, the garden separated into different rooms.  The beds were simple and cypress was often used to frame a view, the author writes.  Potted citrus or roses were used as transition points. His commissioned work included: I Tatti for Mary and George Berenson, Le Balze for Charles Augustus Strong, and Gli Scafari for Sybil and Percy Lubbock. Poignantly Ethne Clarke ends An Infinity of Graces by writing, "an insertion of architecture within Tuscan landscape was not a matter of camouflage but a continuous relation with history of landscape."

Tapis Vert at Villa Centinale, Sienna, Italy

Tapis vert, tapis vert, tapis vert.  You are slowly walking between columns of oak and ilex with a carpet of grass under your feet. Yes, pull away those blankets of snow. There is a gateway ahead of you.  A hermitage high on the hill.  Just climb those scala santa. Edith Wharton wrote about the tapis vert of the Villa Centinale near Sienna, Italy in the early 1900's. The villa is simple, not grand like the Roman villas.  "The glory of Centinale is its park," wrote Ms. Wharton in her book, "Italian Villas and Their Gardens" published by The Mount Press, Rizzoli. Vivian Russell in her book, "Edith Wharton's Italian Gardens" published by Bullfinch Press Book, Little, Brown & Co. , 2000, writes, "Behind the villa ... a long green walk extends between high walls.   The tapis vert leads to a crossroads." So back on the shores of the USA, what constitutes a tapis vert?  One could call it wishful thinking for some sign of grass below the white of snow.  The green that we can write home about.

Major Lawrence Johnston and his Plant Expeditions

Hidcote, red border
Hidcote, red border, Photo courtesy of The Galloping Gardener
Hidcote Ethne Clarke paints a fascinating picture of an American expatriate who designs one of the foremost gardens in Great Britain pre and post WWI in her book, "Hidcote, The Making of a Garden," published by W.W. Norton & Co., 2009.  Major Lawrence Johnston's garden, Hidcote is a garden treasure in England, the first garden to be taken on by the National Trust in 1948.  One of the ways Johnston collected plants was by subscribing to a plant exploration or by going on an expedition.  Ms. Clarke explains that Johnston's prowess in propagation, cultivation, and the recognition of his masterful skills at Hidcote affirmed his application to the Royal Horticultural Society.  As a Society member (voted in in 1922) he could subscribe (help underwrite)  or travel with the Society in search of new plants.  That he did.  The author of the revised edition of "Hidcote, The Making of a Garden," writes, "His plant-hunting began gently, with a trip in 1922 to the Swiss Alps in the company of the great alpine plantsman E.A. Bowles."  Johnston's expeditions took him to South Africa for four months.  Back again to Mt. Kilimanjaro a year later where, Ms. Clarke writes, "…he found a fine hypericum (today Hypericum 'Hidcote' is a favorite yellow-flowered shrub in mixed borders.) Serre de la Madone Major Johnston created a second garden in the South of France, Serre de la Madone, close to Edith Wharton's French garden, Chateau Sainte-Claire in the hills about Hyere.  Johnston's wordily expedition "in the gardens of the northern hemisphere; thus the mountain ranges of Africa, China, India and Persia were (their) prime hunting grounds, since the conditions of these temperate regions most closely simulated those in European gardens," explains the author, Ethne Clarke.  Indeed Major Johnston had the enviable sites of a Northern and Southern European garden to cultivate his new found plants. For more Hidcote pictures go to:

Four Things to know about Edith Wharton and her book, “Italian Villas and Their Gardens”

  1. Villa Lante, Itlay
    Villa Lante, Italy, Photo courtesy of Roberto Piperno
  2. Read Introduction by John Dixon Hunt of " Italian Villas and Their Gardens," a book written by Edith Wharton originally published in 1904 by the Century Company, in 2008 by Rizzoli and The Mount Press.  Why did Henry James describe Edith Wharton's villa and garden visits as "excursionism?"
  3.  What is difference between garden writer and travel writer? Which was Edith?
  4. Charles Platt wrote a book about Italian gardens about the same time that Wharton did.  How did their writings differ?
  5. Did Edith approve of  Maxfield Parrish's pictures he painted to portray the gardens she wrote about? Do she have literary control?
Beautiful book to read and that is just the start of it!    

“The Garden Diary of Martha Turnbull, Mistress of Rosedown Plantation,” Edited and Annotated by Suzanne Turner

Rosedown Plantation, Image Courtesy of Louisiana State Parks/DCRT
Rosedown Plantation, Image Courtesy of Louisiana State Parks/DCRT
Magnolia is the quarterly publication of the Southern Garden History Society.  You can access it online at  Peter Hatch’s review of the book “The Garden Diary of Martha Turnbull, Mistress of Rosedown Plantation” edited and annotated by Suzanne Turner appears under the Resources section, Book Reviews. “Rosedown today,” explains Peter Hatch, Director of Gardens and Grounds at Monticello, “represents the iconic Louisiana Plantation with its Greek Revival Architecture, live oak avenue and parterre gardens.”  The plantation of 3,455 acres with hundreds of slaves was acquired in 1834 by Martha and Daniel Turnball.  Mr. Hatch notes that Martha as a Philadelphian would be well versed in horticulture.  She put that knowledge to good use in growing vegetables and fruit at Rosedown. Suzanne Turner’s book is a compilation of  Martha Turnball’s garden diaries both before the Civil War and after she returned to her ravaged home. Martha was indefatigable.  Near penniless and widowed after the war she eked out a living with a “truck patch”.  Her diaries as noted by Mr. Hatch depict a woman without yesteryear’s means taking “three trips to St. Francisville (to sell her produce which) yielded a paltry $4.40.”  Author Suzanne Turner shows the love Martha had for her garden. "One marvels at both Turnbull's unrelenting persistence and the life-confirming comfort she found in the gardening process," Ms. Turner writes. Martha's garden knowledge was vast.  Garden diaries' entries include how to scrape moss from a tree, how to graft the Southern camellias and how to plant onions with roses. Mr. Hatch says, “Hats off to Suzanne Turner for unveiling a neglected part of our garden history “  .... a garden created by a Southern American 19th Century woman.

“The Art of Being Nobody,” by Eric Manners, KEYS TO HAPPINESS, A Reader’s Digest Guide to Successful Living

Keys to Happiness, A Reader's Digest Guide to Successful Living copyrighted by the Reader's Digest Association in 1955 was once the property of the Hotel Rockaway.   Thanksgiving is four days away, the oak leaves on the hydrangea bush and trees hang tight in the wind of early morning light.  The provocative title by Eric Manners, "The Art of Being Nobody," was a phrase I had never heard.  Here's a paragraph from the essay:
Photo Courtesy: Hampton Mansion, National Park Service
Photo Courtesy: Hampton Mansion, National Park Service
"You're you.  If it's truly a part of the youness of you, sleep in a tree.  (Charles Waterton, the grand old English naturalist and grander individualist, used to do that every now and then.  He said it gave him the right tuning for feeling like a piece of God's creation, along with the chimpanzee and the owl.)

Secret Gardens of the Vieux Carre’, New Orleans, Louisiana

IMG_0376 Gardens in the French Quarter of New Orleans are lush with tropical plants, walled enclosures with water, ironwork and hanging art.  It was such a treat to be in the city whose motto is "Laissez le Bon Temps Rouler" on the third weekend in October for a self-guided tour of seven gardens in New Orleans. "Secret Gardens of the Vieux Carre' was hosted by the Patio Planters of the Vieux Carre', a volunteer organization dedicated to the preservation and beautification of the French Quarter.  Formed by French Quarter residents as a garden club focused on sharing new plants, Patio Planters brought tropical and semi-tropical exotics to courtyards in the 1950's.  Bromeliads and orchids grew with more traditional banana trees, oleander, althea and ginger.  Fig and other vines were espaliered on brick and masonry walls which replaced the last of the horizontal board fences from 1880.  Since 1946, Patio Planters has sponsored Caroling in Jackson Square in December.  All proceeds from the tour fund the Caroling event. For more information: Courtesy CarlisleFlowers The first home we toured is a two and one-half brick townhouse with a detached kitchen built around 1830 for Francois Boisdore, a free man of color.  The ground floor has arched openings, each of which leads to a passageway, and the upper floor has square-headed openings.  The post-supported gallery has the original wrought iron balcony railing. IMG_0378