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.

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!    

Burghers of Calais and Blush Rose

Blush Rose, Credit CarlisleFlowers The Blush rose is white tinged with red.  When cutting these stems under conditioned water I noticed how straight the stems were.  Not only straight but like a rod with some reinforcement.  First I arranged the roses in a cube, its square holding eight roses in upright fashion.  I studied the arrangement over night and decided the next morning to lop them off as to create a square of Blush roses on top of the cube.  The stems had turned, going in the direction they cared to go. The floor and sides inside the cube were lined with Calathea flowers, big, fleshy, and full of light, dark and a tinge of red. Four Blush roses were planted heads up in glass pyramidal vases. Now the Burghers of Calais struck me.  How the roses slightly turned yet their mass still there.  I had no control over this turning.  Could Auguste Rodin, the sculpture of the Burghers of Calais, commissioned by the town of Calais, France, mold his men cloaked in their robes of importance and have complete control of the movement of the rod and metal of his material?  His men were sculpted in unity and mass, slightly turning a head, a shoulder, to define their acceptance, pride, abjection, defeat.  Yet their lives were spared because the king's wife would not want her expectant child to have the blood of the rose spilt on her cradle's sheets.

“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 http://www.southerngardenhistory.org.  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. http://www.southerngardenhistory.org

Royal Street Garden in the Vieux Carre’, New Orleans, LA

IMG_0387 Picture: Courtesy Carlisle Hashim The Tour, "Secret Gardens of the Vieux Carre'" in the French Quarter of New Orleans included a courtyard on Royal Street, a "well-detailed double residence with attached three-story kitchens."  It was built around 1833 for Paul LaCroix, a classic Creole-style building with a central passageway, arched ground floor openings, narrow wrought iron balconies and curved dormers.  Story has it that two brothers who had inherited the building were feuding and decided to split the building so they erected a wall.  The mother managed to scale both sides.
Picture Courtesy Carlisle Hashim
Picture Courtesy Carlisle Hashim
  "Secret Gardens of the Vieux Carre',  is 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. www.patioplanters.org IMG_0384   Picture Courtesy: Carlisle Hashim