Monday, 13 April 2015

Museums, Parks and Capability Brown

Plenty of exciting things going on this month, not least that Capability Brown Festival 2016 has been awarded £911,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund - don't forget to sign up to the website to keep up to date as events develop.  If you are in and around London it's worth finding the time to visit two garden-related exhibitions that have just opened.

Painting Paradise: The Art of the Garden runs at the Royal Collection until October, while the Garden Museum's Education of a Gardener: The Life and Work of Russell Page is open until 1st June  In different ways and for different reasons, both exhibitions make very positive contributions to the future of garden history.

The Garden Museum's exhibition gives us a tantalising glimpse of the archive recently deposited by the children of Robert and Jelena de Belder - close friends of Russell Page.  Choose a quiet time to visit and enjoy having the space to really immerse yourself in the material on display.  Then re-read your copy of The Education of a Gardener with fresh eyes.

Think about the privilege and pleasure it must have been for all those involved with curating the exhibition. And of course, of the future generations of students, scholars and garden historians who may, in time, be able to access this wonderful resource.

Perhaps there will be a few more garden historians around the world in years to come as a result of Painting Paradise? This new exhibition shows us the rich variety of 400 years of horticultural art in the Royal Collection.

(copyright Liz Ware)
The paintings are impressive: from the magnificence of Leonard Knyff's View of Hampton Court Palace to the delicate beauty of Leonard da Vinci's seed heads.  But what struck me above all else was the breadth and depth, not only of the Royal Collection, but also of the subject with which we are involved.  Could there be an exhibition about anything other than horticulture that could transport us from the sublime to the practical and back again, and sometimes within the same exhibit?

Look out for Henry VIII's copy of Ruralia Commoda with its tips for growing giant leeks; the recently restored 18th century Sunflower Clock; and Queen Victoria's fuchsia inspired jewellery, adorned with her daughter's milk teeth.

It's good to think that by the time the exhibition ends in October, some visitors will have taken away with them a new curiosity about horticulture having experienced a little of the role it has played in our political and social history.

Lastly, but with great urgency, don't forget to sign the 'Save our Parks' UK petition before the General Election on 7th May.  If you've already done so, please pass on the link to someone who hasn't.  We wouldn't have the urban green spaces we enjoy today if it hadn't been for the efforts of previous generations.  Now it's our turn!

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