Rena Gardiner: topgraphical artist and printmaker

The Pantheon at Stowe, late 1960s from Rena Gardiner by Julian Francis & Martin Andrews

In a recent post about Cotehele in Cornwall I included a couple of images of lino prints by Rena Gardiner, a Dorset-based artist and printmaker.  I was so taken with them that I decided to find out more about her. Googling came up with very little apart from the fact that there was a recent biography and that she’d produced a lot of guidebooks for the National Trust in the 1970s and 1980s. So it was off to the British Library to look at them.

The biography is a beautiful produced book by Julian Francis and Martin Andrews, packed with images of her work but still containing very little in the way of biographical information.  It appears Rena Gardiner was a quite private woman for whom work was the centre of her life.

In the words of one critic: “Combining the great tradition of British topographic artists with the rich era of autolithography of the 1940s and 1950s, she created her own very personal and individual visual style. An unsung heroine of printmaking, uninterested in publicity or fame, she created an artistic legacy that is instantly recognisable for its exuberant use of colour and texture.” Continue reading

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Mary’s Mosaiks

Amaryllis reginae, (Mexican Lily)  1775 
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Mary Granville could easily have been the protagonist of one of those boringly wordy Georgian 3 volume novels, now long unread and forgotten.    The first tome would have covered her early life: from the minor aristocracy, well-educated and talented but not very well off.  Married off young to an elderly powerful admirer she disliked, this opening volume closes with him dying but leaving her high and dry and homeless.

Mary from an enamel and gold portrait box by Zincke, c.1740 Christies

The second volume would have  Mary   living on the fringes of court life, pursued by many suitors until she meets and then finally marries a quiet unassuming but much older clergyman for love, then retiring to a beautiful villa and creating  a splendid garden. This volume is much more lively and positive but ends with his death and her return to London once again with little money.

Magnolia tripetala (Umbrella Tree). 1779  British Museum

The final part of the trilogy would explain how she spent her last years as a much-loved widow following her hobbies and somehow meeting and being befriended by the royal family before finally dying aged 83.

And if that was all there was to her story who would ever have heard of Mary Granville. But luckily it wasn’t. She was a woman of “accomplishments” and her skills in them were far from ordinary and she left behind an extraordinary artistic legacy including shell-work, fine needlework, plastering, japanning, drawing, painting and most famously her ‘paper mosaiks’.   And for that, of course she is better known as Mrs Delany.


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Arthur Hellyer: the greatest garden writer of his generation?

When I was growing up, and it was the same for  my parents’ and even grandparents’ generations,  one of the great names in the gardening world was that of Arthur Hellyer, whose books were on every amateur gardeners shelves and whose life spanned almost the entire 20thc. He was a practical hands-on gardener, a highly respected gardening journalist and author and a professional to his fingertips.  

Arthur Hellyer, from The Garden 1993

In his obituary in  in The Garden in 1993 Alan Titchmarsh wrote‘Anyone who knew Arthur Hellyer will tell you two things about him. First that he was one of life’s gentlemen, and second that he had an all-round knowledge of gardening that few could rival…. his articles continued to be enquiring and erudite to the end”,  so read on to find out more about  “a man who must rank as one of the busiest gardening writers ever, but who was never too busy to be nice.’


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The other Chelsea Flower Show…

Iris latifolia, c.1755, Salisbury Museum

As the eyes of high society and the horticultural  world turned to Chelsea, the doyenne of all flower shows world-wide, this week I thought it was time to turn my attention towards another  even older connection between the plant world and Chelsea. These date back to about 1743 and the foundation of the Chelsea porcelain factory, sited close to the river and the even older-still Chelsea Physic Garden.

from Georg Ehret’s Plantae et Papiliones Rariores, 1748-59

If you’re wondering what plants have got to do with porcelain china you’ve obviously never eaten soup from an iris, custard out of a cabbage or drunk tea from a cauliflower.

detail of iris latifolia from Georg Ehret

Still puzzled? Then read on…


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Repton through the window…

The “improved” Gothic window at Barningham. Notice the parterre carpet! from Fragments

Repton is well-known as our first landscape gardener but he was much more than that. It’s often overlooked that he was an architect too, [although with less obvious success and renown] and much of his writing is concerned with the marriage between the two arts.

If you’ve read anything  about Repton before now you’ll know although he was a good judge [and manipulator!]  of clients, but underneath his willingness to compromise  he had very fixed views about many aspects of design, and one of his particular obsessions was glass.

He hated it!  Well, of course, that’s not literally true but he ceratinly had very decided views about windows, [and the views from them] and hated to see visible glass in many situations.

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