I have the pleasure while here to have a placement at Winterbourne House and Garden, an Edwardian Arts and Crafts house built in 1903 with surrounding gardens that have a changing and interesting history. When I came here, I hadn’t really thought that much about the garden, focusing more on the house’s architecture and interior design. What I ended up being maybe most interested in though, were the gardens – or at any rate, the way the house and garden complement each other.
Therefore, this first post about Winterbourne will mainly focus on the gardens. The Winterbourne garden is a peculiar but charming mix of preserved Edwardian garden, university botanic garden, and modern but heritage styled garden.
The Arts and Crafts garden was the typical Edwardian garden, heavily influenced by William Morris. Another name that is impossible not to mention when it comes to the Edwardian garden’s style, planning and colour scheme is horticulturist, garden designer, painter and artist Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932). While she herself did nothing at Winterbourne, her theories and work at other places is what made that garden possible. Margaret Nettlefold, who created Winterbourne alongside her husband John, was an avid amateur gardener. She took inspiration from Jekyll’s books and designed the garden herself.
The Arts and Crafts garden took inspiration from the English cottage garden – a (to begin with) mostly function based, orderly but simple garden, densely planted. It was here that garden designers like Gertrude Jekyll found the pretty “naturalness” and informal design that would be modified to suit even the grandest of houses. The garden was supposed to be a continuation of the house and thus needed to be divided into different rooms. This was done by terracing the garden and structuring it with hedges and paths. Jekyll was particularly influential when it came to colour in the garden. The natural looking borders, densely planted with different “simple” flowers, should have a set colour scheme and not be thrown together haphazardly simply because the garden was more informal than its predecessors. Her time as a painter influenced her to plan gardens according to colour, even publishing a book on the subject (Colour Schemes for the Flower Garden). She also drew inspiration for this from the use of colour of JWM Turner and the impressionists.
Shortly after the end of World War II, Winterbourne House & Garden was donated to The University of Birmingham, since it became difficult for a family to afford the running of such a house. The gardens were transformed into the university’s botanical gardens, changing some of the designs and expanding the amount of species and milieus. Among other things, in the 1960s it housed a collection of plants from the Antarctic! A special greenhouse had to be constructed, mainly facing away from the harsher sunlight from the South. Today that collection is removed, and that greenhouse is filled with orchids, since they are one of the few species that can manage in such unusual light and heat conditions. Thus the plan of the greenhouse is adapted to the plants, and then the plants adapted to the plan of the greenhouse! While the gardens aren’t the university’s botanic gardens anymore, the collection of different plants and species still continues. Winterbourne is the host of the National Collection of Anthemis.
I haven’t thought before about the ways in which gardens are collections, with the same need for documentation and expansion as other types of collections. Not only are there obvious and named collections (such as that of anthemis), but the entire garden is a set of collections, inspiring the same kind of questions as Cadbury Research Library did: Why are we preserving this? Who gets to decide what should be preserved and what should be renewed?