A History of Preston in Hertfordshire
Temple Dinsley’s gardens - the Rose Garden
While studying for a gardening qualification, I was amazed to discover that there was an extant example of garden design doyen, Gertrude Jekyll’s, work at Temple Dinsley. In Gardens of a Golden Afternoon - the story of a partnership: Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll (1982), Jane Brown wrote, ‘Jekyll’s inspiration...carried on to another good brick garden, with elaborate terraces at Temple Dinsley near Hitchin’. Brown added that as at that year, there were twenty-four ‘saveable’ Jekyll gardens and that one of the ‘hallowed two dozen’ was Temple Dinsley ‘for its rose garden and elegant brickwork’. The book included a photograph (shown right). Looking at this image of a rundown garden house which had been used as a potato store (with no rose garden in sight) and the use of the word ‘saveable’, one might be forgiven the thought that in 1982 the rose garden at Temple Dinsley was in a poor state and
desperately in need of sympathetic restoration and therefore it was better no up-to-date photograph was used. However, as we shall see, further investigations and analysis have questioned the extent of Jekyll’s involvement with Temple Dinsley.
Re: Sir Edwin Luyens and Gertrude Jekyll
Firstly, some background information about the Lutyens and Jekyll partnership. The exceptional architectural design work of Lutyens has been featured elsewhere on this web site (Link: Lutyens) so we will concentrate here on a brief resume of Miss Jekyll’s career. She was born from a ‘comfortable background’ at London in 1843. Her paternal grandfather was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. Her mother was a pupil of Mendelssohn. In view of this pedigree it is unsurprising that she enrolled at the South Kensington School of Art to study painting where she was influenced by William Morris, studied colour theory and embraced the Arts and Crafts Movement. However, the poor eyesight of myopia forced Jekyll to exchange her palette of paints for one of perennials. She shaped a legendary garden at Munstead Wood in Surrey, fell under the spell of gardening guru, William Robinson (there was to be a spectacular and public ‘falling out’ between the two) and contributed to The Garden magazine. Her interest was in the country way of life which she observed near her home - in particular, the unsophisticated cottage gardens (see painting above right) - and she took many of her gardening ideas from these rural plots, blending them with her artistic leanings. In 1889, Jekyll (right), now forty-five years old, commissioned the young architect, Edwin Lutyens (20), to build her home at Munstead Wood. This spawned a collaboration that was to prosper for twenty years. Their mutual love of using traditional materials produced the breathtaking combination of Lutyens’ planning garden layouts as a formal-classic, geometrical extension of the house, giving the impression of outdoor ‘rooms’ and Jekyll’s planting schemes which used herbaceous material and non-exotic trees and shrubs. So the rigid skeletal structure - the stonework and paving - provided by the architect was softened and complemented by the balance and plantings, the scale and colour of the artist. A “Lutyens’ house with a Jekyll garden” was the epitome of good taste.
Many of Jekyll’s plans exist in document collections. Her crabby handwriting (which was not intended to be publicly displayed) may be difficult to decipher and the plant names she uses may have changed, but from these designs it is possible to recreate her gardens today. Some of her rose plantings are softened with stachys and roses were often the only plants in the peripheral beds. Below is an example of the Jekyll/Lutyens alliance - Hestercombe in Somerset. Note the type of paving employed and the pergola. There are echoes of this style at Temple Dinsley.
The route whereby Lutyens was introduced to the Fenwicks at Temple Dinsley is easy to plot. Herbert Fenwick’s relation, Mark Fenwick, purchased Abbotswood at Stow on the Wold, Worcestershire in 1901 and employed Lutyens to extend and re-model the house (his first advice was, ‘Blow it up and start again’). Jekyll was not involved in this commission as Fenwick was himself a ‘keen gardener’.
Early images of the Temple Dinsley Rose Garden
Above is a modern-day aeriel photograph of the rose garden which shows its structure and position to the west of the house (which is shown right). Below is a diagram of the design of the rose garden.
A doorway at the centre of the west wing of Temple Dinsley opened out onto a lawn and then the formal paved rose garden. The roses were supplied by Harkness of Hitchin. In the centre was a stone-paved path. The earliest photographs show that there were no borders beside the path. But by 1914 a narrow border of yew had been planted. The path leads to a square parterre which is laid out with a geometric pattern of rose beds. The beds are surrounded by further stone paving. In the centre of the parterre was a statute of Father Time, an old leaden figure, silvery-white and armed with a scythe and hour glass (now replaced by a sundial). On the south side of the garden there was a brick retaining wall which separated the rose garden from a pool. (Today the pool is a swimming pool.) On the north side is a brick wall into which was set a covered loggia which overlooked the centre of the rose beds, and separated two garden houses. The loggia was supported on the south side by white pillars and at either end there were garden houses - square, brick garden pavilions with pyramidal roofs. Both had a door opening out into the loggia. The west side of the rose garden was bounded by a low, brick retaining wall with a central flight of stone steps leading up to an open lawn which was enclosed by brick walls. In 1911, this was the herbaceous garden which had broad borders that ran west from the steps to the west wall along the north and south walls. The garden wall enclosing the former herbaceous garden dates from the 1700s. The rose garden is acclaimed for its elegant brickwork.
Photographed in 1911
1914c. Note the hedging around the grassed area near the house.
In 1914, Annie Swynnerton painted Herbert and Violet Fenwick’s children, David (left) and Jonathan in the rose garden. It gives a wonderful impression of the colourful exuberance in the garden
Views of the rose garden on 22 April 2010
The rose garden had a makeover in 1993 with roses specially budded by Harness. The retaining walls and York stone steps were repaired but in 1996 the terrace was still reported as being ‘wobbly’. The then headmaster, John Jarvis said, ‘A couple of groundsmen can just maintain it. We can’t justify spending £10,000 on garden restoration. The priority has to be the school....It would cost tens of thousands to restore it back to Jekyll’. The rose garden was featured as part of the appeal of Princess Helen College. Its web site states, ‘The formal rose garden, where the influence of Gertrude Jekyll is plainly evident, is a stunning location for girls and staff to relax and for parents to enjoy at key school events’.
A centennial celebration in the rose garden
On the anniversary one hundred years later, in 2014, of the painting of the Fenwick children in the rose garden, the picture was re-created by Herbert and Violet’s grandson, Benedict Fenwick and the head of Princess Helena College, Jo-Anne Duncan:
What was the extent of Gertrude Jekyll’s involvement in the creation of the Rose Garden?
Firstly, we can be certain that Gertrude Jekyll did not plant the rose garden. In 1912, the catalgue of Hitchin-based R Harkness and Co. displayed the colourized image below. It stated that it was they who planted out the garden, in 1909/1910. But significantly, the catalogue claims “Jekyll ordered roses from R. Harkness & Co” :
However, reservations about Jekyll’s involvent in the planning of the rose garden and the extent of her collaboration began to be raised in the 1990s. This was written in Hertfordshire Garden History Volume 2 (2012) by Kate Harwood:
Much the same view was expressed in Parks in Hertfordshire Since 1500 - Hugh C Prince (2008):
Historic England (albeit in a report written in 1999 and edited in 2000) states that Lutyens and Jekyll collaborated on the garden and that Jekyll designed the planting: “…In 1908 Fenwick employed Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944) to enlarge the house substantially and remodel it. At this time Lutyens collaborated with Gertrude Jekyll (1843 - 1932) in creating formal gardens to the west and north of the house, providing a further extension to the house in 1911. The gardens are divided into a series of inter-connected compartments largely related to the west and north fronts of the house, laid out by Lutyens with planting designs by Gertrude Jekyll, c 1909-10. The garden structures are listed grade II…….…….. Lutyens and Jekyll were also working on the gardens at Putteridge Bury, 6km to the west, at around the time Lutyens was employed in further extensions at Temple Dinsley.”
I contacted Kate asking about the basis for this comment and she replied, “This was based on a remark by the person who did the original research on the garden.” Possibly, this relates to a report in 1993 by the Hertfordshire Garden Trust Research Group which included Jane Brown. Photographs taken in around 1910 were studied and my understanding of an ensuing conversation is that it was felt that perhaps the rose garden was over-planted (having six rather than four standard roses in each segment) which was ‘typical nursery planting’. The lack of Jekyll-styled under-planting using plants such as stachys, bergenis, alchemilla mollis and lavender was also noted. The photographs show only low-growing rose bushes. And it was thought that maybe the overall view from the house was therefore somewhat austere. This was softenened a few years later by the planting of a low yew hedge around the lawns leading to the rose garden, as shown in later photographs. Richard Bisgrove in The Gardens of Gertrude Jekyll calculates that his subject left more that 2,000 plans of some 250 gardens. It is also recorded that Jekyll and Lutyens collaborated on a rose garden concurrently with the Temple Dinsley project at nearby Puckeridge Bury. There is concrete confirmation that this took place because Jekyll’s plan for this planting survives:
The plan showed that the rose garden was surrounded by a yew hedge; the beds were bordered with stachys and divided by bushes (which may have been lavender). The roses were ordered from Harkness in 1912. So here we have two similar and neighbouring rose gardens being planted at around the same time, both seemingly involving Jekyll and Lutyens. Yet there are significant differences, particularly in the plants used for the underplanting to mask the unsightly base of the rose bushes. My view is that, in the light of the above, and that there is no record of Jekyll visiting Temple Dinsley and no extant plan of a rose garden there being drawn up by her, Jekyll ordered the roses from Harness and Co, who then planted them as they saw fit - and that was the extent of her involvement. Essentially, that is what Harness’ catalogue tells us. We will conclude with four final observations to ponder. Lawrence Weaver wrote an eleven-page piece celebrating the Lutyens renovations at Temple Dinsley in Country Life magazine, issue of April 1911. It included a page of comment about the immediate surroundings of the mansion which incorporated ‘a little paved rose garden’ which was adorned with And lest we think there was some antipathy between Weaver and Jekyll, they collaborated to write Gardens for Small Country Houses in 1913. A photograph of Temple Dinsley’s cherub on a gate-pier was included - an opportunity to mention Gertrude’s work in the garden? Missed!
There can be little doubt that Lutyens after working with Jekyll on so many projects would have absorbed much information and direction about her methods - and consciously or unconsciously would have been guided by her hand as he laid out the rest of the Temple Dinsley. Indeed there may well have been some correspondence and/or discussions between the two about the commission. Whether or not this might be called “a collaboration” is perhaps a step too far.
‘Father Time, an old leaden figure, silvery white and armed with scythe and hour-glass’. Gertrude Jekyll was not mentioned. In 1921, Weaver repeated most of these comments in Lutyens’ Houses and Gardens in a chapter devoted to Temple Dinsley. Gertrude Jekyll was not mentioned. Weaver also wrote English Leadwork: Its Art and History (1909) which had photographs of an urn, Father Time and cherubs in the Temple Dinsley gardens. Gertrude Jekyll was not mentioned.
Photographed in 1911