Saturday, January 21, 2012

Helen Allingham and English Gardens

Helen Allingham
Reading Rowan's post this morning (her site is Circle of the Year) about A.R. Quinton and his wonderful watercolors of a vanishing or vanished England reminded me of some of my books on the same subject.
Long before I ever visited England or even dreamed I'd go there I was given a book entitled The Country Garden of an Edwardian Lady, by Edith Holden which was first published in the 1970's and was my first introduction to water colors and a nature diary.  It made me want to see England and to paint, though that didn't happen for a while.

Then traveling in England I discovered the wonderful Victorian artist Helen Allingham.  Her beautiful watercolor paintings of rural England, the cottages and the people living there were so wonderful that I knew I had to try and paint some of them.  Though not very successful it only made me admire her paintings even more. Found in a used bookshop on one of our trips to England was a copy of The Happy England of Helen Allingham  by Marcus B. Huish and The Cottage Homes of England by Stewart Dick with illustrations by Helen.  I return to these books again and again for inspiration.

The Lesson

A modern book of the water color paintings that I bought in Moreton-in-the-Marsh a few years ago is Lesley Holmes A Cotswold Sketchbook.  We love the Cotswolds and always visit the art galleries and shops in each of the villages.  I'd seen this book in several of them and knew I had to have it.  I love her style of painting and have visited most of the places she has painted.  Another thing I like about her is that she has had no formal training and is entirely self-taught!  That gives me hope.

Along with a love of Victorian cottage paintings I developed a love of English Gardens and have always promised myself I'd manage to "grow" one some day.  Living first in the desert of southern California and now the swamps of coastal Georgia has made me make compromises but not give up hope of having this style of garden.

Three books that have inspired me about English gardening are "The Medieval Garden" by Sylvia Landsberg, English Herb Gardens with an introduction by Rosemary Verey, and best of all The Morville Hours by Katherine Swift the story of how Katherine Swift arrived at the Dower House at Morville in Somerset in the 1980's   to create a garden.  The book is divided into the hours of the Divine Office, Lauds, Prime,Terce, etc, and is the best garden book I've ever read, in fact after seeing it again it will have to go into my "to be read" pile of books.

I need to thank Rowan for reminding me of these books!


  1. I have nearly all the books you mention - only A Cotswold Sketchbook and English Herb Gardens are missing:) Think you might enjoy Victorian Cottage Gardens and English Flowers and Gardens too. And have you ever come across the books by Eleanour Sinclair Rhodes? Those are mostly text but written around the 1930s. Gardens of Delight and Scented Gardens are two of her titles.

  2. When I married in 1980, I chose the Country Diary ironstone for my everyday dishes. Then I found the matching cross-stich book and stitched the scene on my dishes.
    Boy, sitting and looking at garden books sure beats working out in them (bugs and heat :/ in my opinion!

  3. Lovely! I like Helen Allingham and remember how popular Edith Holden's book was in the 1970s! I was lucky to be able to visit Morville a couple of years ago to see the garden and hope to go back again this year as it is not too far from where we live - easily done in a day. I loved the Morville Hours and I now want to buy Katherine Swift's latest book 'The Morville Year:)

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  5. Rowan, thanks for the book suggestions.
    Rosie, I had no idea she'd written a sequel, will look for it.
    Auntie Bliss i'll bet your dishes are beautiful.

  6. Nice post, Janet. I love gardening books and particularly those that whisk me off to England--via my rocking chiar.

  7. Another blog friend mentioned "The Morville Hours" just a few weeks back. I love the "Country Diary" and gave a copy to my mom some years ago. What a fun post. Good luck with your English garden!

  8. They sound like lovely books, I'll have to look out for them.

  9. Yes, I too love both Morville books. Had never heard of Helen Allingham, though.


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