mediaeval gardensby john harvey

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  • MEDIAEVAL GARDENS by John HarveyReview by: GEOFFREY JELLICOEJournal of the Royal Society of Arts, Vol. 130, No. 5313 (AUGUST 1982), pp. 597-598Published by: Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and CommerceStable URL: .Accessed: 28/06/2014 10:22

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  • AUGUST 1982 NOTES ON BOOKS ning had failed to recognize the true nature of the city was not a reason for abandoning planning. What was needed was a far more sophisticated tool which could accept feed-back, reassessment and change at a faster rate. The central section of the book consists of five case

    studies, London, Newcastle, Sheffield, Liverpool and Milton Keynes. London and Liverpool exemplify policies of decentralization and dispersal, Sheffield and Newcastle of centralization and concentration. There is no doubt in Lord Esher's mind that the latter were a great deal more successful, and one only has to visit Sheffield after Liverpool to agree with him. Yet Liverpool has had more than its fair share of bad luck. Planning is based on a combination of existing defici- encies and forecasting. Putting right existing deficiencies is a less hazardous occupation than forecasting. In the two decades after the war the prevailing self-confidence among planners meant that insufficient allowance was made for errors in forecasting. In 1961 it was expected that Liverpool's population would increase by 400,000 over the next 20 years. In fact, it decreased in the following decade by 135,000 and by 1976 a quarter of the 1961 population had gone. The unsophisticated nature of planning as a tool is illustrated by Kirkby, a peripheral estate with its own industry where the first generation of people were happy because they had a home and a job. Later the more glamorous industry of Runcorn New Town drained the life-blood from Kirkby and a new jobless generation vandalized the place. The case study of Milton Keynes enables the author

    to discuss the whole post-war new-town programme and to relate this to Ebenezer Howard and the Garden City Movement. As a highly dispersed, highly mobile urban region, conceived before the oil crisis, it cannot continue to develop without adapting to the radically changed circumstances. Here again the sophistication of the planning tool will be put to the test. The final chapter assesses the failures and achieve-

    ments of the post-war period. Among the failures the author singles out comprehensive clearance and deck systems. There were too many long-term plans in which reputations were invested, which made Govern- ment slow to change course when they obsolesced or went wrong. Among the achievements public housing and the elimination of slums; shopping precincts at their best; the transformation of the office worker's en- vironment; conservation and a new attitude to the heritage from the past, and new roads, make no mean list of which any age can be proud. A Broken Wave deserves the wider public for which

    it was written. The five case-studies are unfortunately heavy-going and lack the illustrations which would have made the lengthy text more explicit. The first three and last chapters, however, are essential reading. Bv illuminating the past they help us all find a better way into the future. sherban cantacuzino

    MEDIAEVAL GARDENS By John Harvey London, Batsfordy 1981. 17.50 Until this delightful and scholarly book was published, the image of the mediaeval garden was one of a small but exquisite enclosure protected from a hostile world by castle or monastery walls. The impression had been given, by such distinguished garden historians as Frank Crisp, Amelia Amherst and Miles Hadfield, that it was not until the Elizabethan age that the garden really expanded into the surrounding countryside. John Harvey now puts back the frontiers of modern garden history to the reign of Henry III - the beginning of what he calls the High Middle Ages. Although we learn little that is new about the abstract ideas dictating architectural form, symbolism and the like, we do learn , a great deal about plants and about what was happening in those ages that we previously thought of as twilight if not dark. The garden belongs to the most ephemeral and

    fragile of the arts. It is neither strong nor static like architecture, nor can it be put into museums like a painting or textile. No mediaeval gardens still exist in their original purity, but from frescoes, paintings and embroideries we have a picture of the small garden as a paradise more intimate and tactile than any of a later date. The author is a master of his special subject of plants not only technically but poetically. He concludes his description of the cycle of the year with these words: 'And so the declining year, punctuated by the return visits of plants which indulge in second flowering, sinks down once more, but still with daisies in the grass, and heps and haws and holly berries, and the orchard's fruit. We have forgotten the cranesbill, fennel, the wild bluebell brought in to set beneath the trees, sweet rocket white and mauve, the sweet marjoram brought up with difficulty, the wood bells and Coventry bells and Canterbury bells, the loosestrife, and water-lilies white and yellow; the carp in the pool; the swans swimming in the moat; and the peacocks in proud display'. Mr. Harvey's study of garden design itself begins

    with an orthodox description of the legacy of 'Classical Gardening' (chapter 1); then follow 'Before the Mil- lennium' (chapter 2); 'Gardens of Southern Europe' (chapter 3), whose criticism of present-day planting in the Generalife at Granada will, one hopes, be read by those in authority; 'Gardens under the Normans' (chapter 4); and 'Gardens of the High Middle Ages' (chapter 5), with its astonishing revelations of the number of great gardens that existed throughout England. These gardens had grown more from distant Arab influences than from classical Rome, but in fact they may truly be said to express indigenous English taste before the impact of Italian and French authori- tarianism almost stamped it out. Basically, the origin was the physic garden, but the descriptions of arbours, fountains, grottos, labyrinths, mounts, flowery


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  • JOURNAL OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY OF ARTS NOTES ON BOOKS meadows, green tunnels and countless delights of all kinds make the parched twentieth-century mouth water. The book is beautifully illustrated, and were there

    no text, the illustrations alone could form a complete study. There are several original plans, but to many readers perhaps most thought-provoking are the paint- ings, by famous artists, of the distant landscapes. Just as the passionate love of flowers gives insight into the relationship of man to nature in close detail, so these compositions in the reorganization of natural landscape herald the eighteenth century, when the English broke away from foreign influence; but (let us be frank) the English artists never reached the glorious heights of, for example, van Eyck's Adoration of the Lamb. No one immersing himself in this book can fail to

    compare man's present relationship to nature with that of the Middle Ages. He is more often than not com- pelled to live isolated from the ground, or at any rate from a ground that will meet his inner desires, created millions of years ago. It is no wonder that the imprison- ment within himself of a psyche that literally originated in a forest environment should be one of the basic causes of frustration, distress and subsequent revenge through vandalism upon a world now seemingly hostile. Such a way of life is statistically unnecessary even in our crowded island. It has been calculated that the whole population of the British Isles could be housed, each family with a garden, within a radius of thirty-five miles of Charing Cross, with commerce and industry, public parks and the Thames thrown in for good measure. Given wind protection, some sun, clear air and reasonable privacy, every family could have a garden that could be the urban equivalent of the mediaeval 'earthly paradise' so sensitively revealed in this attractive book.


    USING URBAN WASTELAND A Guide for Community Groups By Susan Lobbenberg London, Bedford Square Press , 1981. 2.95 WAKING UP DORMANT LAND Community Uses of Vacant Land and Buildings London, Council for Environmental Conservation (CoEnCo) and Fair Play for Children, 1981 3.00 (Obtainabk by post for 3.40 from CoEnCo) Both these books are agreeably positive. Neither dwells for too long on the inertia and the indifference which to an extent wasteland sy