Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Little Garden-Close

I know a little garden-close
Set thick with lily and red rose,
Where I would wander if I might
From dewy dawn to dewy night,
And have one with me wandering 
                                              -William Morris 
        from "The Life and Death of Jason" 1867

The term "garden-close" refers to a garden enclosed by trees or hedges. The site which the Red House is situated on was covered and surrounded by apple orchards at the time the house was first built. Morris chose the site for the setting of his new wedding home to share with his wife-to-be, Jane Burden. The house was consciously designed to keep the landscape intact while accommodating Morris' particular preferences in gardening. Morris and Webb are said to have thoughtfully planned the garden during or even before the completed design of the Red House; whereas in the case of other property, the garden would typically be designed after the house was built.

Like the house itself, the garden draws heavily from its environment created from both native species and imported species suited to the landscape, counter to the trend of heated greenhouses to support unfit, imported plant species. Morris was an ardent critic of many Victorian gardening practices, and therefore he held particular distaste for "carpet-bedding".

Though Morris is largely credited for the design of the garden, Webb also played a key role in its inception. Like Morris, Webb was as a keen naturalist. In his plans for the Red House, diagrams illustrating the garden's arrangement can be seen as well as a list of plant species to be used. No longer apparent today, it is believed the original stylistic intent of the garden was to provide Victorians a romantic image of medieval life as depicted in manuscript illustrations from the 15th century.

The house, which would otherwise have looked far more strict and bare, is aesthetically enhanced by the garden, with vegetation covering the site and climbing up the red brick walls. Originally, the Red House's conical well, which is often said to sum up the entire building, was covered by a large trellis full of roses. This strengthened the notion that the area surrounding the well operated as an exterior room to the house. Arts & Crafts historian Fiona MacArthy credits the Red House garden as having embodied the guiding principles of the Arts and Crafts garden movement years before it came into full swing.

Morris viewed the garden not only as a pleasant amenity afforded only to the wealthy, but as an essential component of human well-being in the city:

It will be a key to right thinking about gardens if you consider in what kind of places a garden is most desired. In a very beautiful country, especially if it be mountainous, we can do without it well enough; whereas in a flat and dull country we crave after it, and there it is often the very making of the homestead. While in great towns, gardens, both private and public, are positive necessities if the citizens are to live reasonable and healthy lives in body and mind. 
 -William Morris 
 from "Hopes and Fears for Art", a collection of his lectures during the late 1870s


The Gardens of William Morris (2006), by Jill Douglas-Hamilton, Duchess of Hamilton and BrandonPenny HartJohn Simmons

"William Morris." The Marxist Archive. Accessed December 6, 2012. 

"William Morris." W. W. Norton & Company. Accessed December 6, 2012. 

Morris and Red House. Accessed December 7, 2012. 

MacCarthy, Fiona. "Garden of Earthly Delights." The Guardian, July 26, 2003, Art and design. 
     Accessed December 11, 2012. 

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