Romance – The Downton Factor: A Garden Designers Round Table Post

| February 26, 2013 | 18 Comments

Many years ago

in the endlessly sunny,

summer holidays

a little boy aged 7 or 8

went on some trips

with his father who was ‘something to do with’ the Ministry of Agriculture.

They would pitch up at some pretty grand places. And there would be meetings with land agents from which little boys were exempt.

There was almost always no one there and so the boy would kick his heels and explore. A primitive camera kept some kind of rather blurred record!

Close to the houses all was usually manicured planterly detail

There would be the obligatory ‘water feature’ for sure. Though this one was truly a stonker.

The boy had an early introduction to the concept of the parterre.

This topiary was certainly worth a shot. Just a pity his sense of the vertical wasn’t better!

Cedared lawns of exemplary softness

gave way to rough parkland studded with massive oak and beech trees. Of course crossing a bridge with rooms in it (wow, get that!) gave a real sense of journey.

Having the family mausoleum on the estate certainly made for a splendid focal point. Straighten that camera little boy!

There was always a very human story about the places, some well known, others less so.

The boy was often given a guide book to take away which explained it all.

And these visits and these stories, became part of the boy’s story.

They were the start of my romance with gardens.


Well, you can tell gardeners are romantic souls at heart.

So with spring in the air why not seek inspiration from the rest of our round table colleagues.

And create your own little Garden of Eden this spring?

Grab the links below:

David Cristiani : The Desert Edge : Albuquerque, NM

Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT

Deborah Silver : Dirt Simple : Detroit, MI

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO

Mary Gallagher Gray : Black Walnut Dispatch : Washington, D.C.



Category: Design Bites, General Gardening Stuff

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  1. James Golden says:

    Woderfully evocative, even to a little boy from Mississippi, who saw very different magnolias and mansions.

  2. Robert says:

    Hi James,
    Great to hear from you.
    Hope you are well.
    Always interesting to hear of parallel universes!
    Thanks so much for your comment.

  3. Poetic, as always, Sir Robert! Thanks for sharing your wonderful photos and their story. Creating memories in the garden — that’s a powerful concept that can be applied on any scale!

  4. YES! That described me pretty well, too. Since I was in elementary school part in Belgium (not too different from you, just that funny, romatique language:-) and part in Alabama, similar elements influenced me, later with what James said on FB. Your speaking of “pitching up” at a grand place, “Cedared lawns of exemplary softness”, and “early introduction to the concept of the parterre” say so much. Those were most of my influences and remembrances.

    Your vertical sense was just fine. Us boys will be boys!

  5. Robert says:

    Greetings Lady Jocelyn!
    Thanks so much for your comments.
    Yes I think the potential for power in how we can affect people’s feelings is enormous.
    We are close to knowing whether we will be doing another 3 acre hospice garden.
    The clients have bought the design and the planners have approved the work.
    We now wait to hear whether the necessary government funding will be granted!
    But that will affect the lives and memories of many at a critical stage in their lives!

  6. Robert says:

    Hi David,
    Yes of course the cedars and cypresses were right up your visual street.
    I was actually aware how important the buildings were in all those pictures.
    Not then but now if u c wot I mean.
    As I said to James, great to hear of parallel lives and experiences!
    Thanks and Best

  7. Mary Gray says:

    How wonderful to have had exposure to such magnificent landscapes at such a young age. I can see that this would have a profound impact on a youngster. I also will remember the word “stonker” and try to use it in a sentence sometime this week.

  8. Robert says:

    Hi Mary,
    Hope you read this reply. Cos I tried to leave comment on your site and failed! Great post.
    Yes it was inspirational and rather spookily I did try to draw some of them. So I was at it even then! The drawings are alas long lost.
    It is odd how countries are intrigued by each others’s words.
    We love American expressions here and feel ever so slightly cool using them!
    Thanks and Best

  9. Lovely post! Enjoyed learning a bit about what led you to garden design. And speaking of learning new things, “stonker” is a compliment, right?

  10. Robert says:

    Hi Susan,
    Glad you r still keeping a watchful eye on us!
    It was a seed which I denied for a long time.
    I read modern history, went into banking in city.
    Then gardening came back and then finally design.
    But with perspective I see that time spent on my own in large gardens was hugely important to me.
    Stonker is big and impressive, so that is either a compliment or not depending how you see it.
    I like that we brits and yanks are both interested in each other’s expressions!

  11. Debbie says:

    Robert, Thanks for sharing those wonderful memories, it’s no wonder you grew up to be a landscape designer. What an amazing gift to have the opportunity to explore such grand gardens.

  12. Pam/Digging says:

    My goodness, you got an early start in garden design appreciation, didn’t you? I love that you took photos of these places as a little boy — they clearly spoke to you — and that you still have them.

  13. Robert says:

    Hi Debbie,
    Thanks so much for your comment.
    Yes it is quite dangerous what you expose kids to at an early age!
    I was then subject to all the usual pressures to get high value education, rather than advice which established what would actually make me happy!
    But it all caught back up with me in my early thirties.
    Your comment on grand is interesting because I think it did enable me to deal with larger gardens!
    Sorry failed to get my comments on your post registered.
    Loved the hammock!

  14. Robert says:

    Hi Pam,
    Still even have the camera!
    But not that many pics because there was 8 pics or so to a real of film.
    And that and developing was a lot of pocket money!
    So each shot had to count.
    Funny, when I survey a garden now, I take 150 min and they are on my screen in seconds and I never print them.
    How times have changed.
    Changing tack, sounds like your book launch goes really well!

  15. Robert, it is interesting what ends up being influential in a life. Your exposure early on came to the fore later. I do hope the hospice landscape job materializes. I can tell you would invest all the heart and sass you have to it. Thanks for posting these pictures-how open we are to the world, when we are kids. Deborah

  16. Robert says:

    Hi Deborah!
    Yeah, open and then life and people close things off!
    They didn’t really do careers advice well in those days.
    And our parents and schools were hot on us pursuing the academic trail.
    Gardening was conceived as a lowly job and garden design as frankly foppish!
    So I found the path on my own but it took some time.
    Yes we have our fingers crossed for the hospice funding.
    Should know shortly.
    Thanks so much for your comment and belief.

  17. Scott says:

    I’m envious of your early trips with your father Robert. I was not introduced to “non-veggie” gardens until much later in life. I’m glad that you found your way back to design, we all benefit from your return!


  18. Robert says:

    Hi Scott,
    Guess our routes and paces all our different.
    But the wonder for me of the net is of us all being linked.
    And also the sense of us all working to promote the value of what we do as garden designers.
    And what gardens as a whole can do for people.
    Thanks as always for your key organisational and steering role without which we would all be floundering!