Sunday, 14 August 2011

Best of British lawns! Anyone for croquet in an English garden?

Montacute in Somerset, which dates back to Elizabethan times
Britain has one aspect of gardening that's famous throughout the world - its lawns! English gardens have always been celebrated, but where did we get this concept of huge green tracts of land synonymous with large country houses? It's origins are unclear, but there's little doubt that when you see this feature in a garden, it leaves a lasting impression, like Montacute House in Somerset (above). Nothing is more pleasing to the eye that an immaculately mown lawn, especially if you haven't had to mow it yourself!
Lawn is a major feature at Mapperton in Dorset, a fine example of a Jacobean house
The word "laune" dates back to the 16th century, but is thought to have its origins in the Celtic language, where it meant enclosure. And although it's unclear how this word became "lawn", the history of large areas of cut grass has been integral to British garden design since gardens were first created here in Tudor and Elizabethan times (see Montacute, top). They were used for social gatherings, and by the time Jacobean architecture had become fashionable, they became synonymous with aristocracy. Take Mapperton House in Dorset (above)  as a fine example, where large areas of lawn are part of the garden design.  
Rousham House is one of the best examples of William Kent's "landscape gardening" style
The garden at Rousham House in Oxfordshire is one of the finest examples of William Kent's work, and clearly demonstrates the style of gardening introduced in the 18th century - landscape gardening - where the lawn flows into the open landscape. Both he and Lancelot "Capability" Brown, brought British gardens to a new height when they started designing huge gardens, where emphasis is entirely on the overall aspect of the garden and blending it into the country beyond, using statuary and landscape features to draw your eye into the distance.
There's nothing more appealing than clean-mown lawn lines, seen here at Hever Castle
All gardeners know that lawns have become so accepted today that we spend considerable amounts of time working on them, mowing, weeding, feeding and replanting them! In fact the lawn industry, both here and overseas is not to be overlooked, because it provides a regular source of work during the summer for contractors, and those of us who have our own lawns probably spend a considerable proportion of our free time looking after them. And as Michael Pollan said: "A lawn is nature under totalitarian rule".
The croquet lawn at Lytes Cary in Somerset
And then of course there's our croquet and tennis lawns, dating back to the 19th century. The All England Croquet Club was formed in 1868 and there's nothing better than seeing a game in progress on a hot summer's day here in the UK. The All England Tennis Club was formed just a decade later in 1877 - both started new worldwide trends in ball games, and there can be few of us left who don't sometimes sneak in and watch play at Wimbledon on our televisions during the annual tournament! Notable National Trust gardens with croquet lawns include Lytes Cary Manor (above) and Hidcote (below).
If you can bear to leave the garden, find time to watch the croquet at Hidcote Manor
I'm sure that I, like most of us, prefer to look at a lawn rather than mow it and there's plenty of gardens here in the UK where you can do just that. And James Dent echoes my sentiments exactly, when he says: "A perfect summer day is when the sun is shining, the breeze is blowing, the birds are singing and the lawn mower is broken".

11 comments:

  1. I couldn't agree more that lawns are aesthetically beautiful but how sustainable are they? Especially when you consider the amount of oil that is burnt to maintain them - mowing, pesticides, fertilisers. More and more people are realising this and considering wild flowers instead.
    I felt compelled to point this out. Great article though.

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  2. Great photos. While I don't have a lawn myself, they are quite lovely to behold when done right. The colors are so verdant and crisp.

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  3. Thanks for the trip. It's such a beautiful garden. How many hours must they spend keeping it so tidy?

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  4. In the United States it makes me cringe whenever I visit areas that are very hot and dry where people have attempted to replicate these exact same expanses of green. We can talk about regional differences and water shortages and yet the lawns persist.

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  5. Ooh I love a good lawn. I always feel slightly envious and wistful when I see a really good one. Maybe I'm wierd but I do quite enjoy mowing. I can see in a small modern garden they're a bit pointless though, but in large classic spaces you can't beat them. I can see Luke's point but there's a place for a lawn and a place for a wildflower meadow and while in many cases the latter could well replace the former to great effect, that's not going to be the case everywhere.

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  6. We call that striping in the sports turfgrass industry. Look at some professional baseball fields. Spectactular to me. Many gardners and people in the u.s. lament the lawn. I say ba..

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  7. A-ah...the absolute beauty of the English lawn!!! You have captured it so perfectly in your amazing photos. It is so easy to appreciate the delicate care of these vast green spreads. Thanks!

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  8. For someone who lives surrounded by brown bushland for so much of the year, the sight of this lawn is just overwhelming! It's a work of art!

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  9. That looks a great garden and house. Lovely pics! Not a lawn person myself but it really sets off a formal garden like this one.

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  10. All the rain that we have here in the UK is why most of our lawns are a lush green. Our lawn stays green all year, but has no chemicals or fertiliser put on it, it doesn't get raked, the only work is to cut it once a week. Some areas are left to grow into a meadow, its amazing the flowers you have in your lawn if you don't spray it.Our philosophy is go with what nature gives you, don't fight it.

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  11. I'm so in love with all of those beautiful scenery. Very cool for my eyes to look and amazingly beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

    Cassy from Beginner Free Guitar Lessons

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