National Trust snubs Sir Roy Strong and turns down his garden. Will The Laskett be lost to the nation forever?
|The Laskett is the largest formal garden to be created in England since the end of World War II|
|Sir Roy Strong at home at The Laskett in 2014|
The gardens at The Laskett in Herefordshire are the largest private formal gardens to be created in England since the end of World War II. Sir Roy had planned to leave the property to the National Trust with a substantial endowment (and to avoid confusion for my overseas readers, it needs to be explained that most properties acquired by this well-known British institution are left on this basis, so that it is not just the property that passes to the nation under their stewardship, but also sufficient funds to make sure that it is self-supporting until the entrance fees make it a viable business proposition).
But the National Trust turned his offer down. And, Sir Roy, who is no stranger to the public eye, having been the youngest ever director of the National Portrait Gallery at 32 and who then moved on to redefine the Victoria and Albert Museum as an must-see London venue, rather than a red-brick building housing an extensive collection of artifacts, responded by announcing that his four-acre garden would be “destroyed” one year after his death.
|The Laskett is a series of vistas that draw you in|
With just one year to go before he becomes an octogenarian, Sir Roy is well able to make his own decisions and on hearing that his garden had failed to reach the required standards of “historic and national importance” required by the National Trust, he responded by saying he would extinguish many of the notable garden features that he and his wife had created during their marriage at their Herefordshire home.
|The garden created by Roy and his wife Julia was once a four-acre field|
The Laskett is a garden that rarely opened to the public until Sir Roy felt strong enough to face the world alone as a widower. There are many poignant memories of Julia in the sylvan landscape, including an urn that houses her ashes. But it has rarely been accessible to the general public and when Julia died in 2003, the garden was only on show to the privileged few lucky enough to join private tours. Then Strong decided to live up to his surname and re-invented both himself and his garden, opening his doors couple of years back to groups of visitors.
|Sir Roy has threatened to "destroy" The Laskett, which he created with his late wife Julia over 30 years|
I have visited The Laskett several times and have always enjoyed my forays into the garden. It’s a wonderful eclectic mix of garden rooms interwoven with statuary and artifacts acquired by Roy and Julia during their three decades of marriage. It certainly has its critics, but also its fans including Prince Charles who asked him to become involved with the topiary at Highgrove, where he not only helped to design and style the hedges, but also spent several years cutting and shaping them.
Stephen Lacey describes The Laskett as “one of the most important and interesting gardens of the 20th century”. Most garden enthusiasts have heard of the garden and many would welcome the chance to see it, so it is a great disappointment that the nation will not now have the opportunity to enjoy a slice of history created by a venerable historian who is also a household name in Britain.