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Book Review: Gardens of the Arts and Crafts Movement

Picture_1 Judith B. Tankard, Gardens of the Arts and Crafts Movement, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, 2004.

This handsomely produced volume takes us through the theory and practice of the Arts and Crafts Garden from the era of William Morris up to the present in pictures, photographs, garden plans, and text.

For those familiar with the house and home aspects of the English Arts and Crafts movement, Tankard’s book will be a delight, and an education. Gardens, like buildings and furnishings, were a venue for reform and innovation, an opportunity to express integrity and beauty, and a chance to move beyond the artificiality of the dominant Victorian paradigm. For garden design, this meant rejecting Victorian orderliness and ostentation in favor of naturalism and informality. While certainly not “simple” gardens - Tankard’s illustrations portray wonderfully green lawns, orderly hedges, topiary, rustic steps and garden pools and fountains, along with roses and, typically, local flowers - the overall effect is an inviting one of comfort and ease rather than grandeur.

Garden design evoked considerable discussion during the height of the Arts and Crafts period, especially given the fact that the famous architects of the day (C. F. A. Vosey, M. H. Baillie Scott) viewed house and garden as a unified whole. As Tankard says, the Arts and Crafts movement “gave gardens a new definition as a harmonious component of the house. Gardens … were never an end in themselves, but were intertwined with the house like ivy growing on a wall, blurring the distinctions between indoors and outdoors.”

Tankard’s volume focuses on the homes and gardens of England, with modest attention given to the United States (and none at all to other countries). This I think is appropriate given England’s preeminent gardens and landscapes. The reader is given an extensive tour of over a hundred gardens, with full commentary on their design as well as the garden philosophy of their architects.  The contributions of Gertrude Jekyll and Thomas Mawson, the most distinguished landscape architects of the era, are given especial attention, and an entire chapter is devoted to the renowned English gardens created by the collaboration of the architect Edwin Lutyens and Jekyll.