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Garden Rooms in the
Arts and Crafts Garden

Copyright © Leslie Turek 1993
Written for Radcliffe Seminars course "The Arts and Crafts Garden"
10 November 1993

The concept of enclosure has been basic to the idea of the garden since the beginning of civilization. Whenever a boundary is drawn, the enclosed space is set apart from the outside world and acquires a special significance as a protected place. The word for one of the first such enclosures--the hunting preserves of the Assyrian kings--has come to us as the English word "paradise". (1)

In addition to meeting the human need for privacy and seclusion, enclosed gardens had many practical reasons for existence: for safety and defense, to capture the warmth of the sun or protect from the wind, or to serve as an extension of the indoor living space. Examples of enclosed gardens can be seen in many cultures: the Roman atrium, the Islamic garden, the castle keep, the monastery cloister, the Italian terraced garden, the walled kitchen garden, and the hedged cottage garden. 

Enclosed gardens were largely swept away during the naturalistic garden revival of 18th-century England, when the use of sculptured hedging was ridiculed by Addison and Pope, and Capability Brown "concealed the bounds" (2) and brought the landscape up to the house.

In the late 19th century, John D. Sedding and Reginald Blomfield sounded a call for a return to the old-fashioned enclosed garden. Sedding in his Garden-Craft Old and New, first published in 1891, was one of the first to set down the principles of the Arts and Crafts garden movement that would reach its peak in the gardens of Gertrude Jekyll and Edwin Lutyens and their successors.

On enclosure, Sedding wrote:

A garden should be well fenced, and there should always be facility for getting real seclusion, ... indeed, the provision of places of retreat has always been a note of an English garden.... Hence the cedar-walks, the bower, the avenue, the maze, the alley, the wilderness, that were familiar, and almost the invariable features of an old English pleasaunce, "hidden happily and shielded safe" .... This seclusion can be got by judicious screening of parts, by shrubberies, or avenues of hazel, or yew, or sweet-scented bay.... (3)

According to Sedding, the layout of the garden should be determined by the situation and character of the house and its relationship to the site. Moving from the house to the terrace to the garden "should only seem like going from one room to another". (4) This close relationship between the house and garden was a hallmark of Lutyens' work, where the lines of the house and the location of its doors and windows had a major impact on the garden layout. Lutyens wrote that even "the position of a staircase window may materially affect a garden plan". (5) In some cases the garden rooms were arrayed around the house so that the house itself became a central or unifying feature, as at Great Dixter.

These enclosed gardens were divided into compartments by a variety of architectural features including walls, hedges, pergolas, and other garden structures. Walls were often built of local materials, usually matching the materials of the house, and designed with the careful craftsmanship and fine detailing of the Arts and Crafts tradition. Plants were often used to soften the hard lines of walls and steps; Gertrude Jekyll was particularly adept at this type of planting.

Hedges had always been part of the English garden tradition, and they were used more frequently as the cost of custom masonry increased in the early twentieth century. (6) Yew was the most popular hedging material because it was easy to shape into architectural forms and its deep color made a welcome backdrop for colorful flower borders. Other common hedge materials included box, holly, Lawson cypress, privet, laurel, bay, beech, and hornbeam. (7) Each type of plant produced a hedge of slightly different color and texture. Hidcote is particularly well-known for its variety of hedges, including "tapestry hedges" of intermingling box, holly, yew, and copper beech, and other hedges interwoven with colorful climbing vines.

In addition to varying the materials, hedges could also be trimmed into different shapes. Often a simple rectangular shape made the most restful contrast to the flower borders or grassy lawns within. In other gardens, imagination would run riot, and the hedges would be topped with battlements, finials, spheres, or animal sculptures. (8)

Sometimes hedges would be provided with buttresses or alcoves framing statuary or flower beds, or their shapes would echo architectural features found elsewhere in the house or garden. Lutyens designed several elaborate garden rooms in which intricate geometric spaces were literally carved out of the surrounding hedges.

Pergolas were another feature that combined the permanence of an architectural structure with the softness of living plants. Functionally, they could serve as walls, passageways, or smaller roofed rooms within a larger garden compartment. Lutyens would often treat pergolas as extensions of the house, and designed them with solid proportions. Jekyll used them as features to display climbing plants, clothing them with roses, clematis, and wisteria. (9)

Perhaps the most elegant use of a pergola was at Hestercombe, where the 240-foot-long pergola provides "no more than a gentle demarcation between its verdant lawn and the bordering meadows" (10) 

Hestercombe also illustrates that many of the Arts and Crafts gardens were closely related to the countryside beyond. Enclosure did not mean separation from the outside world, but it did mean that the exposure to the outside world could be planned and directed by the garden designer. Often, as at Marsh Court, the visitor would find the view withheld from the entry court, to be revealed after the visitor passed through the house and emerged onto the garden terrace behind, where the vistas would be carefully framed by the garden plantings. In many gardens the places of views and vistas were garden features in their own right, to be reached by passing through an inviting gateway or alleé. Sometimes a terrace or other garden structure would be elevated to provide a view of the surrounding countryside, as with the Thunder House at Munstead Wood. 

In keeping with this sensitivity to the site, many Arts and Crafts gardens were laid out so that the more formal areas were nearer the house and the informal areas--orchards, meadows, rock gardens, streams, bogs, or woodlands--made a natural progression to the surrounding countryside. Often garden rooms were used even in these naturalistic parts of the garden. The Hidden garden at Munstead Wood is an example of such an informal garden room, with "walls" of unclipped yew, holly, and Quercus ilex.

From my viewpoint, the chief fascination of the compartmented garden is the way it can provide such a wide variety of garden experiences within a relatively small space. "Each enclosure is a discrete small garden, with its own particular shape, character, and name, like a chapter in a novel. (11)

The character of each garden room could be established along many different dimensions. Gertrude Jekyll, for example, advocated the planting of seasonal gardens. Her spring garden was designed for that season only; when the spring blossoms faded, they were well hidden behind garden walls, and attention turned to the parts of the garden designed for summer display.

Jekyll also pioneered the use of planned color schemes within each garden area. Sissinghurst is one of the outstanding examples of this style, not only for its legendary White Garden, but also the deep purple borders in the Courtyard, the earth tones of Delos, the sunset reds and yellows of the South Cottage garden, and the pinks and blues of the Rose Garden.

In addition to season and color, there were a host of other ways the garden rooms were varied to enhance the garden experience. Some contained informal cottage garden plantings; others formal beds outlined with clipped box hedges. The footing might be soft green grass, elaborately patterned brick or stone, or raked gravel. Some rooms would erupt with a riot of colorful plantings; others might offer the restful green of hedge and grass, or the quiet calm of water tanks or rills. Private nooks alternated with expansive open spaces, and were linked by narrow hedge-lined passageways, decorative steps, stone archways, pergolas, or artfully-designed gateways.

The Arts and Crafts garden, with its garden rooms enclosing a series of ever-changing pictures, is a garden of mystery and adventure, a garden greater than the sum of its parts. While enfolding us within protecting walls, it also tantalizes us with glimpses of what might lie beyond the next gateway or around the next turn in the path.


1. Charles W. Moore, William J. Mitchell, and William Turnbull, Jr., The Poetics of Gardens (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1988), p. 33.

2. Alexander Pope, as quoted in The Oxford Companion to Gardens (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), p. 169.

3. John D. Sedding, Garden-Craft Old and New (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., Ltd., 1892), pp. 162-163.

4. Sedding, p. 162.

5. Edwin Lutyens, as quoted in Jane Brown, Gardens of Golden Afternoon (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., 1982), p. 108.

6. Penelope Hobhouse, The National Trust: A Book of Gardening (Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1986), p. 13.

7. Gertrude Jekyll and Lawrence Weaver, Gardens for Small Country Houses (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Antique Collectors' Club, 1981), p. 132.

8. Hobhouse, p. 43.

9. Brown, p. 126.

10. David Ottewill, The Edwardian Garden (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), p. 90.

11. Moore, p. 105


Bisgrove, Richard. The Gardens of Gertrude Jekyll (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1992).

Brown, Jane. Gardens of a Golden Afternoon (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., 1982).

Hobhouse, Penelope. The National Trust: A Book of Gardening (Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1986).

Jekyll, Gertrude and Weaver, Lawrence. Gardens for Small Country Houses (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Antique Collectors' Club, 1981). Originally published in 1912.

Jellicoe, Geoffrey and Susan, et al. The Oxford Companion to Gardens (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986).

Moore, Charles W., Mitchell, William J., and Turnbull, William, Jr. The Poetics of Gardens (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1988).

Ottewill, David. The Edwardian Garden (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989).

Sedding, John D. Garden-Craft Old and New (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., Ltd., 1892).

Schinz, Marina and Littlefield, Susan. Visions of Paradise: Themes and Variations on the Garden (New York: Stewart, Tabori, & Chang, 1985).

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