It is exactly a year since I started volunteering one day a week in the garden at Charleston farmhouse in East Sussex, where artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant lived and painted in the middle decades of the twentieth century. So for this week’s six I am sharing some photographs I took of the garden on my iPhone earlier this week. As you can see from the sign above, on Tuesdays when I volunteer the garden is closed to the public and it is pretty special being able to garden there with almost nobody about, apart from head gardener Fiona. The house and garden are open Wednesday to Sunday and are definitely worth a visit if you have never been
- Painterly planting
Vanessa Bell, artist, sister of Virginia Woolf and a leading light in the Bloomsbury Group, was a keen gardener. She liked to plant in bold colours, in drifts and her garden is the subject of many of her paintings. One of the views she painted was along this path in front of the house. At this time of year wallflowers provide a splash of bright colour. Along the edge of the path are Dianthus ‘Mrs Sinkins’ which will soon flower in an old-fashioned pink. Some of the many apple trees in the garden can also be seen still in blossom.
2. Statues and busts
Sculptures are an important feature of the garden – many of the statues and busts were by Bloomsbury artists, in particular by Vanessa’s son Quentin Bell, such as Pomona, the fruit gatherer above. Others, including the busts that sit atop the garden wall were from Lewes Art School. In winter, they are all wrapped up to preserve them, before emerging again in the spring.
3. View from the studio
Another view that Vanessa often painted was this path leading away from the studio she shared with Grant. At the moment it is a subtle palette of blue forget-me-nots and purple honesty, but soon it will explode into colour with roses, irises, foxgloves, poppies and more.
4. The piazza
Vanessa Bell loved visiting the Mediterranean South of France and she brought a little bit of it back home with her when she and her friends created this mosaic piazza, a sunny south-facing place to sit and talk with friends. There is a little pond with a water spout and one of my favourite planters in the garden – the woman’s torso with hydrangeas.
5. The vegetable garden
With the help of one of the other volunteers, head gardener Fiona has restored the vegetable garden this year, using the bricks from the old path to created new raised beds where she is growing beans, sweet peas, chives, lettuces, rhubarb and gooseberries, as well as an entire bed devoted to Charleston’s trademark artichokes with their ornamental silvery foliage.
6. The orchard and pond
Next week sees the start of the annual Charleston Festival when the quiet orchard with Quentin Bell’s brick statue of a sphinx will become a bustling cafe area and literary types will discuss the talks they are going to, while contemplating the peaceful pond with its waterlilies, blissfully unaware that in a few week’s time the gardener will be wading in to remove the parrot feather pondweed before it takes over!
To discover the highlights from other Six-ers’ gardens this week, head on over to The Propagator’s blog.