New book puts Brantwood's inspiring gardens in the spotlight

The Westmorland Gazette: John Ruskin John Ruskin

JOHN Ruskin the gardener.

Oh yes, behind the powerful Victorian voice which championed social and economic justice lay an enthusiastic plant scientist and naturalist.

Gardening itself can be likened to a blank canvas that evolves in spring like an artist’s painting, Mother Nature using her own brush strokes to deftly dowse the landscape with all things bright and beautiful.

For me, nothing in the garden is more fascinating at this time of year than watching hostas grow from virtually nothing into a sculptural work of art.

Brantwood is the former home of John Ruskin.

And a new book by eminent botanist and horticultural expert David Ingram puts the inspiring gardens of the Coniston house in the spotlight.

The Gardens at Brantwood: Evolution of John Ruskin’s Lakeland Paradise, traces the history of the gardens, exploring the contribution from successive garden visionaries that have blessed beautiful Brantwood, from Ruskin himself, his cousin Joan Severn to celebrated local gardener Sally Beamish.

David’s book walks you through Brantwood’s idiosyncratic group of gardens and their woodland backdrop admirably, setting the scene way back in 1871 when Ruskin bought the house from William James Linton for £1,500.

Included in the sale were 10 acres of land, which Ruskin described in a letter to a friend as “five acres of rock and moor, a streamlet, and I think on the whole the finest view I know in Cumberland or Lancashire.”

He describes the early gardens of John Ruskin and his cousin Joan Severn “like an enchanting paradise in a fairy tale.”

Those horticultural efforts though were gradually engulfed by wild nature for most of the following century.

Enter in 1988 Sally Beamish, head gardener, who with great commitment, skill and boundless creative energy, eventually restored the gardens.

Sally opened up the woodland surrounding the gardens and added exciting new designs of her own, based on what she calls “Ruskinian principles.”

The many natural rooms of Brantwood’s exterior feature in David’s book - Ruskin’s Seat, the Painter’s Glade, The Pond, the Moorland Garden, the Harbour Walk and Daffodil Meadow, the Fern Garden and Trellis Walk, and the Wildflower Meadow, which during summer provides the stage for touring theatre productions.

Brantwood’s director Howard Hull said he was delighted when David Ingram approached him to say that he would like to write a short introduction to Brantwood’s gardens. Howard added: “‘Of course,’ said David in an unguarded moment, ‘there really is a book here.’ From then on there was no looking back. That such a distinguished figure in the field of botanical science should bend his gaze upon Brantwood’s gardens is fantastic.”

For copies of the book and further information telephone 015394-41396.

ISBN 9781843680994

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