I‘ve been working on a project ‘offline’ for the last couple of months and am finally able to share what I have been up to! Earlier this year, I was asked to plant style a conservatory in a stately home, in order to bring some life back to the room. It had been left a little unloved and was pretty bare, so I was enlisted as ‘plant artist in residence’.
The Seventeenth Century Manor House is owned by the National Trust and is called Newton House. As you can see from the photograph at the top of the post, the conservatory is actually elevated in the centre of the back of the property. I was not expecting this when I was asked to come take a look! Despite the property itself being older, it was given a major facelift in the 1850’s; the time the conservatory dates back to.
The photos above show the view of the deer park from the conservatory, a view that was enhanced by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown; the renowned landscape architect, who visited the site in 1775.
I wish my journey may prove of use to the place, which if it should, it will be very flattering to me. Nature has been truly bountiful and art has done no harm.“
Below shows some photographs of the inside space when I arrived, in terms of plants, I was pleased to see it wasn’t completely bare – it had some grasses, a heuchera and a slightly bedraggled yet characterful palm. For my first visit, I went mid afternoon and the room was bathed in sunlight, the glass roof really let a lot of light in.
I thought it would be good to show the process by sharing some of my notes and sketches here too – I looked into the 1911 inventory to see what was recorded and was extremely pleased to find a pretty comprehensive list:
The contents of the room as recorded in the 1911 Inventory:
3 majolica jardinières
4 minton jardinières and stands
8 large palms
40 various plants
A grape vine
So as the inventory proves… Victorians loved their plants! At the time, it was a happy coincidence that I’d been reading a book by social Historian Dr Catherine Horwood called Potted History: The Story of Plants in the Home. The text and imagery offers a beautifully lucid account of planting at this time, and made for perfect parallel reading to this project.
I knew straight away that I wanted to reference some design elements that would have been popular in Victorian conservatories and to try and create a fullness to the room to reference the sorts of quantities of plants that would have at Newton House in the early 1900’s. Budget restraints would obviously play a part in the design, but also temperature of the room (which is unheated) and humidity levels, coupled with the impact of planting under glass.
Alongside the design elements of the project, as plant artist in residence, my role was also concerned with responding to the 2018 theme set by the National Trust, ‘Power of Women’. I started to consider some installation ideas for the conservatory based on this, and will share in the succeeding posts.
Hope you enjoyed this Introduction to the project, in the next instalment of this mini series on HPH, I will show you the design process and the start of the plant purchasing.
Thanks for reading!