The Fells & Landscape Design in the Arts & Crafts Movement

The Fells Historic Estate and Gardens

Earlier this month I enjoyed touring the grounds of the Fells Historic Estate and Gardens overlooking Lake Sunapee in New Hampshire. It is the former summer home of John M. Hay (1838-1905), an American writer and diplomat. Hay’s son Clarence and his wife Alice Appleton Hay later inherited the property and transformed the rock pasture into extensive formal and informal gardens. Their horticulture and gardening goal was to exhibit the best of the garden styles seen in the 1920’s and 30’s .

Now, about ten years ago I authored a cultural landscape report for a nearby property on Lake Winnipesaukee called Castle in the Clouds. While the period of significance for this property was about 10 years earlier, they both have great examples and remnants of gardens from the Arts & Crafts Movement.

So, I’m using this post to talk about landscape design in the Arts & Crafts movement with respect to this property- specifically in the context of their cottage garden and Arts & Crafts garden elements.

Landscape Design in the Arts & Crafts Movement

Beginning in the late 1800’s and continuing well into the twentieth century, many American parks and wealthy estates largely adopted the likings of the lavish grounds found in high society European traditions such as France and Italy. Characterized by high maintenance planting schemes which required a sizable gardening crew, this ostentatious culture of controlling nature dominated elite landscape design[1].  Like the rest of the arts, several styles of landscape and garden design were introduced that reflect, or were ultimately embraced by the Arts & Crafts Movement. Among these include the cottage garden style, the Arts & Crafts garden, the pastoral style, as well as the prairie school of landscape architecture.

The Cottage Garden

The momentum of the cottage garden trend in the built landscape was propelled largely by the writings coming out of England beginning in the late 1800’s. In Particular, the works of William Robinson (1838-1935), a professional gardener and self-taught botanist most effectively communicated this style, which calls for low maintenance planting schemes and the use of native plant material. This concept was considered to be a reaction against the intricate and costly estate and public gardens that changed flower beds multiple times a season[2]. Robinson was a horticultural correspondent to The Times, and found early success with the book The Wild Garden, which advocated for the underrated and less known native bulbs, perennials, and shrubs. The book also carried the overarching principle that gardens should celebrate the flora of the season as intended by Mother Nature, and thoughtful synchronization through just planting would greatly lessen their maintenance requirements[3].These ideas resonated greatly with both the British and Americans abroad. This was mainly due to the concept’s appreciation for a naturalistic landscape design approach, but also because this style posed an outlet of expression for the imaginative gardener. For the first time in the history of the modern world, artistic as well as scientific relationships between plants were closely studied, signaling a significant turn from the purely cosmetic to a deep ecological regard[4].

Another proponent was Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932), the noted landscape designer who became acclaimed for her writings in The Garden, a weekly periodical founded by Robinson. Jekyll’s work aimed to build upon the tenets of Robinson, and add insight to planting aesthetics with regard to color, grouping, and texture[5]. Among her best known works are the Glebe House in Connecticut, Munstead House in England, and the Parc des Moutiers in France.

The cottage garden is characterized as an informal gathering of old fashioned plants which are to be celebrated in all seasons. They are conventionally anchored in the front of the home by a gate, often enclosed by a hedge or low wall, and commonly supported by a myriad of vegetation frames such as trellises and posts. Planting beds are delineating in the space through the lining of walkways, or edging the home’s foundation. The heart of the planting scheme is clusters of trusty perennials or biennials, sometimes formed in rows. These keystone fixtures are then intermingled with tufts of steadfast flowering annuals, often self-sowing. Generally, cottage gardens were confined to highlight predetermined spaces, such as a small front yard, or pergola extension. With regard to surfaces, lawn was kept to a minimum, as the entire space is to be devoted to plantings. Path materials range from compacted earth, to gravel, or more solid surfaces such as brick and stone.


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Fells “cottage garden” elements. In the images above, notice the informal gathering of plants that hug a terraced garden wall.

The Arts & Crafts Garden

The Arts & Crafts garden style is characterized by a marraige between the informality of the cottage garden, and the traditions of the English garden, which borrow the Mediterranean concepts of terraces and straight lines[1]. A major force in this transition was two men by the name of Henry Ernest Miller and Sir Reginald Blomfield. Miller, a landscape architect, published the book The Art and Practice of Landscape Gardening (1890), which promoted a revival in the appreciation of the British countryside. His peer, Sir Blomfield, later wrote The Formal Garden in England in 1892. The Arts & Crafts Garden was essentially born through the works of designers such as Gertrude Jekyll, who along with Architect Edwin Lutyens, beautifully balanced the Robinsonian informality in the framework of the formal old English style. Such examples of this include Standen, the English estate designed by Philip Webb, a noted close friend to William Morris. The Arts & Crafts garden at Standen celebrates the natural informality of old fashioned plants contained within the structure of grouped garden beds. Formal objects in the garden were sourced locally, with anchors such as yew hedges and trellises to support the natural color pallets of informal plantings. The space is prized for its rich appreciation for quality materials and its continual combinations of understated foliage and color.


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The Fells Arts & Craft style garden has a formal framework defined by orthogonal lines and boxwood hedges, but is also highly naturalized through the use of on site and less formal materials and native plantings.

[1] (Duchscherer, 1999)

[2] (Van Zuylen, 1995)

[3] (Duchscherer, 1999)

[4] (Van Zuylen, 1995)

[5] (The Official Website of Gertrude Jekyll, Unknown)

[1] (Jellicoe, 1995)

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