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July 08, 2013

William Robinson, The Father of Natural Gardens

William Robinson was an Irishman born into the Victorian garden age of colorful exotic bedding and mock Italianate gardens. In his early 20's, he was appointed head of the Natives Plants section at Regent's Park. Here his exposure to the native and 'wild' plants of the English countryside heavily influenced his opposition to the current Victorian garden aesthetics. He spent many years traveling around England and visiting the continent, inspiring him to advocate for a change in English garden style. He was a prolific writer, starting the magazine, The Garden, and writing the book, The Wild Garden. His writing promoted the ideas that natural gardening was less costly to maintain with less replanting of tender annuals. He also advocated more closely planted beds, less showy beauty, and the naturalization of exotic perennials and annuals planted in a manner in which they will thrive. He believed in the natural succession of plants to provide year round interest and beauty in the garden. He was more an advocate for the natural garden style than an actual garden designer. His work was not a restoration effort of native ecosystems, but rather the creation of something more than that, something picturesque which looked natural.

In 1884 Robinson purchased the Elizabethan manor of Gravetye. Here he was able to put his words into action. Gertrude Jekyll and he developed a lifelong friendship and provided each other with plants and ideas for the other's garden. She designed numerous English gardens, of which Robinson surely had some influence. At the Italianate garden, Shrubland, designed by Charles Barry, he made some modifications. Here it appears, he soothed the beds around the house in his naturalistic style with lush plantings. Throughout his life he continued to be a writer for this new 'style'.

How does Robinson fit into garden history? SInce his death, Robinson's influence is alive and evident in modern and contemporary gardens. Here are some examples from gardens that I have seen.

July 04, 2013

The Cedars

It's called The Cedars. A basic name but apt; It's labeled on the map that way. The Cedars is a special place in northern Sonoma county, California. It takes about 3 hours to get there from San Francisco. Most of this land is control by the BLM, the federal agency Bureau of Land Management. My friends, Roger Raiche and David McCrory convinced a few land trusts to purchase the old mining site to preserve this entire valley.

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