The Story of H. Avray Tipping
by Helena Gerrish

Publisher: Frances Lincoln (2011)
ISBN  978-0711232235



I first came across Tipping in an article about this book by Robin Lane Fox in the Financial Times.  I hadn’t heard of him before but in fact he was one of the most influential English gardeners of the early 20th Century.

In his book The Garden of Today, published in 1933, Tipping wrote:  ‘I was given a garden when I was seven.  I am now seventy-seven and I still garden. Experience, therefore, I have and I trust some of it has been transformed into fruitful knowledge.’

This book proves that statement to be true.  Reading it is rather like wandering through one of Tipping’s own gardens.  It starts by taking you straight ahead with a biography of Tipping and glimpses of his achievements.  Then each ‘aspect’ of his work particularly his houses and gardens is explored in more detail.

At Country Life Tipping produced not only articles on ‘notable’ houses, their contents, and their gardens but also books, including, in 1925, English Gardens  the first Country Life folio to present the history of gardens.  His colleagues at Country Life, also his friends, are a roll call of the skilled and famous:  Gertrude Jekyll, William Robinson, Edward Hudson, Harold Peto..

After selling the family estate in Kent, Tipping moved to Monmouthshire where he restored a medieval bishop’s palace, built an Arts and Crafts country house and, after World War 1, commissioned his ideal ‘retreat‘.  The houses seemed beyond restoration but Tipping’s philosophy was to make each one ‘habitable as a place of modern residence with as little serious interference as possible with its picturesque aspect and archaeological interest‘.  The gardens he created around the houses combined formal features, ‘the eclectic beauty of the cultured‘, with informal, natural elements, ‘the grace and feeling of the wild‘.  His final house was at Harefield, in Middlesex, where, with the help of 10 gardeners, Tipping transformed the grounds.

Tipping also designed gardens for others, notably at Chequers and Dartington Hall. Amongst his extensive writings he produced a practical gardening column for the Morning Post.  He was a member of the first committee of The Gardens of England and Wales Scheme (now The National Gardens Scheme) and opened his own garden at High Glanau.  Some eight decades later, it is still opened once a year.

The author, Helena Gerrish, herself lives at High Glanau.  For this book she has traced elusive documents and diaries (with no family, Tipping ordered all his papers to be destroyed on his death, and he left his fortune to his gardener) and she has uncovered unknown paintings, photographs and sketch books.  Virtually every page of this large book features illustrations, many of them full-page mostly photographs but also sketches and plans.

Overall it provides a picture of Edwardian life as lived by the privileged, a vision of England that we can often picture when visiting gardens today.  Taking it one chapter at a time I enjoyed reading it and, even more, I enjoyed looking at it.

Shirley Barnes