by Roy Strong

Publisher: Transworld Publishing: Bantam Press (2003)
ISBN  0  5930 5070 3



In retrospect, it seems ordained that Roy Strong, then Director of the National Portrait Gallery, and his wife, the stage and costume designer Julia Trevelyan Oman, would together create a formal garden like those in the backgrounds of Tudor and Stuart portraits. Bought in 1973, The Laskett’s garden in Herefordshire has become ‘the largest formal garden made in this country since 1945.’ It is poignant that this ‘horticultural autobiography,’ and portrait of a marriage, was published in October 2003, the month that Julia died.

The sequence of one hedged ‘room’ or vista leading into another is superbly illustrated.  In the appropriately named ‘Covent Garden’, the ‘proscenium arch’ of sorbus cashmiriana frames a series of yew ‘wings’ topped with topiary peacocks. Julia Oman’s hand or eye is also seen in the brilliantly painted decoration of urns, columns, pedestals, garden furniture and ironwork.

Roy Strong’s The Renaissance Garden in England (1998), and his The Artist and the Gardener (2000) are essential reference tools. The Laskett is not, though it is a delightful read, full of stimulating ideas for present day gardeners. It is, however, to be regretted that there is neither an index, nor complete references to quotations or books. This quibble aside, I can only agree with Strong’s description of his garden as ‘nature tamed by art, a jardin d’amour, a memory system, a manipulation of space, an illusion and…a private sacred space in which the true circle of a marriage has been tenderly inscribed.’ And so it is.

Pamela Dodds