Ham House and Fenton House, April 2011

Ham House is similar to the house in my novel: a country estate surrounded by formal, laid-out gardens, which are in turn surrounded by countryside. Although now, of course, that countryside is parks and suburban neighborhoods.

View of back of Ham House, as the front was covered in scaffolding when I visited.

The gardens are a mix of formal, almost stripped down–there were flower beds lining the brick walls but none in the parterres–and ‘wilderness’ with paths cut through shady woods and natural plantings.

Formal, shaped shrubs (topiary) contrasts with more natural bedding, many plants of which boasted id tags with historical info.

The parterres in the sunken garden. This garden is about space rather than small details, and I wonder if that is because of the upkeep necessary for such a large garden or if that was part of the original plan--that being 'seen' as you walked the paths was more important than what you saw.

Behind the parterres were wooded and grassed paths lined with shrubs that directed your movement and attention to seating areas far down green tunnels.

Espaliered tree, grown on brick walls that absorb the day's heat and protect the fruit from frost while also protecting it from wind and weather. Espaliering was traditionally the job of male garden labourers from the 16th century.

Sundial in the side yard. I wonder whether there was a more elaborate garden here when the dial was first installed, as they were often a centrepiece and carried epigraphs encouraging the viewer/reader to consider his or her mortality.

Obligatory flower close-up: Ham House

Fenton House, on the other hand, is a town house. The gardens–a mix of formal and informal–are more compact, with garden ‘rooms’ that have doorways leading one to the next.

Rear view of Fenton House in Hampstead.

The view directly out the back of Fenton House. There are more garden 'rooms' behind this main garden and raised walkways alongside it, giving it the look of a fashionable sunken garden.

The back garden 'room' with another set of steps and a centrepiece. Benches can be found throughout the garden, many in shady alcoves, giving visitors a spot from which to view the various levels and shapes.

A corner and symmetry are sacrificed for the nature of a tree to outgrow it intended spot.

Although gardens were planted to follow the fashions of the time, people--and their pets--still lived in there.

Hidden to the side and behind high shrubs, the orchard and kitchen garden, a charming contrast to the structured gardens more easily viewed from the house.

Obligatory flower close-up: Fenton House

The main difference between Ham and Fenton is the scale. Otherwise, each represents the time in which they were built. Contrasting them shows how gardens of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries–before the landscape movement–adhered to the same design theories whether in town or country. Formal plantings close to the house and within view, paths for walking (see and be seen), ‘rooms’. Informal plantings behind screens of a sort and for gardens of more practical use.

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