Recently we visited Painswick where some of the ruined follies have had to be heavily restored. The Exedra in particular felt almost plastic!



As we left, we inspected their second hand book table which is a small part of their great fund raising mission to keep this unique garden going. We are always on the look out for design influences and were thrilled to spot half a dozen lavishly illustrated Sotheby’s Yearly Review catalogues for the 90’s at £2 a pop. What a bargain! They are stuffed with images from art deco tiaras to japanned commodes!

 Flicking idly through my share of the spoils that evening I came across this:



And thought ‘Wow! How amazing is that?’ Light and airy and elegant. What a great centre piece for a garden.

This is the ruins of the Delhi Observatory as drawn by Thomas and William Daniell. Between 1786 and 1821 Thomas and his nephew William spent 9 years in India drawing, and 13 years back in the UK  producing the plates, for ‘Oriental Scenary’ in 8 volumes, which inspired a uk cult for all things Indian and was ultimately responsible for the Royal Pavilion, Brighton.

This made me think of the Sezincote in Gloucestershire which has a heavy Indian influence in both house and gardens, which I last visited in the late 80’s as a horticultural student. No surprise to discover that the owning family had worked in India. But who should turn up as working on the plans of house and garden: Thomas Daniell. Daniell plainly saw the potential of Indian influence in the garden  and the garden at Sezincote remains unlike anything elsewhere in the uk:


Of course the potential that ruins have to make great gardens has been fully explored in the past. The ruin was the stock in trade of many an eighteenth century garden. And more recently think Nymans, Tresco, Ninfa and Sissinghurst.

 I wondered what had come of the ruin that made me embark on this mental journey. Was it still romantic? Like this:


 No, alas!

The Delhi Observatory was heavily restored in the 1900’s:

The whole thing looks like some rather awful Eastern Block children’s adventure playground!

Hard edged, painted deep orange/red and white, all the atmosphere and age of it has been lost.

But all the time, I had been thinking what an incredible garden this could be, in India, with all their wonderful native flora!

Appropriately, within hours the Garden Design Journal for March plopped on the door mat . I was delighted to read on page 50 Christopher Woodward, the author of ‘In Ruins,’ sounding the clarion call for the use of ruins as gardens. He also records how English Heritage are finally seeing the light and leaving well alone. Apparently science now finds that preservation of ruins ruins quicker than they ruin themselves!

Are we seeing signposts for a return to the eighteenth century’s appreciation of a ‘romantically shaggy’ ruin as the sine qua non of the landscape garden? 

‘Ruins are about change, decay and rebirth, not preservation.’

‘A ruin is not a monument. It is a garden in the making.’

Couldn’t agree more!