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House and garden

review - Gardens of the Arts and Crafts Movement By Judith B Tankard. Abrams, 2004. 224 pp. £29.95

In 1904/1905 Herman Muthesius published Das Englische Haus, a deeply perceptive survey of the work of British domestic architects at the turn of the century. One of Muthesius' many insights into what was broadly known as 'the English Free School' was the distinction he drew between the work of two generations of architects - men such as Eden Nesfield, Richard Norman Shaw and Ernest George, and a younger generation, which included Lethaby, Voysey and Baillie Scott.

The difference between them hinged, in Muthesius' analysis, on their respective relationships to the Arts and Crafts movement. He claimed that, in the early period, 'Morris' Arts and Crafts movement and the movement in architecture had in fact nothing to do with one another'.

But of the younger architects he observed:

'The movement was an essential item on the agenda of the problems of the day? So the best elements of this younger generation now became active followers of the Arts and Crafts movement? New aims now arose;

by and large they were the ones proclaimed by Ruskin and Morris, which concerned the qualities of material and labour.'

This distinction is important in establishing the context of Judith Tankard's new book because the nature of an Arts and Crafts garden is as intimately related to the theories of Morris et al as is the design of a house. This point is established early in the book, where Morris' writings on gardens and flowers are nicely linked to the Red House and its garden.

Muthesius wrote that, in the Arts and Crafts, 'the garden is the wider dwellingplace wherein the smaller, the house itself, is situated'. This idea, of the intimacy of relationship between garden and house, lies at the heart of Tankard's study and provides its specific insights.

The method of the study connects the many treatises on garden design that were published at this period with descriptions of corresponding gardens. Its strength derives from the author's first-hand experience of most of the significant gardens and from the well-chosen archival images juxtaposed with modern photographs. Principal texts referred to include the familiar garden books by Reginald Blomfield, William Robinson and Thomas Mawson. By relating these to the work of architects such as Barnsley, Gimson, Lorimer, Mackintosh and Voysey, the essence of the Arts and Crafts house and garden is vividly conveyed.

The centrepiece of the book is, perhaps inevitably, the collaboration between Gertrude Jekyll and Edwin Lutyens, though this adds little to previous treatments - not least, Lawrence Weaver's seminal Houses and Gardens by E L Lutyens (1913) and Jane Brown's in-depth study, Gardens of a Golden Afternoon (1982). M H Baillie Scott is given reasonably extended attention, but his status, as one of the few Arts and Crafts figures who explicitly and consistently regarded house and garden as a seamless whole, is only partly communicated.

The book is nicely, if over-elaborately produced. The images are lovely, but the continuity of the argument is disturbed by a tricksy graphic device, where certain passages are given emphasis through a combination of richly coloured papers and an enlarged font. The substance of the research deserves calmer presentation.

Simon Dorrell has specially redrawn many plans of the gardens for the book.

These are elegant and informative in an Arts and Crafts style that was probably unavoidable. It is a pity that the opportunity wasn't taken, in at least some cases, to represent the ground plans of the houses, rather than simply provide a hatched outline. How interesting it would be to see more precisely how house and garden are related.

It has always been particularly poignant that, within little over a decade after the publication of Das Englische Haus, British domestic architecture entered a decline as these great architects reached the ends of their working lives. The strength and substance of the Arts and Crafts house was replaced, for the most part, by a tepid Neo-Georgian.

Towards the end of her book, Tankard illustrates some examples where the principles of the Arts and Crafts garden continued beyond the decline of the architecture. Most are to be found in America. These are interesting to see, but, detached from their relationship with their architectural, climatic and botanical context, lean toward mere scenography, rather than being, in Muthesius' words, the 'wider dwelling-place'.

Dean Hawkes is an architect in Cambridge

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