logocolour bestWelcome to the Birkbeck Garden History Group web site. The group is interested in studying garden history through lectures, garden visits and exhibitions and in encouraging others to become interested in the subject of garden history. Click on the links along the top of the page to find out more about the BGHG and our activities. Click ‘Follow’ at the bottom of this page on the right to receive alerts when new items are posted.

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July 2020 Update

A new page, devoted to Online Studies, has been added to our Garden History Studies section. The Online Studies page will carry information about online and distance learning courses and are those which have always been or will normally be delivered online. Courses and lectures which are being delivered by Zoom (or similar online mechanism) due to COVID-19 restrictions, will continue to be shown on the traditional Lectures & Talks, Short Courses or Longer Courses pages. 

Courses offered by Oxford University Department of Continuing Education, The Learning Experts, and ACE Distance Education are currently featured.  

The Garden History Research Foundation has been added to our Useful Links page

With COVID-19 restrictions still constraining our usual activities we have put together the July Garden Quiz which you will find on our COVID-19 GARDENS QUIZ page, alongside a set of clues, as well as answers to the June Quiz. 

As a change to our usual excerpt from BGHG’s publication, Digging Deeper, full details of which are still available on our Publications page, we this month feature an excerpt from a book published in 2018 by London Parks & Gardens Trust (now The London Gardens Trust), to which a number of BGHG members contributed, Repton in London. 

‘Humphry Repton may have been the first professional designer (or to use his own term ‘landscape gardener’) employed to prepare designs for gardens which were not entirely private to the owner, but impacted on the public in general. In producing his designs, Repton was using his general landscape principles but adapting them to relatively small regular spaces closed in and overlooked on all sides by residential buildings. He wanted to appeal to the outside observer as well as offering private space for residents. His aim was to make the enclosures appear as large as possible, with appropriate positioning of planting so that the whole space could not be seen at once and the boundaries were blurred, the whole look to be closer to nature than formal in layout. In the Cadogan Square design he came closest to a landscape garden with undulating paths around the square. In Russell Square, he was forced to work with a levelled space and an earlier layout, while in Bloomsbury Square his plans were largely unexecuted, the linear connection between the two squares being the main feature remaining.’ (Chapter 4, Repton’s London Squares: Russell Square, Bloomsbury Square and Cadogan Square, by Susan Jellis).

Details of how to purchase a copy of Repton in London are provided on the Publications page, where you will also find  details of books on Repton’s work in Norfolk, Hertfordshire, and  Yorkshire. A fuller list of books published by County Gardens Trusts on Repton’s work in different counties or specific sites can be found here.

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June Update III

A increasing number of online lectures and courses are available over the coming months.  Details of the following have been added to the appropriate page on this website:   

A series of lectures by garden historian Dr David Marsh are being offered by The Gardens Trust: Little Men in Red Hats: The Story of Garden Gnomes (June); Tools of the Trade: a history of garden tools (July); and Garden history in the making? The story of my garden (July). Each lecture will be available on a choice of dates & times. For full details visit Lectures & Talks.

At Longer Garden History Courses you will find details of the following courses:

 The History of Garden Design. Taught by Dr Toby Musgrave, this 4-week online course  can be taken anytime, with a choice of two available formats. 

An Introduction to Garden History course being delivered by Stephen Smith for The Course London. 

Diploma in Garden History run by The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, in association with The Gardens Trust. This course is not yet open for registration but you can see details of the course and register your interest for the future. 

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June Update II

The Medici Gardens of the Renaissance

The Garden Historians have moved their next course online and will deliver it using Zoom in association with the Highgate Literary & Scientific Institution. 

The course will run for 4 weeks starting on Tuesday, 9 June 10.00 -12.30 and costs £80.00

Sessions will include: Patronage and Power; The Utens Lunettes; Myths, Grottoes and Monsters in the garden; and Health, Wealth and Parties

The Course Tutor will be Deborah Trentham who has a background in Art and Architectural History and has been teaching Garden History for nearly 20 years.

Deborah runs courses in garden history from medieval times to the present day and specialises in the gardens of the Italian Renaissance.

For further information and to book visit HLSI


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June 2020 Update

COVID-19 Update

The Committee has reluctantly made the decision to cancel our visits planned for 20 July, 5 August and 12 September.  We are hoping we can re-book these for the same months in 2021: Sussex Prairie Gardens & St. Mary’s House & Gardens Bramber in July; Pashley Manor & Great Dixter in August; and our ‘Pulhamite and Pugin’ tour of Ramsgate in September.

We remain hopeful that it may be possible to hold our proposed Study Visit on the Wimpole Estate at the end of September and our planned visit to the gardens of Westminster Abbey in October; decisions on these will be made nearer the time.  

Sussex Prairie Gardens are reopening on 1 June and keen to welcome individuals able to make their own way to the gardens and follow social distancing guidelines. Full details are available at Sussex Prairie Gardens

Alongside answers to our May quiz you will now find our June 2020 Gardens Quiz  at COVID-19 GARDENSN QUIZ

Online Events 

Meanwhile, many events are being delivered online. Those that may be of particular interest to garden historians include: 

As detailed on our Garden History Lectures & Talks page the next IHR History of Landscapes and Gardens seminar on 4 June at 18.00 will be delivered by Jemima  Hubberstey from the University of Oxford who will talk on Intellectual Gardens in the Mid-Eighteenth Century.

On Friday 12 June at Strawberry Hill House, BGHG member Sandra Pullen will be giving a talk on Horace Walpole and the 18th Century Gardens of Strawberry Hill House. This is just one activity offered as part of the Strawberry Hill Flower Festival which includes a variety of talks, demonstrations and workshops. For full details, including how to book visit our Outside Events page.   


The Paul Mellon Centre are offering a number of Podcasts this summer

Available from 24th June will be a podcast on The MEDICINAL GARDEN by Clare Hickman, Claire Preston & Carole Rawcliffe. Some members may well remember the interesting talk given by Clare Hickman following the BGHG AGM in 2017.

For details of this and other Paul Mellon podcasts see Outside Events 


Details of The English Folly: The Edifice Complex by Gwyn Headley & Wim Meulenkamp, due to be published later this month, can be found at Publications 

As usual we offer here a further extract from BGHG’s own publication, Digging Deeper. This month we highlight Chapter 2: John Hay (1758-1836), Scottish garden planner, and his search for the ideal heating system for glasshouses, by Doreen Wilson.

‘Charles McIntosh (1794 -1864) appears to suggest in The Book of the Garden that Hay was involved in the design of the heating system at “Messrs Loddige at Hackney, and the plant houses in the garden of the Duke of Northumberland at Sion House, Middlesex”. One of Hay’s few references to his works is made in the Memoirs of the Caledonian Horticultural Society where he confirms his involvement at Alnwick: “In the year 1807 I had the honour to be consulted by his Grace, the late Duke of Northumberland with a view to rebuilding the hothouses at Alnwick Castle, which chiefly consisted of grape and pine houses, and was desired by His Grace to furnish him with plans for executing the work on the most approved principles. His Grace directed me to provide for the heating of one of the pine pits by steam, as he had seen an attempt of this kind in Scotland a number of years before.” 

Digging Deeper, Postgraduate research papers in Garden History is still available for purchase: see Publications for how to buy your copy. 


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May Update II

WEDNESDAY 20 May 2020 from 18.00 -19.00

Stoke Newington’s historic Abney Park Cemetery today celebrates its 180th anniversary with two virtual live talks.

‘The cemetery’s gatekeepers at Abney Park Trust have been providing free online treats to mark the birthday, and those continue with this evening’s double bill.

Kicking off at 7pm, local historian Alan Gartrell will cover the 1840 book Cemetery Interment by George Collinson, the first secretary of the company responsible for Abney Park Cemetery. It will go into the where, who, why’s and how’s of the park and its formation.

Cemetery guide Sam Perrin will then give a talk about the suffragette history of Abney Park, looking into personal stories and the wider context of the women who fought for their rights and are now laid to rest there.’

You can register here for this hour-long event – which is free, but donations are welcomed. 

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May Update

This month sees the arrival of our monthly COVID-19 Gardens Quiz

Each month whilst our activities are constrained by COVID-19 our Quiz will feature twelve gardens that have been visited over the years by Birkbeck Gardens History Group.

We hope many of them will be familiar to you but to help you along we have also provided some clues.

Click here to access the Quiz.

Two further books have been added to our Publication page: The Dumbarton Oaks Anthology of Chinese Garden Literature by Alison Hardie; and Thinking a Modern Landscape Architecture, West & East: Christopher Tunnard, Sutemi Horiguchi by Marc Treib. 

BGHG’s own publication Digging Deeper, an interesting collection of MA Research Papers, is still available (details of how to purchase can be found on the Publications page). The following is an extract from Chapter 1: Circuit Gardens in Eighteenth-century English Landscape Gardens: The Complexity and Interdependence of Circuit Types.

There were two important aspects of the walk that Southcote created that helped shape the development of the English landscape garden.  Firstly, according to Joseph Spence, Southcote believed that gardening should appropriate the art of painting using ‘perspective, prospect distancing and attraction’ to create the illusions that the landscaper wanted. Whately’s account shows that Southcote created a series of views and resting points that were designed to obscure the art(ifice) that had been involved in their creation.’

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April Update III

Even if you can’t enjoy London’s green spaces to the same extent as usual you can still appreciate the capital’s trees by joining a Museum of Walking virtual tour:

Saturday 25 April 18.00 -19.00 via Zoom

Explore the Urban Forest with Paul Wood: Great Streetview Trees of London

Join Paul Wood on a 45-minute guided virtual tour around the capital looking at some of London’s greatest trees. Paul will share some of his own images, discuss the individual stories of each tree he selects, and talk about the history of ‘Great Trees‘ in London.  There will be a chance to ask questions at the end of the tour. Paul Wood is the author of a number of books about London trees, including London is a Forest, details of which can be seen on our Publications page.

To find out more and book a place on the tour visit https://www.museumofwalking.org.uk/events/explore-the-urban-forest-with-paul-wood-great-streetview-trees-of-london/

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April Update II

Details of the online History of Gardens and Landscapes seminars at the Institute of Historical Research have now been confirmed. There will be four seminars held fortnightly starting on 21st May. Visit Garden History Lectures & Talks for details and how to book your place. Once you’ve booked your place you will be given details of how to join the seminar via Zoom – an easy-to-use facility which requires no previous knowledge. 

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April 2020 Update

Birkbeck Garden History Group Committee 2020

The BGHG Constitution requires its committee to meet within one month of the Annual General Meeting and elect Officers for the forthcoming year. Since our AGM on 12th March the committee has been unable to meet together physically but using digital communications the new 2020 committee has now been confirmed.

The Committee welcomes Susan Jellis (previously Vice-Chair) as Chair; and Joan Pateman (previously Chair) as Secretary. Other officers remain as before. The full list of committee members can be seen at BGHG Committee

With the current closure of many institutions and social distancing requirements likely to continue, many activities are being moved online. It seems likely that the forthcoming Summer Term seminars at the IHR will be delivered online (using Zoom – an easy-to-use free application designed for video or audio conferencing, chat, and webinars. It allows up to 100 people to listen and watch a presentation and participate in a discussion for up to 40 minutes). Once arrangements have been confirmed we will post further details on our Garden History Lectures & Talks page.

The Gardens Trust is developing a new campaign for 2020 -2022: UNFORGETTABLE GARDENS

Since the advent of COVID-19 Unforgettable Gardens seems more relevant than ever as on the one hand COVID-19 is likely to impact adversely on the care and survival of gardens across the country, whilst on the other it is highlighting the importance of parks and gardens as places near home where we can all enjoy fresh air and take exercise whilst the country is under lockdown. Visit http://thegardenstrust.org/campaigns/unforgettable-gardens-saving-our-garden-heritage/ to find out more and how you can get involved.

Changes are being made to The URBAN TREE FESTIVAL in May 2020. See our Outside Events page for further information 

Just one new publication, focusing on Marjorie Post’s garden in Washington, D.C. has been added to our Publications page

After a break of several months we are now resuming our monthly extract from Digging Deeper, BGHG’s 2019 publication of MA Research papers.

This month’s extract is from Chapter 7: The Development of Achamore Gardens on the Hebridean Island of Gigha, 1900-2016 by Helen Haugh. Members who attended the BGHG 2019 AGM will remember Helen’s interesting talk which followed the business meeting.

‘The GARDEN, which is substantially walled in, is tastefully laid out, and its quaint old Herbaceous Borders are an attractive feature. It is well stocked with Fruit Trees and Bushes and contains a small Greenhouse in good order. There are comfortable cottages near the Garden for the Gardener and other servants. The POLICIES have been much improved and enlarged in recent years, and, with the MANSION HOUSE and GARDEN, cover about 63 acres, all well fenced, and laid out with much taste. About a third of the above area (situated in close proximity to the Mansion House) consists of old PLANTATIONS intersected by numerous GRASS WALKS. The remaining, and greater portion of this area, is under thriving young mixed Plantations’ (Knight Frank and Rutley, Sales particulars for Gigha, 1911)

Copies of Digging Deeper are still available: see our Publications page for how to purchase your copy.

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March II Update

When we are confined to our homes by the coronavirus it’s always good to see new reading material becoming available and this month has produced a perfect gem for garden historians – the biography of a figure who will need little or no introduction: Mavis Batey.

Mavis Batey: Bletchley Codebreaker, Garden Historian, Conservationist, Writer by Jean Stone, traces her life through codebreaker at Bletchley Park during WWII to her interest and achievements in the conservation and preservation of gardens.

Mavis became an important figure in conservation, becoming President of the Garden History Society, which, under her watch, became an academic society and campaigning force for the protection of landscapes, parks, and gardens of historic interest. She also lobbied Parliament, fighting threats of encroachment and misuse of land. Acts of Parliament were passed, English Heritage was established, and grants were introduced. Historic gardens became officially recognised as essential components of European culture and her National Register of Historic Gardens came to fruition. Mavis’s passion was writing and she wrote many books.’

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