Garden Bursts into Bloom

This April the garden of JMW Turner’s house, Britain’s most illustrious landscape artist, will burst into bloom at Sandycombe Lodge, showing off its new design and planting scheme, completing a major restoration project of the house and grounds he designed himself in Twickenham.

Turner’s House is unique for having been designed by the 19th-century artist and is his only former home now open to the public. In his teens, Turner took lessons in architectural draughtsmanship, and once said that if he had had his time again, he would have been an architect. Sandycombe Lodge represents the realisation of his ambition and has recently been restored to his original design thanks to Heritage Lottery funding. Recognising the importance of the house, Turner’s only 3D artwork, the new garden layout acts as a frame for views of the lodge, both from the street and from the garden.

Although the garden is much smaller than in Turner’s day, the design has been informed by a drawing made by William Havell in 1814 shortly after the house was built, showing an informal scheme of cottage garden plants close to the house, with a sunlit lawn sloping eastwards. Turner made his own sketches of the site and his ideas, which followed the Regency fashion of integrating the lodge with its landscape. An early (unexecuted) sketch showed a verandah decked with climbers and informal groups of flowers and shrubs planted around the lawn framing the garden and facade of the house. Just as the design of his home was influenced by his friend John Soane’s country villa of Pitzhanger Manor, so the replanting was also informed by Soane’s garden. The planting scheme, devised by heritage expert Ellen Bramhill of Historic Environment Associates, has been a careful balancing act considering both historical precedent and current horticultural conditions and promises to give colour and interest all year round.

Spring will see a variety of historical bulbs including varieties of ‘broken’ or Rembrandt tulips followed by roses coming into flower in May and June to include the Provence, Old Blush and Autumn Damask Rose, as well as wild roses.  Like the tulips, these have been chosen for their sweet scent and pink and white petals.

Turner owned the land from 1807-26 when it was surrounded by woodland and fields. His sketches show the lane to the front edged with hedgerows and the whole plot surrounded by a low picket fence, which has been reinstated at the front. The landscaped gardens, which were once tended by his father, gave Turner a sanctuary from the hurly-burly of London life and it is known that he enjoyed picnicking and writing poetry there.

The view of his garden and the wider landscape – he would have been able to see the Thames from his bedroom window, would have been a decisive factor in his buying the original plot. The river was a favourite theme for his paintings, especially from Richmond Hill. Now the garden is designed to direct long views eastwards from the house to promote a sense of being in a wider landscape, in spite of the plot now being diminished in size and surrounded by suburban development.

Although the distant view of the Thames and Richmond Hill, is now obstructed by houses and trees, the line of his long triangular plot is still visible in the back gardens of large Victorian and Edwardian houses. And the restored house offers visitors an ingenious telescope in the artist’s bedroom that effects the view Turner would have had of the river. Another device to transport visitors back to Regency Twickenham is a digitally recreated artist’s impression of the garden as Turner would have seen it in the Little Parlour downstairs.


April 20, 2018