Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Osborne House, Isle of Wight

For this month’s blog I have nipped outside of Sussex and even taken a ferry ride to the Isle of Wight. Just along the coast from us is a Victorian gem strewn with the pomp and formality of the era. The Architect involved in the design was Thomas Cubit but it was heavily influenced by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert themselves, that is why it is one of the best examples of a ‘Victorian’ garden.

A few years ago now, I wrote about Victorian garden design in my dissertation at university and even used parts of Osborne House as examples. Walking around the gardens close to the house the most striking aspect is the formality of the layout, which is so typical of the period. We often associate it with public parks; circles or squares of brightly coloured bedding plants like flamboyant ships in a sea of green grass. However, it is not often seen nowadays due to the high cost of replacing the plants each year. I think the displays are fabulous and full of colour but I can’t imagine ever putting one into a design today.

Statues are everywhere in this garden, especially in the formal areas around the house. No opportunity has been missed to have a replica of a Greek god or Italian carving. It lends a slightly camp and ostentatious look to space, but then what else would you expect in a Royal palace?

Once you move away from the main area you start to find some more surprising elements on the estate………

An entire area bigger than most people’s gardens is devoted to the royal children, the little Princes and Princesses of the day. A life-size Swiss cottage, mini-military barracks complete with cannon and a working vegetable patch are all part of the children’s area. A good way to educate children through play; something you might think of as a modern concept. I don’t think it would be easily adjustable to our modern gardens or living but it does show that a children’s area in the garden doesn’t have to be full of bright coloured plastic, it can look good too.

The walled garden looks beautiful and is one of the softest and most floriferous spaces in the garden but it’s function was not for beauty but for work. The kitchen garden situated inside the old walls would have had the practical use of supplying fresh fruit and veg to the kitchens. The reason it also looks so lovely is that the house demanded a supply of cut flowers to adorn the many vases in the main house.

The final treat as I walked around the side of the walled garden was an elegant herbaceous border. So different from the strong colours and formal layout of the rest of the gardens; it was filled with pastel colours and billows of summer flowering plants.

I have to love the Victorians for not doing things by half. The garden is a feast for the eyes filled with fountains, statues and flowers.

Worst bits – Actually quite difficult to find any area that I didn’t find interesting but I suppose a fake Swiss Cottage may be taking it a little too far!

Best bits – The formal areas by the house and the borders of bedding plants have a real ‘wow’ factor.