Lutyens and Peto – Their Garden Designs

Two events crystallized the idea of this comparison of the garden designs of Lutyens and Peto; first the re-opening to public view of the gardens of The Salutation for the first time in 25 years, and then the publication of Robin Whalley’s book Great Edwardian Gardens of Harold Peto.

Here we have two great garden designers of the Edwardian age who are rarely thought of together, yet in 1887 Lutyens spent a year’s pupilage with the fashionable practice of George and Peto and he is bound to have absorbed some of their joint ideas in this time before opening his own office. Just three years later Peto was amicably to sever his partnership with Ernest George provided he no longer designed houses in this country for the next 16 years.

This was Peto’s launch pad. From the 1880s onward he had travelled extensively, not only around Europe but to the USA, Japan, and even Egypt, sowing restless seeds but also giving him an established knowledge and love of both Classical and Renaissance architecture which would bear fruit in his garden design. He had longed to escape the dirt and noise of the metropolis and this was his chance. Unlike Lutyens, later he had the good fortune to buy his own house Iford Manor, restoring both house and garden, adding to it his important collection of classical and renaissance architecture. Incidentally, Lutyens’s name appears in the visitors’ book. From here he went on to design not only renowned villas and gardens on the Riviera but also gardens in this country.

By contrast Lutyens stayed firmly tied to Great Britain, first designing in the vernacular, well tutored by our respected Gertrude Jekyll, but later developing his distinctive “Wrenaissance” style as we see at The Salutation. His gardens like Peto’s are renowned, but they differ. We have a full description of many from the hand of Jekyll in her book Garden Ornament, first published in 1916, many of Lutyens but even more descriptions of those of Peto whether in this country or France.

“It need not have taken centuries for us to perceive how conveniently pergolas could be suited to every degree and kind of gardening from the highest expression of architectural refinement as shown in the work of Harold Peto to the smallest erection of posts or even poles in a cottage garden”.

Jekyll was not decrying Lutyens’s work at this point, but it is a fact that Peto adopted a higher plane if you like, his pergolas often created from original classical pillars imported from Italy (in the days when such things were acceptable) perhaps of Istrian stone such as at Hinton Admiral. Whereas with Lutyens what we admire today are his magical vernacular creations of local stone, often square and round pillars alternating and married to the landscape.

In the treatment of water they also differ. But do we find Lutyens later moving into a more Petoesque mode? Peto working from 1900 to 1914, his water features, whether at Buscot or Hartham or Bridge House, Weybridge, are canals edged in Jekyll’s words with “ large clean lines which set off the masses of foliage while the light surface of the paving contrast with the dark reflections”…. Buscot. Lutyens by contrast in his early years is venturing down the route of rills whether at Deanery Gardens or Hestercombe, but by 1912 on his re-visit to Folly Farm he too is adopting the thought of a wide clean canal. Any influence I ask?

Summerhouses – both are avid designers of these delightful garden buildings bringing the house into the garden, but Peto always in the Italian style. A visit to Iford Manor near Bradford-on-Avon, still lovingly cared for by the Cartwright- Hignett family, will be proof enough. Lutyens’s are just as gorgeous but essentially vernacular.

Paths – Lutyens’s fine geometrical paved paths are unsurpassed – e.g. Folly Farm and The Salutation BUT they both strangely introduced the use of millstones in their gardens whether at Iford, Heale House, Munstead Wood or Goddards to name a few. Who got there first I ask?

Finally the planting of gardens – Among the former personal collection of Peto’s own books, is a vellum-bound copy, personally inscribed by W. Robinson of his Wild Garden and a first edition of Jekyll’s Wall and Water Garden inscribed again to him by her, and with his own notes of his favourite plants for each season based on her book. Sadly planting plans have largely vanished but a visit to Iford will give us a clear indication of his planting knowledge, e.g. Phillyrea, being one of his signature shrubs. Lutyens of course always had his mentor “Bumps” to hand, and his plant knowledge was limited to the love of his signature Brunswick fig.

So these two great men have left us a wonderful legacy of fine Edwardian gardens many of which we can still visit today but under the watchful eye of our great gardening guru Gertrude Jekyll.

Jane Balfour