â€œI have always tried to shape gardens each as a harmony linking people to nature, house to landscape, the plant to its soil. Everything that distracts from the idea of a unity must go.â€Russell Page, The Education of a Gardener, 1962
One of the pre-eminent landscape designers of the twentieth century is Russell Page. You can’t help but admire his strong lines and beautifully furnished gardens. A designer of international renown, he was a British landscaper who made his home in France and designed gardens in Europe, and the United States; throughout the world, in fact, including the Middle East and South America. He had studied Classical and Islamic gardens, producing a memorable read, “The Education of a Gardener”, which distilled his adventures and opinions.
PageÂ had a distinct vision which influenced the garden world of the Twentieth century. Imbued with a classical serenity and calm, yet with the life of the plants billowing and abounding, he draws upon the best of British garden sense to create his unmistakeable mark upon the landscape.
ExpertÂ Design Keys
Key concepts from Russell Page’s writings:
The best way to gather his design tips and opinions is, of course, by reading his books and essays, but here are a few concepts in a nutshell.
- Paths are all-important. Paths indicate the structure of a garden plan, and the stronger and simpler the lines they follow the better.
- …Repetition or the massing of one simple element
- … Beneath all the charms of a garden will lie a logical and direct framework
- A windy garden is unrewarding
- Style and site are interconnected. Style in a garden must reflect the style of the house of which it must be considered as the extension.
- Each garden is its own small world. Each is different; each has its own nature.
- A few years of neglect and only the skeleton of a garden can be traced
“The mysterious role of water – its ability to create a harmonious atmosphere – always intrigued him.”  And features often found within his gardens were such installations as reflection pools.
Right here, in Columbus, Ohio, The Columbus Museum of Art had one of 13 gardens designed by Russell Page in the USA: the Russell Page Sculpture Garden was located on the premises of the Columbus Museum of Art. Built in 1979, in recent years it no longer bore much resemblance to Page’s original plan, and has been displaced since 2010. A fact bemoaned by those who love a fine garden.
It is a short sighted attitude which discards the art of a finely made garden.
Born in 1906, in Lincolnshire, England, Russell Page’s architectural and gardening urges began early… with such projects as rerouting streams and gathering up leaf mold, all the while drawing the scenes around him. From a collection of garden books he taught himself to draw and work out problems in design. His mother was an apt gardener and she influenced his developing interest in planting gardens.
Quotes from Russell Page:
“Like other English garden makers in this century I was at first very much influenced by the work of Gertrude Jekyll and Edwin Lutyens. Over the years, working in France and Italy, my approach to designing was modified by the greater formality of classical French planning and the more sculptural approach of the Italian tradition.”
“Whether I am making a landscape or a garden or arranging a window-box I first address the problem as an artist composing a picture ; my pre-occupation is with the relationship between objects whether I am dealing with woods, fields or water, rocks or trees, shrubs and plants or groups of plants.”
“…the most striking and satisfying visual pleasure comes from the repetition or the massing of one simple element.”
“…there was one thing you cannot change and that is the owner” –
” To have ‘green fingers’ or a ‘green thumb’ is an old expression which describes the art of communicating the subtle energies of love to prosper a living plant.”
“”My understanding is that every object emanates – sends out vibrations beyond its physical body which are specific to itself. These vibrations vary with the nature of the object, the materials it is made of, its colour, its textures and its form. Any tree has twigs, branches and a trunk – the bark on a twig is other than that of its trunk – the texture of foliage varies through the seasons. So too with a stone – the material and texture of marble differ from those of sandstone or granite, and like the shape and colour of a flower or a fruit these dictate the speed and spread of the emanations of each particular object and thus the interplay between objects. I have experimented endlessly with this idea.
. . .if your garden is to have ‘magic’ you have to take your work further and give it an extra dimension”
“I know now that one cannot be taught to design gardens academically or theoretically. You have to learn the ways and nature, of plants and stone, of water and soil at least as much through the hands as through the head.”
–The Education of a Gardener
On The Web
Garden of Russel Page, photos