Apollo Magazine

Eight artists’ gardens that are artworks in their own right

Artists have often been inspired by gardens – and some have created outdoor masterpieces of their own

Illustration: Tom Lobo Brennan

Artists have often looked for inspiration outdoors and some have created gardens that are masterpieces of planting and landscaping. Apollo’s editors pick eight of the best. 

Charleston, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant

The garden at Charleston, East Sussex. Photo: © Charleston Trust/Fiona Dennis

The home of Bell and Grant from 1916, Charleston was the meeting place of the Bloomsbury group and inspired its artists for more than a century. The walled garden of the old farmhouse was designed in stages by several of its members. Roger Fry designed the lawn, pool and flower beds after the First World War; in the 1940s Quentin Bell created a mosaicked piazza out of broken crockery.

Giverny, Claude Monet

Claude Monet sitting on a bench beside the water lily pond in his garden at Giverny, 1910s. Photo: © Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Monet moved to the Norman village of Giverny in 1883, and developed his flower and water gardens in the decades that followed. Much of his money went on buying plants, and in time he employed six gardeners to maintain his horticultural haven. Restored from 1977 onwards (the pond had to be dug again), the garden has all the colour that captivated Monet – even if, with half a million visitors a year, selfie sticks now mingle with stalks, iPads with lily pads.

Little Sparta, Ian Hamilton Finlay

Apollon Terroriste by Ian Hamilton Finlay at Little Sparta. Photo: yellow book ltd/Wikimedia Commons (used under a Creative Commons licence [CC BY 2.0])

The garden the writer and artist created with his wife Sue MacDonald Lockhart at their home in Lanarkshire is a total work of art – and an act of will. Finlay’s work is allusive and playful, but establishing a garden in such an exposed and isolated moorland site is no joke. Finlay and the craftsmen he collaborated with frequently reworked his poems and sculptures across different forms and mediums; the version at Little Sparta is usually the best.

Majorelle Garden, Jacques Majorelle


The Majorelle Garden, Marrakech. Photo: giggel/Wikimedia Commons (used under Creative Commons licence [CC BY 3.0])

Before International Klein Blue, there was Majorelle Blue – the vivid shade, thought to be inspired by the cobalt used in Moroccan tiles, that the French painter Jacques Majorelle used throughout his garden and villa-studio in Marrakech. The artist, said to have described ‘this enclosure of floral verdure as [my] most beautiful work’, was beset in his latter years by financial difficulties that forced him open the garden to public admission and later to sell it altogether, after which it fell into disrepair. In 1980 Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé bought and restored the site, which is now one of Marrakech’s most glamorous attractions.

Munstead Wood, Gertrude Jekyll

The Summer Garden at Munstead Wood. Image courtesy Gardenvisit

The horticulturalist, artist and writer Gertrude Jekyll’s understanding of garden design was inspired by the use of colour and texture in the paintings of Turner and the Impressionists. The garden at Munstead Wood, her home from 1882, shows the full range of her gift for bringing these qualities to life. Jekyll’s Arts and Crafts style house was designed by Edward Lutyens to complement the garden, in the first of a series of influential collaborations between the gardener and the architect.

Prospect Cottage, Derek Jarman

Derek Jarman’s cottage at Dungeness, Kent. Photo: courtesy Art Fund

‘Paradise haunts gardens, and some gardens are paradises. Mine is one of them.’ So said the filmmaker and artist Derek Jarman of his garden on the shingle shore around Prospect Cottage, near Dungeness Power Station in Kent. The back garden in particular, with no beds or borders to mark its bounds, is a place of sparse, lyrical beauty.

Seebüll, Emil Nolde

Emil Nolde’s garden in Seebüll. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Jens Cederskjold (used under Creative Commons licence [CC BY 3.0])

Nolde’s flower paintings are the most purely enjoyable part of his oeuvre – certainly compared with his angst-ridden religious paintings. In 1927 the artist and his wife Ada bought a house at Seebüll near the German-Danish border and began to turn the surrounding grassland into a flourishing home for the perennials, shrubs and fruit plants that feature in the watercolours Nolde painted en plein air and the oil paintings he worked on in his studio.

Trewyn Studio and Garden, Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth’s garden at Trewyn, St Ives. Photo: Rowena Ford/Wikimedia Commons (used under a Creative Commons licence [CC BY-SA 2.0])

Barbara Hepworth’s biomorphic forms have always breathed best in outdoor settings, so it’s no surprise that the artist’s own sculpture garden at her studio in St Ives offers some delightful encounters with her work. Hepworth, who moved into the property in 1949, would often work on her sculptures outdoors, and many of them are still situated where she originally placed them. The garden itself was also designed and planted by the artist, who was assisted by her friend the composer Priaulx Rainier.
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