The story behind the Garden Snug project at Red House
We're re-imagining a 'garden room' in the Red House garden. An artistic but tranquil space, garden rooms were originally designed and implemented by William Morris.
The garden today
Red House garden was first laid out over 150 years ago and successive owners have put their own stamp on the garden.
Originally a unique and experimental garden, inspired by Morris and Webb’s love of native flowers and medieval art, it has since had numerous transformations. In the 1890s exotic blooms were all the rage and Charles Holme, the then resident, built a hot house to grow his collection of chrysanthemums. In the 1910s the owner of Red House Maude Maufe purchased an additional half acre to extend the garden, and in the 1950s formal rose beds and herbaceous borders were introduced.
With all these additions and changes, little of the original garden design remains. Morris’s original planting scheme of native British plants including cornflowers, sunflowers and delicately scented climbing roses has been supplemented with dahlias, wisteria and salvias. The apple, pear and cherry trees William Morris enjoyed have been replaced by oak, sycamore and ash which keep the suburbs of London at bay.
The team at Red House, led by Head Gardener Robert Smith, are embarking on an ambitious project to re-introduce some of the spirit of Morris’s ‘lost garden’.
While building Red House in 1859 William Morris and his architect Philip Webb put a lot of thought into the design of the garden. They wanted it to ‘clothe the house’, softening the effect of the startling red brick.
The site was originally a Kentish orchard and as many of the gnarled apple trees were kept as possible. William Morris thought of the house and garden as one, and as such introduced the concept of ‘garden rooms’, dividing the garden into a series of small enclosures surrounded by wattle fencing.
Echoes of these ‘rooms’ can still be seen today. The bowling green was an area for family play; the well courtyard was originally bordered by wattle fencing and was a space for Morris and his friends to relax.
Planting and materials were important to Morris, who preferred to use wood over metal, and chose native plants in a wild planting style.
" fill up the flower-growing space with things that are free and interesting in their growth, leaving nature to do the desired complexity "
The Garden Snug Project
2019 saw the start of a year long project to re-imagine one of William Morris’s garden rooms. Using maps from the 1860s we are following the footprint of one of the original ‘rooms’ to the north of the house. The project was temporarily paused during the Coronavirus pandemic, but work has resumed in later 2020 and 2021.