Overview

William Robinson

(1838—1935) horticulturist and publisher


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(1838–1935).

Ulster-born landscape-gardener and writer. He worked as a gardener at Curraghmore before moving to the Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin, and then to the Royal Botanic Garden, Regent's Park, London, where he remained until 1866. By that time he had become acquainted with several eminent scientists, and had begun to contribute to the Gardeners' Chronicle. In 1867 he attended the Paris Exposition, and wrote articles on horticulture for The Times and Field. He also began to write his first two books: Gleanings from French Gardens (1868) and The Parks, Promenades, and Gardens of Paris (1869). He then travelled in the Alpine region, Italy, and the USA, and published Alpine Flowers for English Gardens and The Wild Garden (both 1870) which helped to popularize a taste for hardy plants in mixed borders in natural settings. In 1871 he founded The Garden, a weekly journal, and, in 1879, Gardening Illustrated (1879–1919), which were successful, and influenced the armies of suburban gardeners of late-Victorian England, turning them away from the gaudiness of the somewhat loud mid-Victorian taste for multicoloured beds. His most successful book, The English Flower Garden, came out in 1883, went into fifteen editions during his lifetime, and became the Gospel of natural gardening. He also established the journals Farm and Home (1882–1920), Cottage Gardening (1892–8), and Flora and Sylva (1903–5). One of his most interesting books was God's Acre Beautiful (1880), ostensibly concerned with the landscaping of cemeteries, but which was a powerful polemic in favour of cremation. In 1885 he purchased the C16 Gravetye Manor, near East Grinstead, Sussex, and created there his model naturalistic garden, with woods, water, and a great variety of hardy plants. He recorded his work in The Garden Beautiful (1907), Gravetye Manor (1911), and Home Landscapes (1914). He argued firmly in favour of respecting the genius loci, and abhorred paper plans, insisting that gardens should grow out of their sites. He designed the garden at Shrublands, Ipswich, Suffolk (1880), became a close friend of Gertrude Jekyll, and was a powerful influence on Arts-and-Crafts and Domestic Revival gardens. Through Jekyll, he influenced Lutyens and others, though he quarrelled with Blomfield, who favoured terraces and formal gardens. He can be said to have been a revolutionary in English garden-design and practice. Jekyll gets most of the credit that is due to him.

Hadfield, Harling, & Highton (1980);D&E (1994);Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004)

Subjects: Architecture.


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