Gardening: The Timeless Legacy of a Pioneering Gardener; Emma Gosnell Discovers the Work of Humphry Repton Is Still Going Strong in Birmingham

By Gosnell, Emma | The Birmingham Post (England), January 15, 2000 | Go to article overview

Gardening: The Timeless Legacy of a Pioneering Gardener; Emma Gosnell Discovers the Work of Humphry Repton Is Still Going Strong in Birmingham


Gosnell, Emma, The Birmingham Post (England)


The man who made gardening an art form long before the likes of Alan Titchmarsh and Charlie Dimmock helped design a Birmingham garden still in existence today.

Born in 1752 to prosperous parents, Humphry Repton became the first person to call himself a landscape gardener when he decided to combine his two favourite hobbies.

Writing in 1783, he described the new term as "most proper, as the art can only be perfected by the united powers of the landscape painter and the practical gardener."

And when he took to advising the rich and famous on changes to their seats by drawing paintings of his proposals, Birmingham banker John Taylor was among his clients.

Among Repton's more amusing plans for the grounds of Moseley Hall (now part of Moseley Hall Hospital) was his suggestion that views of Birmingham's "gaudy red houses" should be concealed.

In his new book, Humphry Repton - Landscape Gardening and the Geography of Georgian England, academic Stephen Daniels portrays Repton as a man obsessed with the ugliness of industrial cities.

Apparently, Repton was particularly distressed by the fact that even Moseley Hall's numerous trees weren't enough to cover up the eyesore of the city's rooftops.

He deplored the fact Taylor lived "in so populous a neighbourhood that scarce a branch can be lopped off that will not let into view some red house or scarlet tiled roof".

In a failed attempt to be tactful, he added: "The town of Birmingham, tho' in some parts of view may be a beautiful object, must be introduced only in part, and instead of removing trees to the North-West, I should rather advise that a few more be placed upon the lawn to hide more of the gaudy red houses."

He was obviously relieved to find one perspective that wasn't so hideous, a spot from the North of Moseley Hall which made Birmingham "look so picturesque, so low down the hill, as to not see much of that flaming red part of town, but merely St Philip's Church, and the neighbouring houses thro' the intermediate smoke, which gives that misty tone of colour, so much the object of landscape-painters".

Unluckily for Repton his plans to improve the view from other angles by adding more trees were never taken up. He certainly wouldn't have approved of the view from Moseley Hall Hospital today, which is obscured by the busy Salisbury road and numerous "scarlet roofs". …

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