The view from here
Recent restorative work has returned the garden of a renowned Arts-and-crafts house to the taste and vision of its creators, finds Steven Desmond
The garden at Standen, East Grinstead, West Sussex
Philip Webb, by then a grand old man of the Arts-and-crafts movement, must have enjoyed his first visit to Standen in West Sussex. in 1891, he approached, as we do now, along the shady country lane from east Grinstead to have a look at the site. it was just the sort of place his imagination cherished.
he arrived halfway down a hill past the cliff face of a worked-out ancient sandstone quarry onto a sort of village green overlooked by hollybush Farmhouse. A big barn closed the square on one side and a wonderful rural view opened out towards the south, stretching away, far below. Only the geese on the green challenged him as he stepped out to look over the place.
Webb had been appointed architect by James beale, a rich solicitor, but a local garden designer, George Simpson, had already been engaged to begin landscaping the site and to level the ground on which the house was to stand. Webb, a meticulous man, felt immediately uncomfortable with this arrangement. it was not long before Mr Simpson was sidelined and the position of the house had been shunted some way back against the wooded slope to the west from which it now projects.
Simpson’s partly completed layout, for which the plans survive, was adapted and remodelled by Webb. This compromise set the tone for the garden that developed over the next 40 years.
The key to the whole project, thought Webb, was that view. While he was working on-site in the mid 1890s, he wrote to the beales: ‘i could not but enjoy looking through a partly open window on the south and seeing the lovely wooded hill on the other side of the valley.’ So entranced was he by this view that he deliberately ignored the fruit pie with strawberries and cream the butler had brought him. Some view—and some intimation of Webb’s powers of restraint.
Looking at that view now from the polite comfort of the conservatory, it is subdivided in the way great rural gardens have been since the time of pliny the Younger. The eye runs out over a gardened terrace, then across a lawn that falls disconcertingly across the line of sight, then on without interruption into a pasture margined by wood. The lack of a visible boundary suggests the presence of a ha-ha, which a short walk soon discovers.