|NOT Sheffield Park and Gardens.|
Back in the day I had a girlfriend who, on one occasion, insisted we visit a place in East Sussex called Sheffield Park and Gardens. I went along and I didn’t complain, at least not too much, but at the time I could think of few things more boring or more staid or (god forbid) middle aged than going for a walk in a garden.
Well, if we’re lucky enough to survive, middle age has a way of happening to us whether we want it to or not. And these days walking in a garden seems a great pleasure. I accept that it remains bit staid but it’s seldom boring, and I suppose that’s because I’ve trained myself not to be bored.
I didn’t take any photographs of Sheffield Park at the time, but all the current images show this path and bridge, and I’ve just about convinced myself that I remember them.
More than that, I discover that Sheffield Park and Garden now has a section called Walk Wood, a piece of woodland acquired as a windbreak for the main garden, and at the moment it contains work by a local artist named Keith Pettit who, according to the website, “has created a collection of sculptures that form a new trail through the woodland.”
I’d like to see that, but I happen to find myself living some five and a half thousand miles away. But now that I like gardens, I’ve been able to console myself by visiting at Lotusland, a 37 acre garden up the coast by Santa Barbara. The last owner Ganna Walska (1887-1984) certainly made it what it is today though the overall estate was established in 1882 by Ralph Kinton Stevens who named it "Tanglewood" and turned it unto a lemon and palm and olive nursery. This, I gather, is how it looked in 1896:
The estate changed hands quite a few times until Madame Walska bought it in 1941 the intention of naming it Tibetland and using it as a retreat for Tibet monks. Her then husband Theos Bernard who was a scholar of Tibetan Buddhism and called himself “the first white lama.”
There are still signs of their plans:
And although there’s nothing resembling a “sculpture trail,” there are these things French “grotesques,” from a previous estate Madame Walska had outside of Paris before the war. When the Nazis came, she fled, and her gardeners who remained buried the grotesques and madam’s Rolls Royce in a hole in the garden, where they remained until the end of hostilities when they were excavated and found to be intact.
These days Lotusland owned by a trust and is open to the public, but you have to have reservations and unless you’re a member – which is a pricey business – you’re only allowed to walk in the garden as part of guided tour.
Our guide was excellent and the group was small and I knew what I was getting myself into, but even so it was still a bit constraining. In a two hour walk you cover about a mile and a half, so there’s inevitably as much standing about as there is walking, which is not entirely what the psychogeographer ordered.
Hard to imagine that Madame Walska was much of a walker, though she did take a daily stroll around her garden, and I imagine came back with a list of improvements to give to the gardener. One also imagines that a walk with Madame Walska would have been a rather theatrical affair.