The other weekend, I went along to the Garden Museum to see the current exhibition, Fashion & Gardens: Spring/Summer - Autumn/Winter. The exhibition traced the connections between garden styles and clothes fashion from the sixteenth century through to the modern day. As the blurb on the Garden Museum's website explains, 'Both gardens and dress aim to bring a sense of occasion to a season. Midsummer is more authentic if passed among organza and roses; russet velvet and gold-licked chrysanthemums concentrate our senses that autumn has arrived.' If you've followed either my posting of monthly personifications or my visits to Kew, you won't be surprised to hear that this exhibition immediately grabbed my attention.
|Artwork by Rebecca Louise Law... If only I had a space in which to hang hundreds|
of dried flowers...
It was a very... shall we say 'compact' exhibition but it was fascinating and I feel that I came out having learnt a whole lot more than I knew when I went in. And the advantage of smaller exhibitions is that you ultimately take more time to appreciate each item.
So what did I learn? I learnt about the correlation between the patterns in Elizabethan knotwork gardens and the patterns on their clothing and upholstery, demonstrated in the exhibition with the display of exquisite embroidery. I also learnt that, while floral patterns on fabrics were popular throughout much of the eighteenth century, there was a transition from sparser patterns to busier, more clustered patterns. So if I see someone in a period drama set in the 1780s, wearing a lightly patterned floral dress, I can now titter knowingly about how deeply unfashionable they are.
One of the things that I found particularly interesting, as someone quite affected by colours, was learning how trends in colours changed both in the fashion world and in gardens. The introduction of chemical (rather than plant-derived, natural) dyes made all sorts of rich, vibrant colours possible in the nineteenth century. As methods improved, production increased and prices came down, these bright colours entered the middle-class and lower-class markets. At the same time, the numerous new public gardens established in cities to provide the general public with green spaces within dense urban areas in the mid-nineteenth century were frequently planted with bright, hardy flowers. As a result, there was a backlash, and the upper classes made a return to soft, subtle colours for their clothes, achieved with natural, high quality dyes, while their private gardens and preferred flowers followed suit.
|'None of those obvious, bright colours for us, thank you very much. We're ladies.'|
Miss Martineau's Garden, John Sant, 1873 (Image source)
Also interesting was the development of garden fashions and country style, in which, as the exhibition proudly pointed out, the Brits lead the world (partly because of our love of gardens, partly because of our rubbish weather and the waterproof nature of garden and country wear, from Burberry macs, through Barbour waxed jackets, to Hunter wellies). This 'dressed down' style, which was still posh enough to differentiate the gentlemen from the labouring gardeners, began in the eighteenth century as a result of trends for connecting with nature, albeit in a highly controlled manner. Think the 'natural' but in reality highly structured Picturesque gardens with, for instance, cattle forming part of the vista from your French windows, but nicely kept at bay with a ha-ha so that they didn't actually come up and nibble and defecate on your carefully maintained lawn... Along with all this a slightly more casual 'outdoor' clothing style was adopted by the upper classes, to allow them to get down and dirty with a spot of poking around in the garden.
|Kate Middleton effortlessly bringing the 'country chic' look |
|Even the French admit defeat by the Brits on the mac style front |
Following the Fashion & Gardens exhibition, I had a wander around the rest of the museum. I've been here for talks and into the garden when the museum was closed for renovation a few years ago, but never properly explored the permanent collection. Again, it's small, but lovely.
|Scarecrow in cute cat form, c.1920s|
|'Seeds for sale'|
|The carrots are only intermediate...|
|... but the rhubarb is GIANT!|
|But they both pale in comparison to this prize tomato|
|To the memory of William Bacon|
of the Salt Office, London, Gent.
who was killed by thunder & lightning
at his window July 12th 1787
Aged 34 years