Sir Roy Strong explains Laskett bequest

Sir Roy Strong has revealed why he is giving The Laskett garden in Herefordshire to the Perennial charity.

Sir Roy Strong pic: Jonathan Myles
Sir Roy Strong pic: Jonathan Myles

He revealed he was to bequest the garden to industry charity Perennial in July 2015. Earlier the National Trust had controversially turned down looking after the garden when former V&A director Strong, 80, dies.

He said on the long-term future of the gardens: "I probably won’t be here in 10 or 15 years’ time, so I’m pleased because the garden will be passed on to worthy custodians. I’m delighted that Perennial, the Gardeners' Royal Benevolent Fund, have agreed to take charge of it. They already have quite a group of gardens and they are wonderful to work with. They’re also happy to have secured the future of the garden. It’s a gift to them but also as a gift to the area which has nothing like it. I don’t however, want it to just stop still, I don’t want a shrine. I’m a great one for saying when anything gets old and boring get out the axe and chop it down and start something new. A garden is a vibrant, changing, living thing. It’s not a mummified object."

Strong explained how The Laskett gardens went to Perennial: "Well I owe it to Bunny Guinness who suggested Perennial, a great stroke of luck. I think you make your own luck though in a funny sort of way. The only thing I’ve put in the agreement with Perennial, because you know there are no sure things, is something about if it changes hands again. All I’ve asked is that if that happens that the very personal aspects of the garden that I’ve put a lot of myself in to would be removed. That’s not very likely though."

Strong said: "I’ve done such enormous changes to the garden over the past five years. A garden every 30 to 40 years needs rethinking, trees replaced and some updating of the planting. I’ve built things like the Colonnade Court which is a lovely alfresco theatre space with some great acoustics. We often allow charities to host events there, with musicians playing in the garden. I also built a grotto to celebrate my 80th birthday with a statue of Apollo."

Strong added that the 2016 Visit Britain for Gardens Scheme "coincides well with the year of Capability Brown. The interest in gardens in England is always massive and there are so many available to visit across the country. I’m in some ways notorious as I wrote some of the early histories of formal gardening. I dedicated the book to all those gardens destroyed by Capability Brown and his followers. The Capability Brown people all went raving mad and said it was dreadful for me to do that but I think there’s a question of balance. We are lucky to have created a garden style that went all the way through Europe. The formal garden is adaptable to small areas. The landscape garden isn’t. Although I understand Capability Brown’s work was important, it’s gardening on a massive scale. Sometimes people offer to give me trees and I tell them "please don’t, I don’t have a park".

The former museum director added that he finds English gardens special because of the 'English parterre': "That’s verdant green turf cut into patterns. We all know England has this very moist climate so the grass was always very green that’s one aspect that makes them different. It’s very difficult to get an English style garden in Italy. But there are also other things like the plant hunters during the days of the Empire. People on an island always want to get off them. The British always wanted to get on a ship and bring something back so we became huge plant collectors. So there’s a fascination with plants. I also think that gardening occupies neutral territory. Apart from football and rugby nothing is left from someone that has a vast and wonderful garden or someone that has a few pots on the windowsill. I think it’s a great classless and uniting pleasurable activity." 

Strong said his influences as a gardener came from kindly horticulturists: "As someone who is not formally trained as a horticulturist, I’ve never had anything but kindness from garden people. When I started writing books about gardening, which were extremely successful, I always got encouragement. So that’s the difference. The people who influenced me who I knew were people like John Farrell the great decorator who has the most beautiful small formal garden at King Henry’s Hunting Lodge outside Basingstoke. Rosemary Verey over in Gloucestershire, she was a great encourager, her visits were huge. There is this network of people who knew each other who were keen on gardens. I delivered the eulogy at Rosemary’s memorial service. Other people like Beth Chatto and Elizabeth Banks, the first woman president of the RHS, she lives not far from here. Penelope Hobhouse was an inspiration too and Valerie Finnis or Lady Douglas Scott as she was known, was a formidable plant woman. After I left the museum I had time to get to know some of these people and I’ve always found them a delight."

Strong will be taking a tour through The Ultimate Travel Company, to explore gardens on the shores of the northern Italian lakes of Maggiore and Como. See

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