Humphry Repton: Art & Nature for the Duke of Bedford opens at the Bedfordshire property on Friday , the 200th anniversary of Repton’s death.
Titchmarsh, who has just finished filming the next series of Love Your Garden, said he "felt a great affinity" with Repton and it was not true that you could not be a fan of both Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown and Repton".
Comparing Repton to himself and other landscape gardeners, Titchmarsh said: "We are in the beautification business" and said good gardeners could "feel the vibe" of a place and see its potential for improvement. That was how Capability Brown got his nickname, he said. However, where Brown designed grand Arcadian landscapes which came right up to the house, "Repton brought back the garden" and in addition, unlike Brown, left detailed documentary evidence – his famous Red Books.
Two of the books, the giant Woburn one, and a smaller Endsleigh one form the centrepiece of the exhibition inside the abbey. They are complimented by his original notes, drawings, letters, lists and budgets as well as drawings and paintings of the landscape and people involved by others, researched and arranged by curator Matthew Hirst with input from garden designer and historian Keir Davidson.
The current Duchess of Bedford, Louise, who has worked with Bedford head of estate Martin Towsey for 14 years to restore Repton’s original designs spoke of her enthusiasm when she first saw the Red Book and said that without its direction, and the hard work of the gardens team, Woburn could not have achieved the restoration they have so far completed.
Kier gave a potted history of Repton’s long connection with the Bedfords, which also resulted in the creation of Russell and Bloomsbury Squares in London. He said Repton’s Woburn work came at a time of growing tension in garden design between art and nature while Endsleigh was his robust defence of his vision as he was ageing and his style going out of fashion.
"We are all very excited about this. We hope very much that what’s been produced will make a significant contribution to this year’s celebration of his life and his work."
The launch was held in Woburn Abbey’s Sculpture Gallery, the venue for the 2018 Horticulture Week Custodian Awards, which will celebrate excellence in management of gardens, parks, grounds and trees.
Last year, the Woburn Abbey gardener won the HW Custodian Award Best Gardens or Arboretum Team. Towsey won the HW Custodian Award, which goes to a person who has made an outstanding contribution to the sector over their career.
The 2018 Custodian Awards presentation takes place on 27th June at Woburn Abbey. It is co-located with Parks & Garden Live showcase. Click here for details.