four hedges – clare leighton – princes risborough
February 5, 2011
First published in 1935, this diary of work in a garden was pulled out from the bookshelf this week. I must have had the book for 20 years, given to me by my ma as a thoughtful and educational gift. Thoughtful, because Monks Risborough, where Four Hedges is located, sits at the base of the Chilterns close to where my young family also lived for a good stretch of time. Educational, because my mother developed a few gardens herself and she also had very early connections with the area – her father was the station master at Haddenham when she was small.
We had a site visit planned to view a garden on the edge of Princes Risborough about a mile away. The brain made a few clicks and connecting memories and I was keen to see if Four Hedges still existed. It does, but somewhat changed I guess – lots of infill along the lane that slowly winds and rises up the side of the hills. The landscape is quite particular at this time of year before anything is breaking into leaf – anything indigenous I should add as plenty of foreign invaders are showing off colourful exotic foliage and some flowers too – how I hate mahonias! Where the long stretch of the hills forms a dense deep grey backcloth – spiny thorns and beech – the foreground structure is all the more graphic in quality.
In winter, the intricacy of stems and twigs reveals itself. Rather like the fine lines in the engravings chiselled out of hard boxwood by Clare Leighton in her chronicle.
The diary starts in April. All of the detail compositions are beautifully noted and executed. They show an understanding, love and appreciation of her environment . . .
. . . the figures are also well observed showing exactly how the body is used in the more energetic garden tasks. The model was her partner Noel Brailsford.
The book will stay out somewhere visible for a while like the slowly smoking bonfire. Evocative, inspiring, charming and quite personal.