charleston rooftopsNestled under Firle Beacon in the Sussex Downs, Charleston was the home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant,members of the 30’s Bloomsbury Group of artists, writers and gardeners.

The garden was inspiration for their art. The couple, friends and family – including Bell’s sister Virginia Woolf – often sat and wrote or painted here.

charleston doorwayGrant and Bell’s ethos was influenced by both the arts & crafts movement and by the new post-impressionism of France. The couple were in the forefront of extending this artistic movement into the decorative arts; Bloomsbury artists rejected the traditional distinction between fine and decorative art, and the house and garden are a testament to the couple’s drive to beautify every surface. Their style was detailed yet with an easy, home-spun quality.

Consequently, there is a lovely mix of traditional Englishness and avant-garde at Charleston, including the garden’s ‘home made’ garden design, planting schemes, eccentric sculptures and atmosphere.

The general impression on a Spring morning is of a haze of colour. The effect of the hundreds of small plants is one of a harmonious whole, much like an impressionist painting or an intricate tapestry.

The effect is achieved through very dense planting and the use of low, mat-forming plants such as forget-me-not. These are mixed and accented with the taller tulips and wallflowers. More ‘brassy’ hybrids are avoided, to give a soft naturalism.

Up close, like a complex artwork, are perfect vignettes; pictures within the picture featuring unexpected pairings and colour combinations. The planting works both as a while and in detail. It was great fun getting down to view these spring jewels at bee-level!

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