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.
Grant 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!