Monday, January 23, 2012

Caroline’s Garden; A Countess at Mount Edgcumbe.


Mount Edgecumbe
Mount Edgcumbe's gardens
MOUNT EDGECUMBE 4 large
Mount Edgcumbe House, from the garden
     
       Some four and half miles or so south-west of Saltram, across the Plymouth Sound and on the Rame Peninusula, is Mount Edgcumbe, which, though now in Cornwall, used to be within the Devon boundaries. Mount Edgcumbe is another of the Devon estates which has a longstanding and near unbroken chain of chronology, taking it back to its mid C16 foundations by Richard Edgcumbe, Anne Dowriche’s father. Mount Edgcumbe must have been central to Dowriche’s childhood, whether or not she lived there, or perhaps visited with her father during the period that the original house and gardens were being constructed. No one will ever know if Anne was interested in gardens or gardening, but more recent female members of the Edgcumbe descendants seem to have been. One of them was yet another of the cultured and literary gardening women related to the Talbots of Redlynch (see Wives and Daughters for evocative information about the women of that family) , who were known for their gardening pursuits.

     Caroline Augusta Feilding, 3rd Countess of Edgcumbe, married Col. Ernest Augustus Edgcumbe 3rd Earl of Mount Edgcumbe (son of Richard Edgcumbe 2nd Earl of Mount Edgcumbe), in 1831.  See a portrait of Caroline at BBC Your Paintings.

      As far as I can tell, unlike the contents of the rich Saltram archives – which hold extensive documents about the women of the Parker family -, there is little, if any, documentary evidence to be found about Caroline’s own contribution to Mount Edgcumbe’s spectacular gardens. However, I do not take that to mean her lack of active engagement in the development of the garden during her time at the estate. Anything but, judging from personal correspondence, for Caroline’s letters are brimming with rich evidence of her acute love of plants, botany, gardens and gardening. In the many letters that she wrote to her half-brother William Henry Fox Talbot Caroline intersperses scattered comments about gardens, plants and gardening – especially after her marriage, about Mount Edgcumbe’s estate. The letters range from aesthetic love and enjoyment for a particular flower or garden-space, to an inquisitive thirst for information about a species of plant, to concern about the maintenance of the garden. They even occasionally include  a garbed annoyance that Henry has not picked up a comment concerning a particular  plant and responded to it in his own return letter.

There is a gulf between Mount Edgcumbe’s actual physical garden, Caroline’s presence at the place and the link between the two, which is richly filled by her own words. Again and again her letters fill us in on her personality and her obvious passion for all things pertaining to “garden”.
Mount Edgecumbe
View from Mount Edgcumbe

What follows is a chronological cross-section taken from Caroline’s letters to her brother. They range from several years before her move to the Devon estate on her marriage and right up through her many years there. Of special interest are Caroline’s  comments whilst visiting Mount Edgcumbe not long before her marriage and her meeting with Frances, Countess of Morley, a woman who seems to have made a deep impression on the soon to be 3rd Countess of Edgcumbe.

The following excerpts, quoted at length (there are many more in the archive) from Caroline’s correspondence, mostly to her brother, will give a sense of Caroline’s love not just of her garden, but recreate her acute sensibilities towards it. They begin before her marriage and at least one of them indicates her love of her childhood garden. They end with Edgcumbe. There are many more in the archives. Hopefully one or two people who read the excerpts, not knowing about Caroline, will pursue the letters here at The Correspondence of William Henry Fox Talbot: – (just type in “Caroline Feilding” or “Caroline Edgcumbe” in the search box):
3 June 1820 My dear Henri,
We left Paris on the 25th of May, and we arrived in Chantilly, which is ten leagues from there on the same evening ... We walked in the forest, which is very beautiful, and I picked several plants which, I believe, are rare, and which I dried for you. There is also a very pretty castle where the Duke of Bourbon resides, when he comes here goes hunting, and a delightful garden that they call the hamlet, where there are streams winding through the lawn, and here and there many rustic little bridges ... Amongst some of my flowers, whilst travelling I found “yellow Irises”; Mama says that they are not very rare; but personally, I have never seen any before, so you will be the judge. I have found yet another flower, which neither Mama nor I has ever seen before; it is lilac and yellow and it grows in fields crowded with “Pink Vetch”. Horatia also has flowers for you, but I do not think they are as rare as mine. Farewell, my dear Brother ... I hope we will take many walks together to botanise; It was a great pity that it rained the next morning, so that unluckily we saw nothing. I must only advise you to go & see it whenever you can, & in the first place because it is surrounded by a very pretty country, & secondly, because I never saw such a quantity of beautiful & curious flowers of all colours; a species of ConvolvolousI think I never saw before, & a sort of ridiculous yellow flower, that hangs like bells, surrounded at the top with black, & lower down with green leaves like those of Barberries. I send you a very beautiful sort of crimson flower, that grows about a foot high; with leaves like those of a Narcissus; I am not sure that it is not the same of which Mr Montgomerie found only one specimen near the Thuner-See. I saw besides all sorts of blue flowers, some like small anemonies , & other like Viper's bugloss at a distance, but which are quite different on a near approach, but as they are now dead I cannot send them to you; as I have said a great deal about flowers ... I have studied trees here, as it is a good oportunity for there are not many about Florence, except in the Caserne. Beautiful Syclamons grow wild in the woods here, if I think of it, I will keep some for you ... Naples. 
Friday 20th May 1823.
My dear brother ... At Salerno, we went to see a very curious acqueduct of light, gothic architecture; they told us it was made by the Devil, & that it had been there since the beginning of the world. – I found near it a very curious flower; you may imagine a plant about a foot & a half high, with leaves in the shape of groundsel, only a great deal larger, & covered with large thorns; the blossom is exactly like that of a potatoe, & the same colour, (lilac) the stem also is covered with thorns. – At Pæstum I found a flower that might appear to the vulgar eye, like a dandelion, only of a lovely pink; I saw there also some beautiful pink Convolvolus ... My dear Brother I walked in Russell square yesterday and saw a papilionaceous flower about as big as half a Laburnum, and quite yellow, will you tell me the name of it ... found the fern u in the Closet and I hope you will never again suspect her of having any of your ferns or mosses in her drawers, or if she does happen to have some, not to think she put them there. I send you a hundred kisses and my love. Do you work much in your garden, and have you a great many flowers in it ...
September 11th 1828 –
My dear Henry We arrived here last Sunday, after having spent a few days very pleasantly at Saltram, & a week still more agreeably at Kingston Hall. – Saltram is in a charming country, about two miles from Plymouth – we made an excursion in the admiral’s twelve-oared barge to Mount Edgcumbe, which far surpassed my imagination, though I had heard so much about it; ever since we have been in this part of the country, we all feel somehow as if we were out of England, & Mt Edgcumbe in particular put me more in mind of Italy than any thing I have seen since I left it. – You would be delighted with the gardens; there are three, English, french & Italian – the orange-trees are more than one hundered years old; & the finest ilex’s, bay-trees, cypress’s, cork-trees & magnolia’s grow in the open air. Ld Mt E. received us very hospitably & lent us his carriage to drive about the grounds; looking at the calm, blue sea through trees, from a great height, struck me as particularly italian. –We then went to the Breakwater, a stupendous work built at the entrance of the sound; when finished it will a mile long, & 460 feet broad at the foundations; but it will be some time before it is completed, as it has already been sixteen years in building, & a great deal still remains to be done. –The Russian fleet happened to have been driven into the harbour a few days ago by stress of weather, so we determined to finish our excursion by a visit to the commodore ... Lady Morley  is the most agreable woman I ever met with, & draws & paints like an artist ... 
1832:I want to hear what you are about at Laycock; the only thing I have heard of was from Mr Seymer,  who described to me a large tree you had just transplanted in front of the house, & the exact spot - I wish you would put some where I advised you near the canal bridge, just on the rise of the hill - only I think a young plantation would, perhaps suit that place better ...
1832 [only a year since her marriage]: My dear Henry ... The country must be charming now – pray find a leisure moment to visit my garden, & tell me most particularly if the standard rosa odorata & the climbing Rosa banksia are in flower – Fitzsimmons  sent me a most lovely specimen of the Boursault rose which grows on my Robinson Crusoe arbour – I hope you approve of our plan de route,  through the New forest <, &perhaps we may take a trip to Cowes & see Aunt Harriot  – I wish very much you may be able to come & see us at Mt Edgcumbe ... 

1832 july We have had a most delightful journey – the weather has been charming & the country all the way from Exeter a succession of hill & dale, beautifully wooded, & every where perfumed with honeysuckles growing in wild profusion – while the verdure of the meadows was most pleasingly relieved by the purple glow of innumerable Foxgloves & every variety of wild flower – I send you a specimen of Iris I never saw before & of Cotton Rush with which all the heaths are covered – is it the same that grew at Lauterbrunn? The Iris I found at Charmouth near the sea-shore ... I was charmed with Ivy Bridge & sketched the very one (I imagine) where once upon a time you let all Mamma’s paints & brushes drop into the stream ... We arrived here early on Monday – the air was heavenly & the Sea of the most Italian blue – we immediately took a drive round the amphitheatre, a green valley surrounded by magnificent beech, oak, cedar & tulip trees, terminated by the sea – from thence we wandered through the flower gardens full of roses & orangetrees, and ornamented with statues, vases & fountains, & at last rested ourselves at the old Fort, watching the boats as they glided by, till the shades of evening gathered round us ...
I have a charming apartment – a very pretty dressing-room in an octogan turret, with windows on every side, & a charming little sitting room with a pianoforte & a variety of pictures – I wish you were all here, you would enjoy it so much, & I could drive Mamma in a pony chaise, made for Ld Mt E. when he broke his leg, with wheels so broad that one can drive all over the garden & turf without injuring them – I always think of Mamma when I drive in it. – I have written to Uncle Harry to beg he will come while the fine weather lasts – I hope he will bring Stavy & Ste, they would be so well amused with Ronald Macdonald – he came here with Ld Alford & they are both staying for a short time – Why should not you sail here in the Petrel? at all events do come while it is fine weather – I am always so afraid of its slipping away in this uncertain climate. – We are going this morning to dine at Penlee point, where Ld V. has just build a Gothic seat, & made a new drive with plantations, & I am [to] have a little pépinière of my own on rock jutting out into the sea ...
Written ‘from the pavilion in the English Garden at MountE. Aug 1832;  I am laying out my new garden near the arbour above the house. – Is the enclosed rare? I found it on the turf ... 

from laycock abbey sept 1832 We arrived here last Wednesday after a very pleasant journey which we spun out to three days - Mt Edgcumbe  looked more beautiful than ever just as we were crossing over & took our last view of its white temples & beautiful woods, with the blue sea in the distance & Britannia lying in the Sound ... I have brought from Mt Edgcumbe two flourishing young Stone pines, 5 years old, in pots, for Mamma  she is charmed with them... ?date A Country house is an eternal bother. One has too many irons in the fire. Life in London glides smoothly along, but here between the Gardener, & the Bailiff, & the Keeper, & the Steward, & the Coachman the Clerk of the Works (with the Architect who comes down occasionally) it is enough to drive a body out of their wits, always something going wrong in some department. O London is Capua, is Sybaris to this! & Carnations! Then perhaps the Coachman overturns you into a ditch or down a quarry ...
1845 feb I want to inform you what flowers we have now got in the open air. Here is the list. Snowdrops, Crocuses, primroses yellow & lilac double, violets, polyanthus, [Chimonanthus?] fragans, (wh has never lost it’s leaves at all,) stocks wallflowers, anemones, pink china roses, & even the delicate yellow kind, narcissus, [petisforum?], & several plants of Carnations! The myrtles are as green as in summer & their flowers in bud – & in the Conservatory, the orange trees covered with bloom ... 

april 1846 We have very stormy & rainy weather – but all the trees & plants are coming out beautifully – the Horsechesnuts are quite out in full leaf – & the gallery is perfumed with cyclamens & hyacinths, & adorned with Salvia Splendens,  & lovely blue & pink Glocynias? ... 

june 1852 Dearest Henry I cannot help sending you a specimen of the Eucalyptus – for fear it should be out of bloom when you come. What curious buds! & unnatural leaves! The tree is now nearly 40 ft high. In the same box is a flower of a shrub, of wh it appears I gave the seed – when, I know not. It is abt 3 feet high, nr the Eucalyptus above the sea. Please tell us the name – & also the name of the red Ledum, given once upon a time by Uncle Wm. The Pimelia I merely send for its’ beauty ...
july 1852I should like extremely to have a Fan Palm – but should like still better a Date Palm. Do you think one wd grow here in a very sheltered spot – & has Price got any? & would they be more expensive than the Fan? Of course I shd be glad to introduce both sorts here ...
Sept 1852I am glad to hear your garden is so prosperous this year – I may say the same of ours – I never saw such a profusion of orange flowers – It is quite like Nice – & they are going on Still – The Myrtles too are still covered with bloom – & we have some splendid autumnal roses, white Japan lilies, Scarlet Geraniums, Plumbago, Agapanthus, all-coloured Verbenas, &c – &c – The weather is very fine now – & I never saw the views more clear or beautiful, even in the height of summer – so you should come now ... 
Nov 1854 The weather is charmingly mild still – & quantities of flowers enliven the garden. – The Plumbago ornaments the outside of the Orangerie with it’s lovely blue clusters – & the Petosporum is in flower – Did you ever get the fern I sent Rosamond  to shew you? It is a very rare one – There are only one or two specimens here; but at Cotehele  it grows 5 or 6 ft high, & is exceedingly handsome ... 

Oct 1855 We have had the Morleys staying with us, the Dowager do – (as amusing as ever)– the Bulteels, the Admiral & his daughters  whom we like very much – & a few other neighbours ... 
Oct 1857 I send you a specimen of a species of Plumbago which the gardener says grows in the chinks of the great Wall of China. He had a small plant given him a long time ago, & neglected it – Whereupon it grew into a flourishing bush – & he says the worse they are treated the better they thrive. Do you know it? ...
Dec 1859Have you ever seen the Bougainvilliea in flower? It grew at Palermo in the Botanic Garden, & flowered splendidly. Two years ago Captn Eyres R.N. made me a present of two plants, which he had brought from the King’s Garden at Lisbon. It’s <sic> native country is Brázil I believe. One of these two plants fell sick, & was taken to Mount Edgcumbe  to be nursed, where it is now doing well. The other grew in a straggling, uncomfortable way to the top of the Conservatory, without shewing the smallest intention of flowering – but quite lately it seems to have changed it’s mind – & has produced several long branches covered with blossoms, which hang down, & have a very pretty effect ...
Dec1860 Now do, dear Henry, ponder my request – & come & see me please. I want to introduce Katie  to you – & my dear little grand daughter – the sweetest tempered thing you ever saw! – We have still Crysanthemums & Calceolarias lingering out of the doors – & everything looks very green still.

(Caroline Feilding, Countess of Edgcumbe, letters, mostly to her brother, excerpts taken from The Correspondence of William Henry Fox Talbot)
     These excerpts, taken from a much longer span of Caroline’s letters - most of which mention flowers, plants and gardens in one way or another - somehow retrieve both their writer’s lively personality and obsession with flora and gardening. They also re-create Mount Edgcumbe’s garden during a particular era, in the mid C19. Without them our ability to understand and visualise that garden-space is much the poorer. Will they one day be published, so as to enhance future visitors' appeciation of that estate?