When the painters Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, Bell’s two children and Grant’s friend David Garnett moved to Charleston in 1916, it was not just the farmhouse and its setting in the heart of the Sussex Downs that appealed to them but the potential of its garden. ‘It has a charming garden, with a pond, and fruit trees, and vegetables, all now rather run wild, but you could make it lovely,’ wrote Bell’s sister, Virginia Woolf.
As Bell and Grant, and their children, turned Charleston’s interior into a work of art, in their unique decorative style, with the help of the critic and artist Roger Fry they also transformed its surroundings. By the mid-1920s the garden had reached maturity, providing not just a beautiful haven for the family and their friends but, in the riotous colours of the walled garden, a source of constant inspiration for them as artists. As much as the house and the landscape of which it is part, it formed the backdrop of the group’s literary and artistic activity for fifty years.
Here Sue Snell, who has been photographing the garden for a decade or so, has captured its year-round glory, from its sharp spring beginnings when pale pink apple blossom floats like snow on the breeze, to winter when the sun peeps over the surrounding downs. With her artistic and very individual eye she explores its many aspects and moods, transporting us to Charleston and showing how, for so many people who visit it, it is a place of enchantment.
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