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William Robinson at Kew's Library

Craig Brough
2 August 2013
Kew Librarian Craig Brough writes about the influential 19th century gardening author William Robinson, his garden at Gravetye Manor, and their connection to Kew.


Gravetye Manor

There have been a number of recent articles in the popular gardening press about the gardens at Gravetye Manor hotel in West Sussex, England and their development under Head Gardener, Tom Coward. Tom is a former student of the Diploma in Horticulture course at Kew, going on to work for Paul McCartney and then with Fergus Garrett at Great Dixter. 

William Robinson portrait courtesy of Peter Herbert 

Gravetye Manor was acquired by the gardening author William Robinson in 1884. Vehemently opposed to the formal styles that were prevalent in Victorian England, he developed its gardens to reflect his belief in the use of plants in a naturalistic style. He also championed the use of native British species. His ideas were shared by Gertrude Jekyll and others and continued to influence garden design throughout the twentieth century.

As Kew library has nearly all of Robinson’s books as well as some correspondence, and given our modern day connection with Gravetye through Tom, I decided to celebrate a somewhat forgotten figure in British (and Irish) garden design by compiling an exhibition for the purpose-built display area of Kew’s library. 

Example of William Robinson's letters

Robinson’s forthright nature in print seems to be at odds with the gracious character displayed in his letters. As well as being full of gratitude for plants sent to him by Kew, in a letter to Director William Thisleton-Dyer he compliments him on the ”good work in flower gardening which you have done at Kew”. In another letter to Dyer he writes that “Wakehurst should be a beautiful centre for a garden” (his own gardens at Gravetye Manor being only a short distance from Wakehurst Place). 

Border at Gravetye Manor

The gardens at Gravetye Manor can be viewed on Tuesdays and Fridays. Or come to Kew’s library to see a digital slideshow of past and present images of Gravetye. 




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