Nature’s frame

PUBLISHED: 12:21 30 September 2015

Irina created garden 'rooms' for the display of Henry's works

Irina created garden 'rooms' for the display of Henry's works


A work of art in themselves, the gardens at Hoglands, the Perry Green home and studio of sculptor Henry Moore and his wife Irina, have been lovingly recreated by experts and volunteers. Philippa Pearson visits

View of the Moore's restored former home and studio from the garden. Reproduced by permission of The Henry Moore FoundationView of the Moore's restored former home and studio from the garden. Reproduced by permission of The Henry Moore Foundation

Arriving at Perry Green in the gentle rolling countryside of east Hertfordshire, it’s easy to understand why sculptor and artist Henry Moore chose this tranquil village to live and work. Moore and his wife Irina moved to Hoglands, their home here, in the autumn of 1940 during the first weeks of the Blitz. Moore’s Hampstead studio was damaged by a bomb blast and his friend, Labour MP Leonard Matters, who had a house in Perry Green, suggested the Moores rented part of Hoglands in the village as a temporary measure. They immediately fell in love with the area and felt settled, buying the house outright the following year when it unexpectedly became available.

While Henry worked on his monumental abstract sculptures, Irina began transforming the gardens. As further land and outbuildings were purchased over the years, she designed and laid out the grounds as an outdoor gallery for Moore’s works. Smoothly-mown lawns and hedges created a series of gallery ‘rooms’. Irina’s overall concept was not to draw attention away from the sculptures but for the landscape to complement them.

At Hoglands, the area was planned as low-maintenance gardens as only Irina and one other gardener looked after the grounds. The wide herbaceous borders, vegetable plot and fruit trees were appreciated by Moore while he worked or relaxed inside.

Layered planting near one of the greenhouses beside the house. Reproduced by permission of The Henry Moore FoundationLayered planting near one of the greenhouses beside the house. Reproduced by permission of The Henry Moore Foundation

After Moore’s death in 1986 and Irina’s in 1988, very little was altered by the Moore family at Hoglands who now owned the site. After negotiations with the family, the Henry Moore Foundation purchased the home and land in 2004 and spent three years in collaboration with Moore’s and Irina’s daughter Mary restoring and recreating the house as it was in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The gardens were also part of that process and in 2006 designer Yvonne Innes restored Irina’s garden. Working closely with staff, Innes used images from the family archives and Stephen Spender’s book In Irina’s Garden to restore them to their former splendour.

Work in the overgrown gardens involved bulldozing a line of mature leylandii conifers, relaying turf and reinstating paths as part of the clearing and landscaping around the house; this included formal flower beds and lawns, groves of trees, hedges and borders, a pond and two greenhouses. In the borders were clues and evidence of Irina’s early planting where some original plants had survived under mountains of weeds. New fruit trees were added, many native to East Anglia, and the wide herbaceous borders are now filled with plants available in the 1950s to early 1970s. Many of these plants are still good garden-worthy specimens and are widely used in today’s gardens. Two greenhouses have been restored and are filled with a fascinating collection of cacti and succulents which both Moore and his wife loved collecting and growing.

 In early autumn, Irina’s plantings in the borders brim with colour and interest, while trees and shrubs are starting to take on red and golden hues in the surrounding rural grounds. Early autumn flowers include Michaelmas daisies and Japanese anemones, both useful sources of nectar for bees and butterflies as are the tall spikes of Verbena bonariensis and late crocosmias.

Further restoration work continues across the estate. This plan has been developed by the Landscape Agency working with staff in the Henry Moore Foundation archive and Mary Moore. The original kitchen garden has already been restored and is producing an abundance of vegetables and cutting flowers. Future plans include the biggest visible change to the site – a reduction in tree and hedge height which will open up views and vistas. A group of regular garden volunteers has been instrumental in helping the foundation implement the plans and maintain the garden areas.

‘Gardening is Irina’s sculpture,’ Moore remarked of his wife’s great contribution to Perry Green. ‘All this,’ he would say admiringly, ‘is Irina’s doing. It’s marvellous what she has been able to accomplish.’ Walking around the family garden and sculpture grounds, it is very apparent that this tranquil spot is a remarkable achievement of a couple devoted to each other and to the world of art.

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