Part of the joy of visiting Gresgarth Hall Garden is the chance to admire so many well-sourced, premium quality garden accessories – all the bits and bats as we say up North. Each thoughtful touch beautifully enhances the space, from the frog decorated tap (faucet), to garden benches, gates, cloches, terracotta planters, greenhouses – even the plant labels. The lady of the house, Lady Arabella Lennox-Boyd, includes five gold medal-winning Chelsea Flower Show gardens amongst her credits as a landscape designer. So the stone mosaic walkways in Gresgarth’s Zodiac Garden are par for the course: superb modern interpretations of an ancient art.
Knowing that pebble floor designs of ancient Greece, Rome and Mesopotamia still exist today makes me wonder how many centuries these designs will live on the garden pathway.
The pebble mosaics were designed by local artist, Maggy Howarth. Her studio, Cobblestone Designs, has established a reputation as one of the best in the country for decorative mosaic floorscapes. Some years ago, Maggy was fortunate to recognise the early promise of Mark Currie, who still works alongside her, creating the mosaics and overseeing their installation.
Many of Maggy’s designs are custom-made for the space, as is this one. A rectangular path laid around Gresgarth Hall’s Zodiac Garden connects three entrances that lead variously to the house, the double perennial border, and out across the lawn towards the kitchen garden.
A flowing Milky Way design of swirls and stars trails down the garden paths, sweeping the eye to square and circular features that embellish the corners and entrances. Four astrological signs represent members of the family. Leo and Taurus are unambiguous; the other horned beastie follows the traditional representation of Capricorn, the sea goat.
The subtle variations in shapes, textures and colour play a big part in the mosaic’s appeal. Selecting just the right pebble must play a big part in the creative process. I imagine it being very relaxing, providing you have a good stock of different colours of water-smoothed pebbles, plenty of time, and the instinct for how and where to place them.
A winged figure with headdress and gown picked out in pebbles in shades of black, red, slate, brown and cream is Virgo, often represented as a winged maiden.
A temple with an ancient-looking olive tree nods in courtesy to the Italian birthplace of Lady Arabella:
A face from above anchors the design visually and metaphorically by blowing out the pattern of swirling clouds, reminding me of Aeolus, keeper of the winds. Funny how we seem to see the heavens so clearly while looking down at the floor! A personification of lightning appears in the top left.
The plants used in the garden itself are classical choices too. Elegant box cones, santolina and grasses lay down a backdrop of silver-greys, neutrals and greens that work almost as well in winter as they do through spring, summer and autumn. This early summer view of the garden shows how fresh greenery and silvery-pink hardy geraniums brighten the area as the seasons progress:
Links for more information
Maggy Howarth’s website for Cobblestone Design includes details of the type of stone used to make the mosaics, and a technical information page that explains how the mosaics are constructed in segments in the studio before being laid on site. For those curious to learn more, Maggy’s books and DVDs explain how you can make pebble mosaics of your own. ‘Art to be walked on’, as she calls it. Plain pebble designs and off-the-shelf mosaic panels are available as well as commissions.
The Gresgarth Hall website has details of the garden’s open days (usually the second Sunday of the month, from February through to November, but please double check the website before making plans to visit).
See more of Cobblestone Design’s work at Bonnington House, the private home of the owners of Jupiter Artlands.