Helen Scadding discovers a ‘rattlebag’ of hidden treasures on her own doorstep. Dartington Hall: One Endless Garden by Carol Ballenger. Halsgrove, 2012. ISBN: 9780857041531
One Endless Garden is a substantial anthology of photographs taken by local photographer Carol Ballenger, portraying the gardens and surrounding landscapes of the Dartington Hall Estate. The title is taken from a letter from Leonard Elmhirst to Tagore on the day in 1925 when the Elmhirsts took possession of Dartington Hall. The book combines a diverse set of striking images with short descriptions from the garden notebooks of Dorothy Elmhirst, written between 1943 and 1968.
Everyone will find photographs here to return to again and again. Some are comforting with the familiarity of much-loved views and paths (particularly for those who know the landscape well). Others startle with new angles and juxtapositions of light and line, drawing the eye to notice what is there but is often overlooked. The book is steeped in the colour and texture of the leaves, trees, flowers and grasses of the undulating South Devon landscape.
I particularly enjoyed the different views of the reclining Henry Moore figure looking over the Tiltyard, one covered in snow, another in morning light, and the pointillist portrait of spring fritillaries. But it was in the later sections of the book, Fields and Woods, where Ballenger captures the ordered line and pattern of Nature as well as its strangeness and other-worldliness, that I found most depth and interest. The autumnal jewellery of leaves and roots on dark, peaty ground conveys the strange wonder of Nature closely observed. Throughout the book there is plentiful evidence of the patience and skilled eye of a photographer able to capture the familiar and make it both surprising and memorable.
Although the book does take the reader on a ‘journey’ through the gardens, and there are seasonal clusters, on occasion the book overwhelms with its plethora of images and I found myself looking for more of a narrative or thread to guide me. The quality and beauty of the photographs would lend themselves to more curation, and there were times where I felt less would have been more.
However, I think perhaps the rich and comprehensive variety of photographs in the book is deliberate. The wealth and diversity of the imagery provides a cornucopia, a ‘rattlebag’ of treasures. Above all, this is a book full of the delight of that experience of coming upon something fresh and rather startling just around every corner.