Belgian Government Saves Russell Page Design from Destruction

Russell Page was a landscape designer of incredible talents and international renown. His projects spanned the globe, including both private retreats and public oases (case in point: the masterful viewing garden at the Frick, experienced and enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of museumgoers and passersby every year).

Page’s viewing garden on East 70th Street is already protected as part of The Frick Collection Individual Landmark, as a National Historic Landmark, and via historic districts designated at the City, State and National levels (more here). Now, in Belgium, another design by Englishman Russell Page has received designation as a site of historical importance.


Photo credit: Vlaamse Gemeenschap, 2013.

Belgium magazine CG Concept writes:

In September 2014, the Flemish government granted protection to a garden designed by the well-known British garden designer Russell Page, located in Courtrai, which was threatened to be demolished for the purpose of parceling out the land. The garden, which dates back to the fifties, was Page’s first garden in Belgium and has been almost entirely preserved.

… His best-known achievements in the US are the courtyard of the Frick Museum in New York, the sculpture garden at the headquarters of PepsiCo Purchase in New York, and the Capitol Columns at the National Arboretum in Washington.

To learn more about the design of this Russell Page garden, read the complete English translation of the article below (original Flemmish article also available HERE).


Russell Page garden in Courtrai protected

In September 2014, the Flemish government granted protection to a garden designed by the well-known British garden designer Russell Page, located in Courtrai, which was threatened to be demolished for the purpose of parceling out the land. The garden, which dates back to the fifties, was Page’s first garden in Belgium and has been almost entirely preserved.

Russell Page (1906-1985) was one of the most important British garden designers of the twentieth century. During his long career, Russell Page designed hundreds of gardens around the world, in the most diverse surroundings and climates. Sometimes small urban gardens, but mostly large gardens and parks for wealthy customers, such as the British Prince Edward and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the Belgian king Leopold III, and numerous bankers and industrialists. In France alone, he designed several hundreds of gardens.

By the end of the 50s, Page became active in Italy thanks to the Agnelli family. He realized some of his most famous and best gardens, such as the scenic park at the Villa Agnelli in Villar Perosa, and the formal terraced gardens at the Villa Silvio Pellico in Turin where he reinterpreted the classic Renaissance garden in a contemporary fashion.

As from the 50s, Page was also very active in Belgium. He worked in the gardens of the Argenteuil estate in Waterloo, the St. Anna castle in Itterbeek, the Hansbeke castle, the castle of La Hulpe, the castle estate Ronsevaal in Aalst, and the Notelaer in Wingene. As from the 70s, Belgium became Page’s second home. In between two assignments carried out for the rich, he regularly stayed with the late Robert and Jelena De Belder of the Arboretum in Kalmthout. There he found peace and especially two kindred souls with a passion for plants who were equally non-conformist as himself. He advised them for the construction of the Arboretum, and especially for the construction of Hemelrijk, the private domain of the De Belder family in Essen.

At the end of his life he was mainly active in the United States. His best-known achievements in the US are the courtyard of the Frick Museum in New York, the sculpture garden at the headquarters of PepsiCo Purchase in New York, and the Capitol Columns at the National Arboretum in Washington.

The De Poortere garden in Courtrai

The garden at the Wolvengracht in Courtrai, which is now protected, dates from 1952 and was commissioned by carpet manufacturer Franck De Poortere. It was the first garden designed by Page in Belgium.

The garden is designed in function of the siting and the façade of Jacques Viérin’s house, and takes into account the shape and surface of the terrain and the orientation. The design refers to the landscape and gardens in southern West Flanders, with its apple orchards with whitewashed trunks and home gardens with paths lined by horizontal fruit cordons. Page himself described this influence in The education of a gardener, published in 1966: “A little further north at Courtrai, where apples flourish, I have used them in the same way … coming to a house through a true orchard of standard apples whose trunks are newly whitewashed each spring, lining kitchen garden paths with horizontal cordons …

The structure of the garden is almost unchanged, and the garden is still in surprisingly good condition. Nevertheless, in the 1960s, Jacques Wirtz made a number of changes whereby two garden areas were redesigned.

A walk through the garden

In the Inventory of Landscape Heritage (Landschappelijk Erfgoed) (https://inventaris.onroerenderfgoed.be/ile/park.312) Herman van den Bossche describes the garden in detail in view of its protection.

The garden is divided into five garden areas between yew and hornbeam hedges of various heights located at or along the longitudinal axes and the three transverse axes. Because of its design composed of several zones or areas, the garden appears larger than it actually is.

Zone 1 covers the driveway between oblong strips of grass with tall fruit trees and a square forecourt. The driveway consists of two lanes in rectangular pink granite cobblestones with baked clay clinkers in between. As it is customary in Flanders, the trunks of the trees are whitened and in spring daffodils bloom at their feet. Tightly shaven yew hedges enclose this area. Nine high conical clipped yews form the green counterparts for the house and the garages.

Zone 2 consists of a rectangular sunken garden in three levels around a central lawn. The stairs and contours of the dolomite paths consist of clay clinkers, the retaining walls are made of brick. The high, wide fanning columnar yews (Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata’) provide seclusion. The hems are covered with little shrubs, perennials and bulbs among ferns. South of the sunken garden is a wide grass path that runs north along the house and stops at the gate that leads to the home garden.

Zone 3 consists of a garden enclosed by yew. This garden is divided into four parts by a wide grass path on the longitudinal axis and a narrow grass path halfway the transverse axis, with a circle at the intersection. The four perks are each divided into three adjacent triangles in such a way that the four paths in these perks, together with the longitudinal and transverse axis, divide the central circle in eight parts. These four perks are planted with flowering shrubs. At the back lies the third major transverse axis of the garden, with a narrow oblong channel in a more natural-looking planted area.

Zone 4 consists of a rectangular lawn between garden paths. On the second transverse axis five monumental yews act as counterparts of the garden façade of the house. Six trees are planted in this zone. A large rectangular mirror pond is located in the south of zone 4, on the third major transverse axis of the garden.

Zone 5 includes three home gardens of various lengths and a square parterre with a central circle as the end/starting point of the third major transverse axis in the garden. This parterre was never built, or at least quickly replaced by a neoclassical garden pavilion, probably designed by Russell Page. In the 60s, landscape architect Jacques Wirtz planted a boxwood garden, a quincunx of pollarded trees and a swimming pool on the home garden land.

In the eastern part of the garden stands a classic white painted garden house/bathhouse, with a gable roof and four straight columns on the south and west side under a jutting triangular pediment. It is possible that Franck De Poortere had this pavilion built after a visit to the south of the United States. The garden house/bathhouse plays a leading role in the eastern part of the garden through the reflection in the two basins designed by Russell Page and in the pool designed by Jacques Wirtz.

In his autobiography, The Making of a Gardener, Page wrote that “garden architecture should foremost be discreet”. “I have always tried to design gardens as a harmonious unity, whereby I brought people into contact with nature, the house with the landscape, the plant with the soil. Everything that disrupted that unity had to be eliminated.” The garden in Courtrai is a perfect example of this.

Save the garden of the Frick Museum in New York

In New York, the action group ‘Unite to Save the Frick’ has started a petition to stop the expansion plans of the Frick Collection on 5th Avenue. The expansion would result in the loss of the city garden designed by Russell Page in 1977. According to the initiators of the petition, the garden is essential to preserve ‘the unique sense of intimacy that is so typical of the Frick Museum’.

Frick officials have the opportunity to acknowledge the importance of this garden and honor the artist who created it, landscape architect Russell Page. They should embrace it as a valued and unique part of its collection, and find a solution that addresses their programmatic needs and protects this important work of art,” wrote art critic Charles E. Birnbaum in The Huffington Post. Also in the Huffington Post, famous landscape architect Laurie Olin, who recently received the Presidential Medal of Art, called the destruction of the Page garden an ‘act of vandalism’.

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