Adam in the garden

WHEN I WAS BORN, my parents wanted to call me ‘Adam’. That was in the early 1950s. However, Mom and Dad were worried that Adam was a relatively unusual first name in those far-off days and that with such a name I might have been teased at school. As it happened, I only attended schools where the pupils were addressed by their surnames and mine, Yamey, was subject of a lot of mirth amongst my schoolmates. In view of their concerns, I was named ‘Robert Adam’, but have always been called ‘Adam’. My father, an economist, was all for calling me ‘Adam Smith Yamey’ in memory of the father of economics Adam Smith (1723-1790), but my mother was not keen giving me this name. The choice of Robert was possibly influenced by the fact that one of my mother’s brothers bore this name. It is also very vaguely possible that the name ‘Robert Adam’ was chosen in memory of another man who was alive during Adam Smith’s lifetime, the architect Robert Adam (1728-1792).

Garden House by Robert Adam at Osterley Park

Maybe because I share his name, I have grown to like and appreciate the architecture and interior decors created by the 18th century Robert Adam. However, you do not need to be called Robert Adam to enjoy Adam’s great works.

Last year, we visited Osterley Park on an extremely rainy day and were able to wander around the interior of Osterley Park House (https://adam-yamey-writes.com/2020/11/02/at-home-with-adam/). Built by the merchant and founder of London’s Royal Exchange Sir Thomas Gresham (c1519-1579) in about 1575, the house was extensively remodelled by the Child family, who owned it, during the 1760s and 1770s. The remodelling was to the detailed designs of Robert Adam.

When we visited the house on that rainy day in November 2020, we omitted walking around the house’s fine semi-formal gardens. On our recent visit, the house was not open because of covid19 prevention measures and there was no rainfall. So, we wandered around the lovely gardens. Like so many other 18th century landscaped gardens attached to stately homes, that at Osterley contains several buildings that were placed to add to the picturesqueness of the grounds.

The Doric Temple of Pan with four columns and four pilasters was built in the 18th century, probably to the design of the Scottish-Swedish architect William Chambers (1723-1796), who was born in the Swedish city of Gothenburg. Between 1740 and 1749, while in the employ of the Swedish East India Company, he made three voyages to China, where he learnt Chinese. A major rival of Robert Adam, he was an exponent of neo-classicism, of which the small Temple of Pan is a fine example. The interior of the temple, which we were unable to see because of covid19 prevention measures, contains, according to Nikolaus Pevsner and Bridget Cherry:

“… mid c18 interior plasterwork with Rococo flourishes and medallions of Colen Campbell and Sir Isaac Newton.”

The front of the temple faces across a lawn towards a structure, 175 yards away, designed by Chambers’ rival Robert Adam: The Garden House.

Adam designed the Garden House in about 1780. It has a semi-circular façade with five large windows within frames topped with semi-circular arches. Pevsner and Cherry describe these windows as “five linked Venetian windows”. A balustrade tops the façade and almost hides the conical roof. Between the windows, there are roundels containing bas-relief depictions of classical scenes with bucolic themes. The building was part of Mrs Child’s Flower Garden. The National Trust, which manages Osterley Park, notes in its website (www.nationaltrust.org.uk/osterley-park-and-house/features/the-garden-house-at-osterley-park-and-house) that the Garden House’s original purpose was:

“… a display house for the collection of rare trees and shrubs that were housed here in the 18thC. The main type of plant that we always grow and display in this building is lemon trees as we have historic evidence that 45 lemon trees were on show here in the 1780’s. We choose to have a mixed display of other interesting specimens alongside the lemons so as to give a greater display and range of interest for our visitors. All of these plants are known to have been either at Osterley in the 18thC or to have been available to grow at that time.”

Although it is not as spectacular as Adam’s interiors of Osterley Park, the Garden House is both delightful and elegant, a fine feature that enhances the appearance of the formal part of the gardens. This and other buildings designed by the same architect makes me proud to have been given, maybe accidentally, the name Robert Adam Yamey.

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