A tale of a temple and the heaven-sent fragrance of honeysuckle

English gardens are forward of themselves. Ten years in the past I nonetheless relied on my huge bushes of scented white viburnums to reassure me in the third week of May once I returned from Chelsea Flower Show. They had been lined in recent scented flowers on a scale which the present’s exhibitors couldn’t match. Chelsea will probably be on tv from Sunday onwards, however my viburnums will probably be over. They have already been in flower for a fortnight.As they fade, I’m wanting ahead to the subsequent act: honeysuckles. They remind me of their presence by releasing drifts of scent on to the air because it cools in the night. I’ve grown Japanese honeysuckles on partitions in shade. I’ve grown others flat on the floor to cover drain covers and unmovable eyesores. I even develop early and late Dutch honeysuckles as small normal timber, fixing a single stemmed plant on to a thick bamboo cane, clipping off any aspect shoots and then pruning its head of stems to maintain them neat at a peak of about 4ft. I like to recommend this easy trick.Until now I’ve by no means seen honeysuckles on a ceiling. I by no means imagined I must go to a built-up suburb in London SW15 to fill this hole in my flowery life. Behind a excessive wire fence in Roehampton, subsequent to 47 Minstead Gardens, a unprecedented survival is about to obtain skilled love and consideration. The Mount Clare temple is a pillared classicised temple so evocative and so outstanding I can’t consider it has been left for many years to squatters and vandals.Last 12 months I wrote on the grotto of the poet Alexander Pope and the plans for its restoration, to be headed by the Heritage of London Trust. The belief’s crew then confirmed me different landmarks on its record to rescue, of which this temple and its ceiling caught my classical and floral eye. It belongs in the very coronary heart of England’s love affair with historical Greece and the classics. On its plastered ceiling a very good 18th-century oil portray reveals honeysuckle climbing in the most interesting firm, amongst imaginary incense burners, feminine half-figures with wings, ivy, oak leaves and, in the centre, girdled by an olive wreath, a very good lyre, brightly gilded when first painted. The composition belongs with the model most generally identified these days from works by Robert Adam after his travels to Rome and the late Roman palace at Split. This ceiling’s artist is unknown however is extensively believed to have been Italian.

Honeysuckles will flower quickly, filling the air with their fragrance © Amomentintime/Alamy

The imagery round the honeysuckle evokes classical friezes and wall work of a kind that would nonetheless be seen in Rome. However, patterns of them had been additionally out there in books and, as a gardener, I recognise the honeysuckle which the artist painted and the care he took in portraying it. It is flowering with yellow flowers. It will not be Lonicera caprifolium, the Italian honeysuckle whose flowers mix pink and white. Its stems are rising up by means of rounded pairs of stemless leaves: botanists class such honeysuckles as perfoliate. It is a precise portray of an English woodbine, seen even now in hedgerows: Lonicera periclymenum. Modern gardeners get pleasure from a selection known as Graham Thomas, named in honour of the nice English plantsman. Its scent is superb and its flowers open to pale cream, however on my east wall it sheds its leaves in June, most likely as a result of it’s too dry. On the temple ceiling its ancestor appears pleasantly wholesome.The ceiling is miraculously free of main harm after 250 years. In every subsection winged females maintain gold medallions displaying the bust of a Roman emperor. Even so, the honeysuckle is English: the artist, Italian or not, might have designed his sample with dwelling specimens in entrance of him. What, although, has Roehampton to do with historical Athens?

On my east wall, it sheds its leaves in June. On the temple ceiling, its ancestor appears pleasantly wholesome

The small temple has 4 austere pillars in the Doric Greek order. It was devised, maybe in the 1780s, for one of the nice Georgian patrons of classical artwork and literature, William Ponsonby, an Anglo Irishman, and Earl of Bessborough. He had been on a Grand Tour, reaching Constantinople from Naples and passing by means of Athens and some of the Greek islands. He married a massively wealthy daughter of the Duke of Devonshire and spent a fortune on classical sculptures, wonderful books and artwork. He had glorious style.Who constructed this temple for him? Many have ascribed it to the gifted William Chambers, who designed and adorned the earl’s close by residence, now often known as Parkstead House. However, Chambers didn’t use the Greek Doric order in his buildings, and one other candidate has gained favour, none aside from James “Athenian” Stuart, the first particular person to current drawings of the Parthenon and antiquities in Athens to a fascinated British public. With his travelling accomplice Revett, he then designed Doric temples for nice English parks, Shugborough and Hagley being two. Why, although, would the earl select him?I’ve a suggestion. Bessborough was an early member of the celebrated Dilettanti Society, based in London in the 1730s. Its upper-class members’ dinners, scurrilous wit and spirit had been well-known and, in 1751, “Athenian” Stuart, the orphaned son of a sailor, was the first humbler man to be elected: the Society then backed his two nice volumes on Athenian antiquities. The earl, I counsel, commissioned a fellow Dilettante to design this temple for his park.

Exterior of the temple at Mount Clare, south London

This 12 months, Heritage of London Trust will probably be interesting for as much as £25,000 to rescue it and its ceiling. On the temple’s again wall is one other treasure, a plaster reduction of a part of the Parthenon frieze. If it’s up to date with the constructing it’s of distinctive curiosity. It have to be based mostly on a solid even older than these of the Elgin Marbles, as they had been solely proven in London from 1807. On the temple’s façade are two extra reliefs, based mostly on classical sculpted scenes of partying Bacchanals. They embrace goats and the god Pan.In 1913, the temple was dismantled and moved by horse and cart to its current website. It was additionally given a cement coating which Heritage of London will take away. So I went to have a look at the earl’s close by mansion with the assist of inside decorator Nicky Haslam, a one-time contributor to FT Weekend, who has helped to rescue one other classical temple in the grounds. Dressed in white leather-based and white gymnasium sneakers, he marched me up the wonderful curving staircase and defined the inside and its ceilings, additionally very good, to an amazed viewers of college students between lessons at Roehampton University, which now occupies the constructing.A decade or so in the past, Haslam stated, he held a occasion there for 400 celebrants of his seventieth birthday: they arrived from grand London, solely to succumb to Georgian splendour in a suburb. “When did they go to mattress?” I requested. “They didn’t,” he replied. Those bacchanalian reliefs on the temple have their trendy heirs. It is as much as us to save lots of its ceiling, hanging on by the ideas of its tendrils, for an equally spectacular outdated age.Find out about our newest tales first — observe @FTProperty on Twitter or @ft_houseandhome on Instagram

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