Pasley - Memories of Anthony du Gard Pasley
This small volume is a commemorative sketch of the life and career of a remarkable garden designer and landscape architect of the 20th Century. For Emma Isles-Buck, the idea of creating something as a lasting tribute to her godfather resonated perfectly and allowed her to not only learn more about the man she feels honoured to have known, but also to pass on his love of gardens and gardening to a new generation.
The book is reviewed below by Jennie Spears on behalf of Perennial.
As intriguing as the man this book sets out to honour, its style is one of tessellation, cleverly building a patterned picture of a gentleman who dedicated his life to his craft. Anthony du Gard Pasley trained under Dame Sylvia Crowe and Brenda Colvin CBE and was a contemporary of John Brookes, who remembers him with fondness in the book. But is seems Pasley was fiercely private, despite being a self-proclaimed performer, shying away from self-promotion. It is fitting therefore that this book should construct a life through the eyes of those who knew the man, slowly giving the reader insight into his style, passions and design philosophy.
Through first hand accounts that take the reader from a childhood spent growing up quickly through his schooling, training and working life, Anthony du Gard Pasley is remembered by friends, colleagues, students and clients as 'extraordinary'. One former colleague from the design practice of Wallace & Barr describes a time when Pasley visited in an open topped sports car, perfectly resembling Mr Toad from Wind in the Willows. She says, 'He enriched our lives and we were glad to know him.' Surely there is no greater way to be remembered and the description is indicative of the man whom so obviously enriched the lives of the many people his work brought him into contact with.
The book is packed with examples of Pasley's work. It is clear that he designed gardens that suited their owners, and their individual properties, thinking carefully about their particular needs. When asked by a client to design one last garden for her, to accompany a newly designed and in-progress house, Pasley recognised that it may be her last. Rather than taking a conventional approach to setting out the space, he: 'visited the site, architect's drawings in hand, and identified the room which was to become the old lady's bedroom. By now the walls were up to windowsill height. With the aid of canes and twine, he erected a semblance of the window frame and then proceeded to construct a 'bed' from breeze blocks and scaffolding boards, rolling up his jacket to form a 'pillow'.'
Realising the old lady would, in all probability, become bed-bound at some time in the future, he sat back in the 'bed' and set about designing the entire garden from that perspective. In due course, this design was duly executed. 'Some years later while visiting the lady, who was indeed by now virtually bed-bound, she said, 'Do you know, my dear Anthony, you are a genius; my garden looks at its very best from my bed'. Anthony merely smiled and said nothing.'
Former clients Antony and Sylvie Harris, remember the first time they met Pasley, who was recommended to them at the age of 80 by their mutual postmaster. They were struggling to settle upon a garden designer for their newly renovated Oast House in Kent. Their recollection of his first visit perfectly sums up his approach to design, that gardens should be made for the building they surround and the landscape in which they sit. 'He spent an hour with us walking around the garden, avoiding the builders and their rubble the finally, sitting on a pile of bricks, he gave us a masterclass. 'You have to understand', he said, 'that this was an Oast House, a former working building, it sits on top of a hill, looking across a valley with Oast Houses in the distant valley, sheep, and apple orchards. It is a quintessential Kentish country view. Whatever you do must reflect that and pay tribute to it. You do not build a fancy or cottage garden here, you must work with the land, the site, the view and not compete with it.''
In compiling this book of memories, deliberately written as a collection of short stories and snippets rather than a biography, Emma Isles-Buck has captured the spirit of a man who was undoubtedly generous with his knowledge and committed to his life of traditions, gentleman's fashion, bachelordom and above all, gardens. It reveals personal details about the man without asking questions of his personal life; he renovated houses, striving to create a 'gentleman's home' and he wrote poetry to channel emotions he felt unable to voice aloud. The reader is given a rounded view of a wonderfully colourful character without being invited to be a voyeur.
Pasley offers a sympathetic and fascinating insight into a life given entirely to the people for whom he designed gardens. Whether you know of his work or not, this book leaves you with a desire to visit one of his gardens and find out more about how Anthony du Gard Pasley's style and philosophy has influenced the great garden designers working today.