Charles Elliott

Herbaceous Boarders

The Hermit in the Garden: From Imperial Rome to Ornamental Gnome

By

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The applicant sounded hopeful in his letter to the noble lord:

If your honour pleases to build a small hut as a hermitage near your honour’s house in a wood with a high wall round it your honour might hear of a man to live in it for seven years without seeing any human creature … I mean not to cut my hair nor yet my beard nor my nails in that time I should wish to have all necessities of life brought to me in a private place without seeing anybody and if your honour will give proper encouragement for them years I would.

Neither history nor Professor Gordon Campbell, the author of this engaging study of one of the odder fads in garden design, can tell us whether the aspiring hermit ever got the job. But his pitch was timely. The 1770s were the high point for garden hermitages and their exotic inhabitants. All the best people had them – or rather wished they did.

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