Russell Page (1906-1985) was one of the 20 century’s great landscape architects. He designed gardens throughout Europe and America. Among them are those at the Frick Museum in New York City and the Festival Gardens in Battersea Park.
In 1950 Page, who was working in Belgium and France, returned to England to direct and design the Festival Gardens for the 1951 Festival of Britain. It took him eighteen months of extremely hard work to source and organise the “tens of thousands” of bedding plants and shrubs required. This was achieved with the help of E. R. Janes, who had been in charge of the flowers at the Chelsea Flower Show. Between them they managed to meet the opening deadline.
The purpose of the Festival Gardens was to make a dazzling break from the bleak rationed world of post-war Britain. An island of green lawn and flower beds provided an oasis of quiet on the site surrounded by a children’s zoo, a model railway and everything else needed to make a riotous funfair. The area sat on a bed of cinders, put down to overcome drainage problems. A free-flowing central part was bordered by formal, raised beds of roses and yew trees with the exuberant domes and swags of the Pavilion Buffet tea terrace along one side.
Page’s design involved masses of colour, twenty thousand yellow tulips given by the grower in Holland and raised beds of crimson and pink floribunda roses. In his book Education of a Gardener he wrote: “I saw that I must mix my flower colours, plant in wide pools and drifts, let pale pinks overlap into clear lemon yellow, interplant orange with red-purple and use every device I could so that texture, colour, size and shape would combine to make all the flower plantings sparkle, shimmer and seem to move in contrast to the bright, flat and static surfaces of paint.”
The overall impression was of great single blocks of vibrant colour. These were regularly changed from spring bulbs to summer bedding with predominant colours of red, white and blue. He was appointed OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) for his work.
The Friends contributed £9000 towards the restoration of the Festival Gardens as part of the major restoration works which were opened by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh in 2004.
(by Friends Chairman Philip Wright OBE)