Percy Cane: garden designs

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The archive comprises original garden plans and drawings for 21 clients during the period 1957-1973, when Cane was in his late 70s to early 90s. Plans range from sketchy outlines to fine, detailed layouts, and two items are most likely impressions of the appearance of a finished project. Many plans are labelled ‘Office copy’. The majority of plans are carefully dated and labelled with the client’s name, but in many instances the name or location of the property is not given, though some have been identified through research. Many plans show planting layouts for beds, with names and positions of plants, and some have lists of plants at the edges. The plans reflect the ideas and work of the final 16 years in the career of one of the most sought-after designers of the 20th century.

Administrative / Biographical History

Stephen Percival (‘Percy’) Cane (1881–1976) was brought up in Braintree, Essex. The family had a house with extensive grounds, and as a young boy Cane gained practical experience in horticulture, planting and tending a small plot of his own in the family kitchen garden. As he grew up he developed a strong interest in art and architecture, and read widely in these fields. At the age of 22 he went to work at a local firm run by friends of the family, the Crittall Manufacturing Company, which made metal windows. The work was not entirely to his taste, but it provided a reasonable income until he took the decision to enrol as a full-time student at the Chelmsford College of Science and Art. Cane began to design gardens in the Chelmsford district in his spare time, and it was after a visit to Easton Lodge, a stately Essex home which was having its grounds altered in a contemporary style by the garden architect Harold Peto, that he decided to make his own career in the field. Through the First World War he contributed garden designs and plans to the monthly magazine ‘My Garden, Illustrated’, and in 1918 became its editor, which prompted him to enrol at the Chelmsford County School of Horticulture in order to learn more about the science of gardening. By 1919 he was styling himself ‘Landscape and Garden Architect’, and working full time as a designer.

Cane was soon in great demand, and received numerous commissions for gardens both in the United Kingdom and abroad. These include designs for Ivy House, Hampstead, Hascombe Court, Godalming, Falkland Palace, Fife, the palace of the Emperor of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa, and Dartington Hall, Devon. He became a respected authority and wrote many articles and several books on garden design. A regular exhibitor at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, he received eight gold and three silver-gilt medals at the show between 1934 and 1952, and in 1963 was awarded the Veitch Memorial Medal for his work. He practised as a garden architect, based at his home in Lower Sloane Street, London. Some plans in this collection were created after he suffered a stroke in Sep 1972.

Sources:

'Percy Cane Garden Designer' / by Ronald Weber. Edinburgh, 1974

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, entry by Charlotte Johnson

Arrangement

The plans were arranged by job and, within that, chronologically.

Conditions Governing Access

Open for consultation. It is essential to check opening hours and make an appointment at least two weeks in advance due to the oversize format of the plans. Please email library.london@rhs.org.uk

Acquisition Information

The plans were donated by Dr John Elliott, relative of Percy Cane and executor of his will, per Fenja Gunn, in Dec 1995.

Other Finding Aids

The Lindley Library descriptive catalogue, available on-line via the Archives Hub, and as a paper copy in the Research Room.

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

The majority of the plans are drawn on rough-cut, heavy-duty paper, some with torn rather than cut edges. A few plans are on tracing paper and one is linen-backed.

Archivist's Note

Catalogued by Liz Taylor, RHS Lindley Library archivist, in Nov 2014, with research assistance by Ann Thornham, RHS Lindley Library volunteer. Packaging carried out by Annie Johns, RHS Lindley Library volunteer.

Conditions Governing Use

Please contact the Lindley Library for conditions governing reproduction.

Related Material

A plan by Percy Cane of a residents' garden at Lower Sloane Street, London, where Cane lived, 1963, is held at the Lindley Library. Papers documenting Cane's work on the gardens at Dartington Hall, 1945-1970s, are held at Devon Record Office, reference DWE/GN. Photographs, printed copies of plans and sketches of gardens designed by Cane, c.1920s-1960s, are held in the English Heritage archive.