Ian Hamilton Finlay
Internationally acclaimed artist and Turner Prize nominee Ian Hamilton Finlay was commissioned in the 1990s to devise a modern public garden for Stockwood.
The result was the Improvement Garden, designed to be an improvement of the local council’s plant nurseries that had occupied the land before.
Set as a sealed garden within the Discovery Centre's gardens, Finlay’s Improvement Garden is comprised of six sculptures set apart from each other by carefully conceived vistas and views across the green space. The inspirations for the design of the garden range from Greek mythology and Roman architecture to the grand landscape gardens of the 1800s and the history of the Stockwood site itself.
When Stockwood House was built in 1740, the grounds were laid out to show the importance of the Crawley family and their large, fashionable house. In the walled gardens and greenhouses, fruit trees grew against brick walls, which provided the warmth and protection needed for high quality fruit and vegetables.
The period gardens you can visit today were designed and created by the Luton Borough Council Parks staff (mid 1980s onwards) to show styles of English gardens through the centuries. They range in period from an Elizabethan Knot Garden to the Second World War Dig for Victory garden, which features an Anderson shelter, wartime vegetable varieties and chicken run.
The Elizabethan Knot Garden follows patterns of the 1500s. It is laid out with low hedges to recreate at ground level the intricate patterns used in lace making and the ornate plasterwork of the day.
The Italian Garden draws on the typical features of Italian gardens of the late 1600s. It is centred around an Italian well-head that originally stood in front of Stockwood House. The stone balustrading, together with the urns, give the garden its authentic feel, particularly when complemented by the many scented plants.
The Dutch Garden is set in the formal Dutch style of the early 1700s. The two large urns are replicas of those designed by William Kent for Alexander Poe's garden at Twickenham and the 'Wilderness Garden' at Great Linford Manor.
The Victorian Garden is based on English gardens from the late 1800s. This was the era of the great plant collectors who travelled the world in search of new, rare and exotic plants. The iron-framed arch leading out of the garden is covered in varieties of rose and clematis dating from the turn of the century.
The Winter Garden is in a sheltered location. Planted with shrubs, hellebores and heathers it forms an attractive winter garden. Come and see the first snowdrops and drifts of daffodils in the spring.
The Dig for Victory Garden was created by school students working with Parks staff in 2005 as part of the commemoration of the 60th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War (1939 - 1945). During the War everyone was asked to be as selfsufficient as possible, growing fruit and vegetables as well as keeping chickens for their eggs and meat. This garden recreates a wartime garden, complete with the metal Anderson shelter where people took cover during air raids.
The contemplative Sensory Garden includes a quiet seating area and a selection of plants to stimulate all your five senses:
- Sight (brightly coloured flowers and visually striking plants)
- Sound (swishing and rustling plants)
- Smell (lavender, roses)
- Touch (soft/hard/fleshy/spiky plants)
Some of these plants are within raised beds to allow easier access. The adjacent long greenhouse continues the sensory theme from a non-human perspective, with plants demonstrating sensitivity to light and touch, such as the Venus Fly Trap.
World Gardens and Green House
The World Gardens are a demonstration of some of the variety of plants and garden styles found throughout the world.
The Asian Garden is geometrically arranged with formal planting and a central water feature with seating around it. The plants within The European Garden are arranged informally, to provide a distinct contrast to the order and formality of the Asian garden.
The adjacent areas feature plants from different climatic zones. Large leaved evergreen plants typical of tropical zones are contrasted to cacti and fleshy leaved succulents within the arid zone. Comparisons and differences with plants of our own temperate zone, including seasonal plants, can be made.
The Medicinal Garden demonstrates the usefulness of plants to man: healing herbs for common ailments and mood-enhancing plants, as well as frangranced flowers with calming colours.
A 'healty eating' garden shows how plants can be used to assist good health. Different food growing techniques are also explored, comparing organic growing with high intensity crops.