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Gary Webb: appreciating wild places

Gary Webb: appreciating wild places


Gary Webb


The Head of Landscape and Gardens at Compton Verney reveals his love of natural landscapes and the work of Capability Brown. Written by Anne De Verteuil.


I have always had an attraction to wilder places. I remember holidays as a child to places like Chesil Beach in Dorset, and to ruined castles where I could explore and clamber over walls.

The thing that has influenced me most is the way my creativity was nurtured from an early age. Not just drawing and painting, but collecting images from magazines and compiling scrap books – a precursor to the mood board. These days I do much the same, but digitally, using Flickr, Pinterest and Instagram.

My most unexpected source of inspiration is Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. Like him or loathe him, his achievements were complex and significant, his approach holistic, and his attention to detail exemplary. I try to borrow his vision and replicate his approach.

One book I would like to pass on to the next generation is Gilbert White’s Year. White was a naturalist who lived in the 18th century. His diary entries have been transcribed and give a touching account of the period as he studied the seasonal changes with plants and wildlife. It is a very emotive and revealing book that I can really relate to, and I can see a little of myself in him.

The object that sums up the way I look at the world are my secateurs; firmly slotted into their worn leather holster. I often wear them, even when I’ve a full day of meetings ahead. Sporting them reminds me and others of my core role – something that I’d be loathe to leave behind or have forgotten – and you’d be surprised how useful they are in an office!

My mood board is full of bright, close-up pictures of flowers and bees; private garden rooms; glossy, shapely and textured foliage; old stonework; classical garden buildings and grottoes; sculptures both old and new; wild landscapes and tamed landscapes with heavy skies; and pictures of my family posing and pulling faces.

The sharpest learning curve I’ve had at work has been my most recent employment with Compton Verney, an art gallery situated in a Grade II listed landscape. It has swept me into a very active period of landscape restoration, sculpture installation and planning for the ‘Re-viewing the Landscape’ project.

The high point of my career so far has been working with Dan Pearson to create an Arts and Crafts-inspired wildflower parterre at Compton Verney (above). I have been involved from the outset and was thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Dan.

If I had to wander for eternity in one space, I’d choose a Claudian landscape. I’d stroll along rough, wheel-rutted tracks and perch on the steps of temples and weedy ruins. I’d finally spend some time sketching twisted, character-filled trees and wildflowers whilst soaking up sunshine from dawn until dusk. I’d hear cow bells and birdsong, and I’d be as happy as you like. If this wasn’t possible, I’d probably head for Hestercombe or Stourhead.

If I am remembered for anything, I hope it will be for my endless love of gardens, and appreciation for each and every element that contributes to the spirit of each place.


To find out more about Dan Pearson’s ‘William Morris’ wildflower parterre at Compton Verney, go to www.comptonverney.org.uk. Follow Gary on Twitter @GaryWebb1


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