Arthur Evans’ Gardens

The British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans (1851-1941) is best known for his excavation and reconstruction of the Bronze Age palace of Knossos, on Crete (which I’ve posted about before), but also spent a considerable amount of his life in Oxford, where he was Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum (which now houses his archive as well as a considerable collection of finds from Knossos).

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Jarn Mound Wild Garden

Evans built a large house, called ‘Youlbury‘, on Boars Hill (just to the south-west of Oxford), which, sadly,  no longer exists (much of the former grounds is now a Scout Camp). One place that can still be visited in the area, though, is the Jarn Mound Wild Garden, created as a public garden by Evans (along with the Oxford Preservation Trust), and I thought I’d share a few pictures of a recent visit there.

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Jarn Mound

The garden’s not very large, but as well as the things you might expect to find in a wild garden – a lawn area, woods, a pond – it’s got a couple of more idiosyncratic Evansian features. Firstly, the Jarn Mound, an entirely artificial 30-foot-high hill which Evans had built because he was worried that trees in the area were growing too high for people to see the surrounding views. The view from the top today suggests that if anything he was under-ambitious about this project:

 

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(You can still see the classic ‘dreaming spires’ view from the nearby Old Golf Course field.)

Then there’s the garden’s most obvious nod to Evans’ excavations at Knossos, a concrete-and-corrugated-iron shelter with ‘fresco’ decoration (sadly now a bit covered in graffiti): for comparison, there’s a photograph of one of Evans’ reconstructions at Knossos underneath.

Northern Entrance Passage from south
Northern Entrance Passage, Knossos

But this isn’t the only way in which this garden echoes the site of Knossos. The whole fact of its existence due to Evans’ concern for preserving public access to this area of land, and the effort he put into achieving this, are also strongly reminiscent of his reconstructions of the palace. Controversial though they may now be (it’s debated how accurate they actually are, and the concrete they’re mostly made of is, it has to be said, pretty unattractive), they seem to reflect a similar desire to make this site accessible and understandable to the general public, even to the extent of rebuilding/reimagining large parts of the palace (or building a whole hill from scratch). And here’s one last picture, of the rockery in the garden – which, from some angles, looks (deliberately?) very like an abandoned archaeological site.

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Rockery in the Jarn garden

For any keen readers who want to visit the Jarn Mound Wild Garden, it’s freely open and forms part of a series of fields and gardens owned by the Oxford Preservation Trust on Boars Hill. There are entrances to the garden from the Ridgeway and Jarn Way, the former with limited roadside parking; the 31 Oxford-Abingdon bus stops about 1.5 miles away at the top of Hinksey Hill.

 

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Author: Anna P. Judson

Classics researcher at Cambridge

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