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The Gardens of Ede

Find out more about our new archive display exploring gardens of Jim and Helen Ede.

Our current archive display in the vitrine outside the Research Space at Kettle’s Yard explores Jim and Helen Ede’s gardens at their homes in Morocco, France and England.

Whitestone, Tangier

Between 1936 and 1952, Jim and Helen Ede lived at Whitestone, a modernist house they commissioned and designed in Tangier, Morocco. They liked to joke that they had found their Eden there, partly because of the large, lush garden where Jim Ede spent much of his time planting, pruning and weeding. Snapshots of Whitestone and its garden show a row of sweeping Italian cypress trees and flowering prickly pear cactuses. Mohamed al Rifi, a local man who worked with the Edes throughout their time in Tangier, helping with the house and in the garden, appears in the background of several photographs. Unlike the British servicemen who came to stay with the Edes for short visits, al Rifi is otherwise little documented in their photographs, showing that the archive offers only a partial view of the Edes’ life.

Jim and Helen Ede with a group of British servicemen in the garden at Whitestone, 1946
Whitestone, circa 1946-7

Les Charlottières, France

In 1952, the Edes moved to Les Charlottières, a farmhouse near Amboise, in the Loire Valley, France. There were two woods in the grounds of the house, an orchard and a vineyard with an abundance of grapes from which the Edes made their own wine. This was the house where Helen Ede was happiest. She foraged fruit and mushrooms and grew peaches, apples, grapes, apricots, walnuts and cherries. The archive includes a small painting of the landscape surrounding Les Charlottières by the artist and writer Roger Brielle, inscribed: ‘for Monsieur and Madame Ede, to remember the very precious hours spent at Les Charlottières.’ There is also a portrait of Jim and Helen Ede in front of a trellis with rambling blousy roses and a series of snapshots of the farmhouse grounds, glued into a card sent by the Edes’ friends, Robin and Étienne.

Four years after they moved to France, in 1956, Jim and Helen Ede returned to England and set about renovating the four dilapidated cottages which became Kettle’s Yard. Photographs from the time show that there were no trees, flowers or climbing plants around the house. From this barren plot of land the Edes created a small, beautiful garden in the style of Gertrude Jekyll, the famous gardener of the Arts and Crafts movement. It featured natural stone paths and Mediterranean plants including lavender, rosemary, cistus bushes and two medlar trees.

Jim and Helen Ede in the garden at Les Charlottières, circa 1953

Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge

In his 1984 book A Way of Life, Jim Ede described the time of the year when the cherry blossom would come into bloom outside Helen Ede’s bedroom, obscuring the view of St Peter’s church nearby – a moment he called ‘a great marvel.’ At this time Helen Ede suffered from ill health, but her view of the garden, which wraps itself around the house, was a source of comfort and solace. The garden has a sense of wildness and frothiness which is cultivated to this day.

Archival material on the Kettle’s Yard garden is relatively slight, consisting of a smattering of photographs and a list of the plants in the garden in need of attention which Jim Ede wrote before he and Helen retired to Edinburgh in 1973. The garden is itself a form of archive however, as the plants tell stories from the past. Information becomes seeded and transmitted through the plant life the garden contains. This opens up the question: can gardens reveal forms of knowledge and ways of being that are often left out of traditional archives and historical records?

Visit the Display

Come along to Kettle’s Yard to see this free display outside the Research Space.

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