Percy Cane

(Stephen) Percy Cane (1881-1976) came to work at Dartington in 1946 with an established and impressive body of work behind him.

Construction of Percy Cane’s steps , Photo, The Dartington Hall Trust Archive
Construction of Percy Cane’s steps. L-R: Percy Cane, Dorothy Elmhirst, Johnny Johnson

Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst needed a successor for the American landscape gardener, Beatrix Farrand, who had been responsible for the layout of the Hall Gardens before the war.

Their friend Constance Spry suggested Cane, who was a well-known English garden designer. It is estimated that the total number of his gardens ran into several hundreds, and included the garden of the Imperial Palace at Addis Ababa, for the Emperor Haile Selassie.

Cane worked on the Dartington Hall gardens until the 1960s and continued to visit there until the summer of 1971.  In 1973 he had a severe stroke and his affairs fell into a muddle. On hearing this Leonard Elmhirst took steps to ensure that Cane was provided for until the end of his life.

Like Farrand, Cane endeavoured to create strong links between various parts of the garden and designed a number of new features. Perhaps the most dramatic of these innovations is the flight of York stone steps leading from the Henry Moore sculpture Memorial Figure, 1947, to the lower end of the Tiltyard, known originally as ‘Percy Cane steps’ and afterwards as the Heath Bank steps, as seen in the above photograph.

Dorothy Elmhirst made the following comment on Cane’s work:

“In his planting scheme, Mr Cane adhered to his own basic principles of design – massing shrubs of the same sort together and arranging colour combinations that help to emphasise, and not detract from the essential form of planting.  He has tried to give full value to the architectural features of the garden, believing in the importance of space and of relating lawn and trees and shrubs to each other in a formal composition.”

Dartington would like to thank Kate Caddy for helping compile these biographies. 


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