Harold Ainsworth Peto, 1854-1933
Abridged and adapted from the Historical Introduction by
Dr Robin Whalley to The Boke of Iford by Harold A Peto.
Harold A Peto began his career by training as an architect and went into partnership with Ernest George in 1871. Among their architectural assistants were Guy Dauber, Herbert Baker and Edwin Lutyens. The partnership continued until it was dissolved in 1892, when Harold became increasingly interested in garden design and undertook a number of commissions such as the gardens at Buscot Park, Ilnacullin Island in Eire and several villas in the south of France.
During the 1880s and 1890s his diaries reveal periods of active travel with frequent visits to Italy and in 1899 when he visited Iford Manor with his lifelong friend, the garden designer and author, Avray Tipping, he knew at once that it fulfilled his dream.
Iford itself made an appropriate setting for the collection of Italian, French and Spanish architectural items Peto had collected in his travels. Though never with any large funds at his disposal, he always had a discerning eye for quality and a flair for putting the right piece in the right place. The main body of his garden design work took place during the Edwardian period, so that simultaneously with the development of Iford came the designs for many other prestigious gardens.
Harold Peto never appears to have entered openly into the controversy that raged between the formal and landscape gardeners and although his clear preference is for structure, it is seen how he used Gertrude Jekyll's and William Robinson's knowledge of plants when clothing his structures. It is also significant that both these writers spoke well of Peto's designs.
Working at a time when there was much interest in Italy and its gardens, he was not alone in bringing aspects of that garden culture to England, but he was perhaps its best exponent.
The Peto Garden at Iford Manor is a testament to his success and, in the words of Tipping: "If the relative spheres and successful inter-marriage of formal and natural gardening are better understood today than ever before, that desirable result is due to the efforts of no one man more than to Mr Peto".