Robert Hill-Snook and the Royal Pavilion Gardens

Robert Hill-Snook, Head Gardener at the Royal Pavilion Brighton

Robert Hill-Snook’s passion for gardening as Head Gardener at the Royal Pavilion is matched by his passion for people. When you meet him it quickly becomes apparent that gardening is not a job but a vocation, a way of life.

I remark that I cannot imagine that there would have been any peace without answering his sense of calling and vocation to be a gardener. Robert smiles and agrees.

As we walk in the gardens people approach him to talk about their lives and how this space at the heart of a city affects and blesses their lives. The most creative and exciting things are born out of relationship. It is clear that Robert’s care for and relationship with the gardens, his professional team, volunteers and those who come here has been transformative. A friend and colleague describes Robert as an “Anima Naturaliter Christiana”, a naturally Christian soul, and his work is a natural expression of faith.

Robert explains that John Nash’s Regency designs and the Royal Head Gardener William Aiton’s planting reflected the British taste for landscape gardens and the creation of picturesque views. Nash’s restored serpentine drive and the naturalistic beds of mixed flowers and shrubs reveals a series of vignettes of the Pavilion framed by the planting.

Robert remarks “The planting is all about textures, different shades of green – not dense so you can see through. The effects change with the light throughout the day. We’ve introduced succession planting so there is always something of interest to see as we move through the seasons. But we’re late this year because of the weather. There is a wholeness to the gardens and the building bringing together the English countryside and exotic plants from China and around the world.”

The Royal Pavilion Gardens at the heart of a city

The bird song rises in an anthem amongst the beautiful Elm trees alongside the bustle and noise of the city as Robert bends to pick a weed he’s spotted. He continues “We’re still bringing nature into the town. It’s really blessed people, especially during Covid.” I am pleased to hear this. I have been concerned for people deprived of an adequate outside space during these times.

I ask Robert about his legacy as he retires after almost twenty-five years at the Pavilion. He pauses and says “Every gardener uses one’s own expression because it is a living thing. And things will continue to change. The gardens gather and it’s a beacon, a great source of well-being for people and nature.”

I comment on his remarkable achievements in the gardens. Robert with his usual humility responds by talking about the importance of his team and the volunteers. Accompanying and enabling people, his individual friendships and the chance encounters with people in the gardens are clearly very important to him. Gardens provide a wonderful place for conversation and relationship. Robert explains that these encounters are built on mutual respect.

Robert’s care for the gardens and people, his sense of servant leadership, of putting the needs of others before his own is refreshing. For a busy chap there is a rooted stillness to his spirituality which blesses him with a wholeness of life. His stewardship has blessed these precious gardens and the community of people who share them.

A Collection Inspired by The Natural World

Emma Faull – Snipe in reeds, watercolour on a gold ground

The things that we collect so often reflect our lives and interests. This is true of the collection of the connoisseur and patron, the late Frank Warren, who lived near Horsham. A gentleman, amateur naturalist and sportsman, his collection of art and his library reflect his deep love of nature and the countryside and are to be auctioned at Toovey’s.

A man of broad interests with a knowledge, care and excitement for the world in which he lived the collection reflects his outward facing, generous nature.
The paintings are from an established group of contemporary realist artists who are once again returning to the British tradition of recording the world and nature. Many of the paintings in the collection are by Michael Jevon, as well as Rodger McPhail, George Lodge and Emma Faull, artists who this private collector counted as friends. He enjoyed the quality of patronage when buying work from these contemporary, realist artists. They depict birds, wildlife, and the countryside.

Painted in watercolour on a gold ground the beautiful study of Snipe in reeds is by Emma Faull. There is an accuracy and life to her work which defines her painting. Emma works with the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust in Jersey and is a passionate conservationists. Her art is represented in permanent collections such as the Audubon Society in the USA and collectors of her work include HM the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

Six limited edition, leather bound volumes on British sporting game birds and wildfowl, illustrated and published by Richard Robjent

The book department is one of my favourite rooms at Toovey’s; a library where the volumes are constantly changing. I catch up with Toovey’s book specialists, Charlie Howe, who is busy cataloguing and ask him about the books in the collection. He says “It’s notable to see that all these books are in very fine condition – he obviously was a genuine collector with wide and varied interests.

There’s literature and poetry, fine bindings of Shelley and Keats, all sitting alongside a strong collection of books on hunting and natural history.”
Six beautifully bound volumes in slip cases catch my eye. Charlie explains that the volumes are limited editions, bound in leather with tipped in illustrated plates by the artist and publisher, Richard Robjent. They cover all the sporting game birds and wildfowl of the British Isles and were published by Fine Sporting Interests. The volume ‘The Partridge – Studies in Words and Pictures’ includes a foreword by HRH the Duke of Edinburgh.

Charlie continues “Frank had a keen interest in travel too. There’s a first edition of Bruce Chatwin’s ‘In Patagonia’, as well as a scarce first printing of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s ‘A Time to keep silence’. There are many other rare volumes.

Estimates range from under £100 to the low thousands. This beautiful collection reflecting the interests of a country gentleman and connoisseur will be auctioned in Toovey’s Fine Art sale on Wednesday 23rd June and the Antiquarian and Collectors Books sale on Wednesday 21st July 2021.