Percy Cane at the Imperial Palace, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia


This is really for the sadly, few fans left of Percy Cane. He was the top English landscape and garden designer of the mid twentieth century.  Perhaps derivative of Harold Peto, but nonetheless successful for that. Like Peto, the style of garden that they designed is no longer fashionable but as with any great design, the power to impress is still palpable. Treat yourself to an opera at Iford Manor, Peto’s own home and garden to see the truth of this. However, if you are lucky enough as I was, to visit Ethiopia go, see Cane’s splendid designs for Haile Sellassie’s gardens at the Imperial Palace in Addis. It’s the only compete Percy Cane garden in existence. There are vestiges of his designs around. See my article Hidden Highgate in Garden ConfidentiaSPRING 2008 – or John Brooks website on Dartington Hall but nothing to compare to The Imperial Palace gardens.

Unfortunately the garden is not generally open to the public and to visit you need to get permission from the embassy. And as you can see from the photos above, there are not the funds to keep Cane’s marvellous water gardens running. (Although they did keep the black Abyssinian lion there!- Haile Sellassie’s legacy)At the time I was there, they told me that they put the fountains on for  visiting dignitaries, but I doubt this.  Nevertheless the care taken in looking after the gardens was quite heart warming. The head gardener  didn’t fully realise the provenance of the garden, but he loved it.  I gave him my prized  book The Earth is my Canvas by Percy Cane and he was visibly amazed to see Cane’s illustrations , which were identical to the structures in the Ethiopian garden.

Over the years, the embassy has shown interest in restoring the garden. In my opinion it really needed planting more than anything else-Canes structures have proven remarkably resilient. Nevertheless if, as I suggested to them, they opened the palace and garden to the general public, it would need hefty and expensive work to ensure safety and facilities. The palace itself is a wow-Sellassie used fantastic Ethiopian craftsman for the magnificent wooden panelling and  top italian interior designers for an almost Versace type feel to the public rooms.

I feel that the only way that the funds will be found for this extraordinary legacy is if all you guys out there, request a visit. Then the powers that be will recognise what a world wide attraction they have. There is a degree of urgency as I have just heard that my devoted head gardener has retired and there is no one taking over from him.

In the meanwhile, my very good friend who grew up in Addis and has devoted her life to supporting Ethiopia, recently sent me the details of her charity that she has set up.

Again do look at it-its so worthwhile and Ethiopia needs all the help that she can get.