This browser is not fully supported by Historic England. Please update your browser to the latest version so that you get the best from our website.

Sylvia Crowe and Magdalen College

Sylvia Crowe (1901–1997) and Magdalen College, Oxford, Registered Grade I.

Sylvia Crowe was a landscape architect and is well-known for the variety of her work, from her garden designs to her industrial and housing landscapes. She designed landscapes for hospitals, power stations and reservoirs including Rutland Water and assisted with the gardens at the new towns of Harlow and Basildon. Sylvia shared an office with Brenda Colvin, another pioneering female landscape architect.

Lasker Rose Garden at Magdalen College
Lasker Rose Garden at Magdalen College © Historic England

Sylvia was concerned that new developments such as roads were being landscaped by non-specialists. She thought that the standard of landscape relative to housing was poor in this country and set out to improve things. She was president of the Institute of Landscape Architects, now the Landscape Institute, from 1957-9; and in 1967 Sylvia was awarded the Commander of the Order of the British Empire, the CBE, and was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, DBE, in 1973. This award is made for an outstanding and long-term contribution in a significant capacity at a national level.

She became the first landscape consultant to the Forestry Commission in 1964, encouraging the Commission to use mixed trees rather than rows of conifers in their plantations. She used aesthetic and ecological principles in forestry, breaking up the straight lines of the plantations using natural features as boundaries. She continues to inspire and influence students through her many books.

Magdalen College's extensive gardens date from the 16th century. They include the Rose Garden, designed for the college by Sylvia in 1953 to commemorate the development of penicillin as an antibiotic in Oxford during the 1940s. Stimulated by wartime need, the research was one of Oxford's greatest contributions to medicine. Already discovered by Alexander Fleming, the Oxford team headed by Howard Walter Florey developed penicillin, isolating the active ingredient. A rose garden was stipulated by the donor, the American Lasker foundation. Mary Lasker was a champion of medical research and with her husband, Albert, established a legacy of effective philanthropy through their own efforts and their public support of important causes.

Sylvia decided on a formal framework for the roses echoing botanic garden layout through the centuries. Its rectangular rose beds, surrounded by low, clipped box hedges, are enclosed by yew hedges, with stone seats at the west end under a row of pleached copper beech.

Was this page helpful?

External links