Mr and Mrs Sweetman’s have a beautiful cottage garden in Three Cups Corner in East Sussex. It was something they were so proud of, that when a photographer approached Sweetmans to take pictures of them in it, they took him up on his offer.
In 1963, British photographer Ken Griffiths captured the essence of their marriage in his photography series “In An English Country Garden”.
For one year, Griffiths took one photo per month – 12 photographs showing the changing seasons and the evolution of the Sweetman’s garden and marriage in 1963-1964. Though he set out to photograph a long-married couple’s photos, what he inadvertently found was that he captured the realities of loss and love through his series.
As they posed in their front garden, you see their garden grow and bloom. In 11 of the photos, the Sweetmans stood proudly on their footpath, leaning slighting towards each other in affection. You see their garden grow and the weather become cooler.
In one photo it’s raining, and Mr Sweetman holds an umbrella over his wife to ensure she stay dry – and gets wets in the process.
But the final 12th photo was strikingly different – and depicts a tragic story. In it, Mr Sweetman stands alone in the pathway.
It hints that Mrs Sweetman has passed, and that Mr Sweetman is heartbroken at the loss of his wife.
“In An English Country Garden” offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the lives of ordinary people. A reality that many couples can relate to.
However, the truth behind the photos is a different story. In fact, the English winter was too cold for Mrs Sweetman, who was alive and well at the time, and she simply could not go outside. If you look carefully in the final picture, she can be seen standing at the kitchen window.
The original series were first published in The Sunday Times Magazine on March 24th, 1964.
They were later displayed in the The Sunday Times Magazine 50th Anniversary exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery in 2012 and were also in the book Zeit Wert Geben in 2013.
Ken Griffiths died in 2014, aged 69, of motor neurone disease. To this day, “In An English Country Garden” has remained an important piece of Griffith’s legacy, noted for the quaint charm of its aesthetic and the unexpected poignancy of its subject matter.