Photos & Text by Robert Viau, Ph.D.
Indeed, from the end of the seventeenth century to the beginning of the nineteenth century, that is to say, during the period often referred to as the "long" eighteenth century (1660-1840), the aesthetic of garden design shifted gradually from one that stressed restraint, control, limit, and order to one that emphasized freedom and openness. From the geometrical severity of Versaille and Hampton Court in the late seventeenth century to the well regulated naturalness of Blenheim, Castle Howard, and Stowe, by the middle of the eighteenth century designed gardens grew almost to resemble open landscape or raw nature.
At the opening of the eighteenth century, the dominant force in landscape design was Andre Le Notre, chief garden designer for Louis XIV at Versaille. The most popular garden designs of the seventeenth and early eighteenth century were the French, Italian, and Dutch formal gardens executed to exhibit bilateral symmetry, and no one surpassed Le Notre in his realization of this rigid style.
In this garden style, the part of the garden closest to the palace or house was handled architecturally, like another room-extension of the house proper. The garden consisted of a perfectly regular series of geometrical compartments formed by closely clipped shrubs and trees and straight gravel walks, stone paths, terraces, and steps. Often the compartments were parterres de broderie (plots resembling embroidery) carpeted with low evergreens (often box), flowers (actually rare until the nineteenth century), colored earth, brick dust, coal dust, white and yellow sand, etc. In the largest gardens, rigid geometry was imposed as far as the eye could see. Garden walks extended and radiated in geometrical patterns, along with canals and avenues of trees. Fountains, statues, mazes, and small woods and groves were all arranged symmetrically with reference to one central axis extending from the exact center of the house.
The overriding impression of such gardens is of man's tyranny over nature--perfectly suitable for Louis XIV and other European absolute monarchs.
The masterpiece of this style of gardening was Versaille as laid out for Louis XIV by Andre L Notre. Versaille became the model for princely gardens throughout Europe, and this includes the garden laid out for William III in front of Sir Christopher Wren's new east front of Hampton Court Palace. The principal gardener for Hampton Court was Henry Wise (1653-1738)
Here are some pictures of Versaille and other formal gardens of the period.
At the end of the seventeenth century, the English inheritor of the Le Notre tradition was Henry Wise (1653-1738), one of the principal gardeners of Hampton Court Palace. He also worked for James Brydges, the Duke of Chandos, at the elaborate and expensive gardens at Cannon, Middlesex, which Pope's contemporaries believed to be Timon's Villa in the "Epistle to Burlington." The style of these gardens is "autocratic": palatial grandeur radiates outward from the patriarchal seat, its rigid order dominating nature and bending it to man's will.
The Great expense of maintaining Hampton Court's extensive gardens eventually led Queen Anne to order Wise to reduce the cost of upkeep by two thirds. Thus in 1704 the box parterres de broderie were replaced by open lawn, in a step towards the freer landscape style that would dominate much of the rest of the century.
In recent years, formal gardens have been restored at Hampton Court. Check out this link: Hampton Court Gardens.
My Picture Gallery of Hampton Court
Transitions from Formal to Landscape Gardens
In reaction to the rigid formality of the French and Italian gardens of the late seventeenth century, a new style began to emerge which was much freer. Advocates of what eventually became the irregular landscape garden opposed symmetry, ostentation, and what they regarded as the tyranny of the French style, which they in turn associated with the tyranny of French government. Thus the growing freedom of English garden design gradually became associated with the freedom of English government. Garden aesthetics took on political meaning, sometimes, as in the case of Stowe, overt political meaning.
Here are some texts which greatly influenced this transition from formal to informal garden design:
A. J. Dezallier d'Argenville, La Theorie et la Pratique du Jardinage (1709). This was translated into English in 1712. It is the first text to mention the ha-ha or dry moat, which essentially enabled landscape designers to take down walls and fences and thus free up wide areas of green space.
Stephen Switzer (1682-1745), Nobleman, Gentleman, and Gardener's Recreation (1715), enlarged as Ichonographia Rustica (1718). Switzer advocates a system of rural and forest gardening which unites formal garden features from French gardens with park and pasture and timber land to for a unified design. He further advocates the union of the beautiful with the useful; and he strongly urges economy and opposes gardens which are expensive to maintain. This combination of beauty and utility is close to the spirit of the aesthetic described by Pope in his Epistle to Burlington, 177-180:
Who then shall grace, or who improve the soil?
Who plants like Bathurst*, or who builds like Boyle*.
'Tis Use alone that sanctifies expense,
And splendour borrows all her rays from sense.
*Bathurst is Allen, Lord Bathurst, friend of Swift, Pope, and others; he was keenly interested in gardening.
*Boyle is the Burlington of the poem, Pope's friend and fellow amateur gardener and architect. He is best known for his severe Neo-Palladian home in Chiswick outside London. Besides its architecture, Chiswick is well known for its landscape design, which includes a serpentine lake, a rustic bridge, a palladian bridge, an Ionic temple, and much more, all available for view at :
Landscape gardeners also attempted to create ideal nature or to teach nature, in the words of Switzer, "even to exceed herself." Such idealization of nature has significant classical literary antecedents in the poetry of Horace and Virgil, which celebrates rural life and retreat from the cares of the city and public life. Also implied by this garden aesthetic is the original Garden of Eden in which man and nature are in perfect (if temporary) harmony. It is interesting (and profoundly significant) that Horace Walpole and others who advocated the new garden aesthetic also admired Milton's Paradise Lost, whose descriptions of Paradise are remarkably vivid.
The new freer style of gardening is evident at Castle Howard in Yorkshire and Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire. Early in the century both formal and informal gardens exist side by side. By the middle of the century the new style dominated.
Charles Bridgeman (1680-1738) & Stowe
Charles Bridgeman succeeded Wise as the Royal Gardener. His most famous achievement in landscape design is the famous garden at Stowe under Bridgeman's direction since 1713. This masterpiece of landscape design was added to later by Kent and Capability Brown.
Bridgeman stands midway between Le Notre and Capability Brown in garden style. In the 1720's Kent took up landscape gardening in what is called the painterly manner. His most notable painterly garden is Rousham in Oxfordshire. Bridgeman prepared the main lines of the garden in the 1720s, preparing the way for Kent's work in the 1730s. The painterly manner attempted to evoke something of the theatrical qualities of the landscapes of Poussin and Claude.
For the Complete history and guided tours of Stowe, clicke below:
STOWE-2 Site by John Tatters--Truly Amazing!
STOWE-3 My Photos from Summer Study Abroad 1999
Stowe is a landscape garden with political meaning. On the one hand, it celebrates the solid classical foundations of eighteenth cenury society, as embodied in the Neo-Palladian building and the numerous Neo-Palladian garden monuments and follies. On the other hand, in its free and open treatment of garden space, Stowe also embodies the freedom which eighteenth century theorists associated with ancient British (Saxon) principles.
But the political meaning of Stowe is sharper and more specific still: it represents opposition politics through allegorical monuments. A large valley called the Elysian Fields lies between two ridges. On one ridge sits the Temple of Ancient Virtue, designed by Kent in 1734, which exhibits life-size Statues of Homer, Lycurgus, Socrates, and Epaminondas. Facing it but from lower ground stands the the Shrine of British Worthies, also by Kent, exhibiting busts of sixteen national heroes, including modern figures like Shakespeare, Locke, Newton, and Pope as well as men of old like King Alfred. The Shrine of British Worthies literally looks up towards the Temple of Ancient Virtue in a powerful demonstration of reverence for classical ideals. For a while there was a third building nearby, the Temple of Modern Virtue, a ruin that allegedly satirized Sir Robert Walpole, the Whig Minister of State whom Cobham, Pope, Swift, and many other Tory writers loved to hate. The Temple of Liberty, by Gibbs (1741) is in the Gothic style associated by architects and landscape designers with ancient British ideals.
Alexander Pope & His Garden in Twickenham
Pope has been called the presiding genius of the gardening revolution in the 1720s-30s. His own garden in Twickenham as well as the gardens of weathly friends with whom Pope consulted testify to his remarkable influence.
Little survives of Pope's garden. We do know from drawings and descriptions that it perfectly embodied the landscaping principles espoused in "Epistle to Burlington." To Pope, landscape gardening was an act of the imagination expressing his inner "romantic" impulses.
Bridgeman had introduced a garden design based on a relatively formal straight central axis with flanking areas treated irregularly, so that symmetry and balance are combined with variety. Pope adapted this principle and applied it to his small garden plot across the London road from his villa in Twickenham. The bounds of the garden were concealed by dense thickets to create an enclosed irregular garden containing monuments with both ancient and modern associations. At the eastern end of the garden stood the Shell Temple, a Rococo pleasure dome; at the western and darker end of the garden stood an obelisk commemorating the death of Pope's mother. From the garden a passage ran beneath the London road and into a Grotto located in Pope's basement. At the garden end the Grotto looked out over an open lawn towards the Thames and open country. When the doors of the Grotto were closed, it became a camera obscura reflecting thousands of images from the sparkling shells and bits of mirror in the Grotto walls, a truly remarkable and "poetic" folly of the fancy.
Perhaps Pope's most remarkable indirect influence was at Stowe, Lord Cobham's 400 acre garden worked on by sixty years of landscape gardeners, architects, and sculptors: Bridgeman, Vanbrugh, Kent, Brown, and many more.
Stourhead in Wiltshire
Stourhead was built in the 1740s by wealthy banker Henry Hoare. He bagan by building dams on several streams to raise a lake, around which he then planted trees. He arranged buildings and trees to form a series of pictures, of views, along a serpentine walk. He added a Grotto for private reflection, as well as a Pantheon copied by "Burlington Harry" Flitchcroft which appears in a Claude painting owned by Hoare and now in the National Gallery in London. The Pantheon houses statues of Hercules by Rysbrack , and the Latin inscription establishes parallels between Aeneas (who sought a new home in Rome) and Hoare (who sought a new home in Wiltshire).
Chinese and Japanese Influences
Eighteenth century garden ornaments and follies generally were either Classical or Gothic, but gradually throughout the century oriental styles began to be incorporated into landscape design, as they were into rood decoration. In the 1740s Chinese House at Shugborough and the House of Confucius at Kew were built. In the 1750s many pagodas, pavilions, and kiosks were built, along with Chinese style bridges such as the one across the Thames at Hampton Court. By the 1750s French descriptions of the Imperial Gardens at Peking had been published in English. Architect Sir William Chambers visited Canton, China, as a young man and in the 50s published Designs of Chinese Buildings, Furniture, Dresses, etc. (1757), followed by Dissertation On Oriental Gardening (1772). Chambers argues strongly for great variety in garden design, and many believe that this is a reaction against the rising popularity of the garden designs of Lancelot "Capability" Brown, by far the most popular and prolific designer of the second half of the eighteenth century.
The Pagoda at Kew Gardens (See also the Chinese House at Stowe)
In the "capable" hands of Lancelot Brown, gardens design lost nearly all of its formality and appearance of artifice. At Blenheim, he eliminated the great Le Notre style parterreslaid out by Henry Wise and replaced it with an open expanse of lawn brought up to the walls of the house, near which he planted dark trees to frame the view of the landscape from the house. For some contempories such as Chamber, Brown's gardens "differ very little from common fields, so closely is common nature copied in them."
Brown created this effect of the appearance of unrestrained nature by planting a vast stretch of lawn punctuated by small clusters of trees or single trees irregularly placed in wavy belts. The land dips away from the house towards a winding lake and rise beyond to a distant woodland, completing the "landscape."
Longleat, Wiltshire (1757) Before Capability Brown:
Rigid Bi-Lateral Symmetry a la Henry Wise and Andre Le Notre
Longleat After Capability Brown
Other Capability Brown Gardens
The last stage in the development of eighteenth century gardens is the result of the powerful influence of Edmund Burke's Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Beautiful and the Sublime (1757). This texts profoundly influenced the of the emergence of gothic literature, gothic revival architecture, and landscape design modeled on Burke's notion of the sublime or terrible in nature.
Burke divided all aesthetic responses into two categories, the beautiful and the sublime. The beautiful includes all that is smooth, regular, delicate, and harmonious; the sublime, all that is rough, gloomy, violent, and gigantic. Sublimity among objects of nature includes all that is untamed and uncivilized, such as the wilder parts of the countryside, mountains, cataracts, volcanoes, and scenes that are savage and primitive as opposed to "cultivated." Obviously even the wealthiest landowner cannot heave up majestic mountains or carve out canyons to create Burke's sublime landscape, but small scale "wildness" and "roughness" were easily manageble. Increasingly, from the mid century onward, landscape designs, already freed up almost entirely by "Capability" Brown, incorporated elements of the wild and the rough. Where these elements could not be found on a landowner's, they were constructed. If a real Gothic ruin did not exist on the property, an imitation ruin would be constructed from scratch. Likewise with caves, grottos, rustic bridges, and many more garden ornaments that were often quite grand in scale and magnitude. These made-up bits of fake antiquity and "natural wildness" came to be called follies.
Stowe Gardens in Buckinghamshire (see above) features several of these elements of what eventually became known as the Sublime or the Terrible Garden. Look at these:
Once wildness enters the landscape gardens of England, we can readily see that the groundwork has been laid for the Romantic movement.