SPEAKER: Concurrent with the advent of botanical study gardens, wealthy and powerful Tudor landowners were creating magnificent homes with elaborate enclosed gardens. Knot gardens were very popular, often constructed of hyssop, rue, thyme, and santolina. They were used to create various patterns, although family coats of arm were especially favored. Practical orchards and urban vegetable gardens were commonly found on such estates so that the privileged family could supplement their regular diet of lamb and mutton with more delicate foods and plant-based medicines.
These Tudor gardens continued, largely unchanged, until after the Glorious Revolution restored the monarchy after Cromwell's commonwealth. Then the influence of the French and the Dutch gave rise to two similar, but ultimately distinct, styles. Charles II, who had been exiled to France for many years, favored the French style, as did most royalists and Catholics.
This was typified by a strong central axis from which formal avenues, made by lines of trees, led off to distant horizons. Elaborate parterres, which were terraced gardens in which beds and paths formed geometric patterns, decorative canals, and elaborate fountains were all essential features.
William of Orange, also William III, was a Dutch prince and favored the Dutch style, which was more the province of the parliamentarians and Protestants. While this type of garden also included canals and parterres, it included more elaborate gardens including orchards, knot gardens, and what we would think of today as perennial borders. An excellent example is Hampton Court in Richmond.
As elaborate or refined as landscaping styles had become by the end of the 17th century, gardens still stayed largely within walls or other protection. Even the Dutch and French styles, with their tree-lined allées, provided views of distant horizons, but did not invite the visitors to actually venture into that wilderness.
That changed with the next style to be popularized-- the forest, or natural style, of the early 1700s. One of the leading proponents of this style was Stephen Switzer. Rather than simply make the formal garden larger, Switzer advocated drawing the occupants of the house out into the countryside. In a significant break with the past, Switzer considered neither the regularity of the parts nor the regularity of the whole as essential to a good landscape. It was the essayist and poet Alexander Pope who gave this style its most well-recognized catchphrase. Pope spoke about "the genius of the place," meaning that nature and the inherent qualities of a site are recognized, but are often enhanced to bring out the genius in them.
So for example, a forest may be moved or added onto, or a hillside may be reshaped, to meet the vision of the designer. Pope was also quite interested in the ways in which plants created sun and shade patterns and could provide tricks in perspective. His own property at Twickenham was a prime example of this style.
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Americans have traditionally looked to the British for direction on landscape design and plant selection. Notable British landscape designers such as Lancelot 'Capability' Brown, William Gilpin, and Gertrude Jekyll have left a legacy not only in England but across the ocean also. If these people and subjects intrigue you, I invite you to accompany me on a virtual tour of English garden design that starts back in the days of the Roman occupation and progresses to the eclectic gardens of today. Throughout, you will learn about how people, wars, inventions, and global exploration affected changing tastes and styles over the past millenium.
This video is part 3 of 5 in the A Brief History of English Garden Design series.