The Landscape Guide
The art of garden design did not flourish under the Commonwealth but revived after the Restoration. For half a century after 1660 royal patronage recovered its pre-Civil War importance. England was ruled by monarchs with French and Dutch sympathies and they looked across the Channel for inspiration. Charles II had been exiled in France for nine years and admired both the style of the French court and the gardens which Le Notre made at Vaux le Vicomte (1656-1661) and Versailles (1661-1715). William of Orange, who reigned in England from 1688 to 1702, was a Dutch prince with Dutch tastes. There was also a distinct tendency for families with Royalist and catholic sympathies to favour French gardens and for families with Parliamentarian and protestant sympathies to favour Dutch gardens. It is not however at all easy to determine the relative importance of the two sources of design ideas.
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William of Orange's garden at Het Loo.
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The stylistic differences between France and Holland in the second half of the seventeenth century were largely matters of emphasis. France was a well wooded and agriculturally backward country where land was plentiful and the monarchy possessed of absolute power. It could afford the space for large hunting forests and for avenues radiating towards distant horizons. The avenues made it easier to hunt the stag and symbolised both man's domination of nature and the King's dominion over his people.  

In Holland there was no desire to proclaim the monarch's absolute power and the polder lands had been won from the North Sea at great cost. It was inconceivable that they should be used either for hunting forests or for vast unproductive gardens.  

The aesthetic ideas which produced Vaux-le-Vicomte and Versailles, when employed in Holland with Dutch horticultural expertise, led to an emphasis on immaculate parterres and topiary. Canals were a feature of French gardens but in the Dutch lowlands they were a necessity to keep the water table low. The canals were often planned as part of the garden and became thought of as characteristically Dutch.  Honselaarskijk, near The Hague, had a moat round the castle and canals round the perimeter.

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Honsholredyk (Honselaarskijk) near The Hague

Avenues were valued in Holland for aesthetic reasons but they could not be created on a French scale by clearing vistas through ancient hunting forests. Dutch avenues were often no more than lines of newly planted trees extending through agricultural land. The two styles are shown diagramatically on figs 2 and 3. Both owe a great deal to Andre Mollet's Jardin de Plaisir which recommended the use of straight walks, statues, fountains, water-works, canals, turf parterres and parterres de broderie. This book was a vital influence on Le Notre and on formal gardens in France, Holland and England.

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Plan for a garden from Mollet's Le Jardin de Plaisir (1651)

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The popularity of the French style in England undoubtedly received a great boost from the restoration of Charles II. Charles had spent most of his exile in France and when he returned home he wished to rule as a 'Sun King' and adopt the French style of garden design. Neither ambition was realised to a significant degree. He is thought to have taken advice from Le Notre himself on St James's Park and Greenwich Park but even these projects, among the best examples of the French style in England, were pale shadows of their French predecessors. They were small in size and the avenues were formed with single lines of trees. The earthworks were carried out for the a parterre, to Le Notre's design, but the beds were not made.

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The site of Le Notre's parterre in Greenwich Park, London. Note the earthworks on the right of the picture.

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At Greenwich even the visual continuity of the main axis is broken by two sharp changes of gradient along its length and a giant flight of grass steps had to be made to carry the eye up the gradient. John Evelyn, whose Sylva gave a great impetus to British forestry, lived near Greenwich and may have advised on the layout. The avenues were made out of lines of trees, like the walks in Evelyn's own garden at Sayes Court, and were enclosed within a boundary wall. Since no forest trees were planted in Enclosed gardens, the ancient Sweet Chestnuts in Greenwich may be the oldest planted forest trees in any English park or garden.

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An avenue running up a hill in Greenwich Park, London

 At St James's Park a long rectangular canal occupied the centre of the design and the Mall, which is the only feature of the original layout to have survived, was laid out on the north side to provide a space in which to play a type of croquet known as Pal-Mal. As at Greenwich the avenues were contained within the park boundary.

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The Mall, on which the game of Pal-Mal was played is shown on the right of this drawing.

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The intended use of Charles II's parks was however decidedly French. He wished them to be a focus for court life and St James's Park, like Versailles, was a place for high society to meet and catch an occasional glimpse of the king:

 St James's Park was by his time a much-frequented spot, and crowds delighted to watch the King and his courtiers displaying their dexterity . Charles II is more intimately connected with St James's Park than any other great personage. He sauntered about, fed his ducks, played his games, and made love to fair ladies, all with indulgent, friendly crowds watching. He stood in the 'Green Walk' beneath the trees, to talk to Nell Gwynn, in her garden 'on a terrace on the top of the wall' overlooking the Park; and shocked John Evelyn, who records, in his journal, that he heard and saw 'a very familiar discourse between the King and Mrs. Nelly'.  

Charles also liked to walk his dogs in the park. St James's was the heart of London's social life and even in cold foggy weather the most beautiful society ladies were to be seen 'taking the air' in flimsy dresses. This was an English version of the Versailles where Louis XIV's attendants used to go before him to clear a path through the large crowds in his park and a man had only to wear a sword to gain admittance. Greenwich Park was a country estate in the seventeenth century but it was a popular place to visit. Samuel Pepys often went there and recorded in his diary a pleasant afternoon in 1662 when he went 'with all the children by water to Greenwich, where I showed them the King's yacht, the house, and the parke, all very pleasant'. He later went with Lady Carteret who walked up the hill and down again with a page carrying her train.  

Three members of the Mollet family are known to have worked on St James's Park in the 1660s and to have trained John Rose who became keeper of the park when the Mollets left England. Rose was the first in a long succession of leading designers to the king and aristocracy. They worked either for or with each other and dominated British garden design for at least a century after the restoration. John Rose (1621-1677) employed George London (1681-1714) and Henry Wise (1653-1738). London and Wise went into partnership and later employed Stephen Switzer (1682-1745) and Charles Bridgeman (d.1738). After London's death Wise took Bridgeman into partnership. Bridgeman later worked with William Kent (1685-1748), and Kent with Lancelot Brown (1716-1783).  

The men who stand at the begining and end of the chain had famously different tastes. Rose admired Le Notre, Versailles and French gardens. Brown was the creator of Blenheim and a uniquely English 'parkland' type of landscape. The evolutionary process by which Brown's style developed from the French style is of great historical interest. Unfortunately the paucity of records makes it very difficult to sort out who did what and in which style. It appears that the five designers who worked after Rose and before Brown responded to more than one stylistic influence. If the styles of the leading designers are given names, and a degree of simplification is accepted, then the evolutionary process can be shown in tabular form:

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Styles of the leading British garden designers from 1660 to 1760


Style Main exponents Lesser exponents
French The Mollets and Rose London and Wise
Dutch London and Wise Switzer & Bridgeman
Forest Switzer & Bridgeman Kent
Augustan Kent and Bridgeman Switzer
Serpentine Brown Kent


London and Wise certainly admired French gardens. They published a modified translation of a French gardening book and London met Le Notre when sent to France by Rose in 1698. Some aspects of their work is distinctly French: it is probable that London and Wise laid out the radiating goose-foot avenues at Hampton Court and certain that they designed out the adjoining chestnut avenues in Bushey Park. These avenues were made by planting single lines of trees in the Dutch manner but the radial pattern originates from France. It was fully developed at Badminton in Gloucestershire. The avenues which radiate from the Round Pond in Kensington Gardens were planned by Wise and Bridgeman between 1726 and 1728. Wise took Bridgeman into partnership in 1726. It seems likely that the senior partner was responsible for the design and the junior partner for its execution.

Hampton Court c1700, illustrated by Kip and Knyff

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