The Garden Guide

Book: Fragments on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening, 1816
Chapter: Fragment XxvIII. Containing Extracts From The Report On Woburn Abbey.

Approach drive to Woburn Abbey

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APPROACHES. As there is no part of the arrangement of the grounds at Woburn where so much alteration seems necessary as in the approaches, I shall take this opportunity of enlarging on the subject, by an inquiry into the cause of the errors so often observable in this most essential part of landscape gardening. I call the approach the most essential, because it is self-evident, that, if there be a house in a park, there must be a road to it through the park: but the course of the line in which that road should be conducted has been the source of much discussion and difference of opinion. Utility suggests that the road should be the shortest possible: it was for this reason (I suppose) that, in former times, the straight line was adopted, accompanied by rows of trees leading to the front of the house, which was probably the origin of avenues. The first grand approach to Woburn was of this kind; but experience having pointed out the monotony of a long avenue, where the house is always seen in the same point of view, Le Notre boldly conceived an idea, which was realized at Woburn, at Wanstead, and in the front of some other palaces, viz. to obstruct its course by placing a large round basin, or pond, in the middle of the avenue, which not only obliged the road to pass round it, but, by acting as a mirror, shewed the house doubled in its reflection on the surface, and thus increased the importance of its architecture. Such an expedient is beneath the dignity of art, which should display her works naturally, and without puerile ostentation. The straight line in front of a house might be the shortest from the house to the road at one particular spot; but, when it is remembered that approaches are generally necessary from oblique points, it is obvious that they can seldom be brought, with propriety, to one immediately in front. Those who come from A or B [in fig. 223], will not find c the nearest line to the house: this is sufficient to shew the mistake of some persons, who, in all cases, contend for the old style of approaches by an avenue in front. When the oblique line was adopted, and a road brought through the park, instead of taking a straight line, it was discovered that, with very little deviation, some interesting parts of the scenery might be shewn in the approach; and, by degrees, its first object, that of being the nearest way to the house, was changed into that of being the most beautiful. Hence have arisen all the absurdities of circuitous approaches, so aptly ridiculed by a modern poet, in describing improvers, who -------"lead us many a tedious round To shew th' extent of their employer's ground."