The Garden Guide

Book: History of Garden Design and Gardening
Chapter: Chapter 3: European Gardens (500AD-1850)

Bruges Garden Designs

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168.The gardens of Bruges are described by Mr. Rivers as surrounded by very high walls: one belonging to a convent was pointed out to him, which contained sixteen acres; and the soil was so black, soft, and unctuous, that the men were digging it with large long shovels, without the application of the foot. But although from this appearance it seemed fertility itself, yet neither vegetables nor fruit trees appeared to thrive in it, with the exception of pears. (Gard, Mag., vol. vii. p. 279.) The villa of M. Bertrand of Bruges is thus noticed in Neill's Horticultural Tour: � It has extensive grounds, and is flat, but well varied by art. Where the straight walks cross each other at right angles, the centre of the point of intersection is shaped into an oblong parterre, resembling a basket of flowers, and containing showy geraniums in pots, and gaudy flowers of a more hardy kind planted in the earth. Some things are in very bad taste. At every resting-place, some kind of conceit is provided for surprising the visitant: if he sit down, it is ten to one but the seat is so contrived as to sink under him; if he enter the grotto, or approach the summer-house, water is squirted from concealed or disguised fountains, and he does not find it easy to escape a wetting. The dial is provided with several gnomons, calculated to show the corresponding hour at the chief capital cities of Europe; and also with a lens so placed, that, during sunshine, the priming of a small cannon falls under its focus just as the sun reaches the meridian, when of course the cannon is discharged. The principal ornament of M. Bertrand's villa consists in a piece of water, over which a bridge is thrown; at one end of the bridge is an artificial cave fitted up like a lion's den; the head of a lion cut in stone peeping from the entrance. Above the cave is a pagoda, which forms a summer-house three stories high. At the ton is a cistern, which is filled by means of a forcing-pump, and which supplies the mischievous fountains already mentioned. The little lawns near the mansion-house are decorated with many small plants of the double pomegranate, sweet bay, laurustinus, and double myrtle, planted in large, ornamented flower-pots, and in tubs. These plants are all trained with a stem three or four feet high, and with round bushy heads, after the manner of pollard willows in English meadows. The appearance produced by a collection of such plants is inconceivably stiff to an eye accustomed to a more natural mode of training. Eight American aloes (Agave americana), also in huge Dutch flower-pots, finish the decoration of the lawn, and, it must be confessed, harmonise very well with the formal evergreens just described. A very good collection of orange trees in tubs was disposed along the sides of the walks in the flower-garden: two of the myrtle-leaved variety were excellent specimens. All of these were pollarded in the style of the evergreen plants. The soil of M. Bertrand's grounds being a mixture of fine vegetable mould, resembling surface peat-earth, with a considerable proportion of white sand, seems naturally congenial to the growth of American shrubs; and, indeed, rhododendrons, magnolias, and azaleas thrive exceedingly. In the open border of the flower garden we saw georginas in great vigour and beauty. Several kinds of tender plants were plunged in the open border for summer, particularly the Peruvian heliotrope (Heliotropium peruvianum), the specimens of which were uncommonly luxuriant, and, being now in full flower, spread their rich fragrance all around. The European heliotrope (Il. europ�'um) is likewise not uncommon in the flower-borders. In the fruit garden we first saw pear and apple trees trained en pyramide or en quenoville; i.e. preserving only an upright leader, and cutting in the lateral branches every year. The hothouses cover the north side of the fruit garden. In the centre is a stove or hothouse for the most tender plants; on each side of this is a greenhouse for sheltering more hardy exotics during winter; and at each extremity is a house partly occupied with peach trees, and partly with grape vines. In the space of ground before the houses are ranges of pine pits and melon frames. One frame is dedicated to a collection of cockscombs (Celosia cristata), and these certainly form the boast of M. Bertrand's garden: they are of the dwarfish variety, but large and strong of their kind; and in brilliancy and variety of colour they can scarcely be excelled. (Neill's Hort. Tour, p. 74.) M. Bertrand's villa was visited in June, 1830, by Mr. T. Rivers, an English nurseryman, He was gratified to find some fine specimens of Magnolia tripetala and acuminata, Pinus Cembra, and �'sculus humilis. There were also, in tubs, Eriobotrya japonica, Clethra arborea, twelve to fourteen feet high, And a fine collection of oranges, some of them very large. A clump of Rhododendron ferrugineum formed an exceedingly gay mass. There was a summer-house on a large mound, the ascent to which was by circuitous shaded paths, into which pipes from a fountain were thickly introduced, for the purpose of wetting to the skin any loiterers. When Dr. Neill visited this garden in 1817, it was famous for cockscombs; but in 1830 it presented a sad contrast: the pines, also, were bad in the extreme; not a fruit weighed more than half a pound. The contrast which this place presented to an English pleasure-ground, by its black, soft, sandy paths, and unmown grass, was striking and uncouth. (Gard. Mag., vol. vii. p. 279.) The country seat of Mr. Chantrell, Mr. Rivers states, was formerly the residence of a bishop; and, with the grounds, it forms a perfect specimen of a Flemish country residence, surrounded by a moat of clear, dark, stagnant water, with long straight avenues diverging from the house, like the rays of a circle. The grounds are quite; flat, and the paths a soft black sand; but these soft paths and shady avenues, though so completely at variance with English picturesque ideas, felt most exceedingly agreeable in a sultry July day; and as the Flemings, from the nature of a great part of their country, must have tame gardens, Mr. Rivers admires their taste in consulting their comfort more than their eyes. In these grounds was a pole, perhaps twenty-five feet high, closely covered with the twining stems of the Aristolochia sipho, which formed a most beautiful verdant column. In the kitchen-gardens, the pear trees were, as usual here, flourishing; but the apples were sadly cankered and unhealthy; lettuces, in a number of successive crops, were the principal vegetable; the cabbage tribe did not flourish, especially the cauliflower, which will not grow in this neighbourhood so as to form a head. The garden of the Comtesse de Carnen, at Nalde, is utterly at variance with the taste of an English gardener: the orange trees and greenhouse plants Mr. Rivers found placed in straight single lines in a square, enclosed with tall thin hedges, each plant fastened by the stem to a small painted rail, and all trained with naked stems as standards. The effect was curious; and it did really seem quite ridiculous to see the poor myrtles, laurustinus, bays, pomegranates, oleanders, arbutuses, and aucubas, with numerous oranges, looking more like mops than plants, with some of the stems of the myrtles not larger than a reed, and from four feet to six feet high; the heads of all being cut round as a ball: but the gardener appeared to think them the summit of perfection, and his eyes glistened at the praises which Mr. Rivers gave him for the ingenuity and perseverance he had displayed; but when he explained to him that in England they would all have been left in a state of nature, which the English thought most ornamental, he shook his head most significantly, and seemed to pity us for having no taste.