The Garden Guide

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

Landscape gardening in France

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228.Landscape-gardening in France made some progress after the Restoration. Sixteen years of peace gave leisure to those who had made fortunes during the war, to apply themselves to the means of domestic enjoyment. Louis XVIII. had the park of St. Ouen formed in the English style for his mistress, Madame de Cayla; Compeigne was also laid out or altered in the English style; and a small garden, in imitation of Hartwell, was formed in a secluded part of the park of Versailles. Besides these, the Duchess d'Angouleme obtained possession of Villeneuve d'Etang, and made some improvements there; and Rosin underwent alterations while in possession of the Duchess de Berri. All the men of wealth in France began now to direct their attention to the improving of their estates; and more or less to practise or encourage gardening. The names of the individuals most conspicuous during this period for making improvements in landscape-gardening, were M. Doublat of Epinal; M. d'Argenson of Vienne; M. de Radepont, near Rouen; Admiral Tehitchagoff, at Sceaux; M. Ternaux, at St. Ouen; M. Berthoud at Chantilly; M. Soulange Bodin, at Fromont; and M. Boursault, in Paris. We shall give short notices of some of these gardens, and of a few others, as we found them in 1828. The park of St. Quen (fig, 51.) was laid out by Gabriel Thouin for Madame de Cayla, soon after the restoration of Louis XVIII. The surface is flat; and very little is gained from the distant prospect; but by great diversity of disposition in the trees and walks, a continual change of verdant scenery is presented to the spectator. The fault, to an English taste, is, that the wood is not in sufficiently large masses, and that there are too many walks. The result of those defects is a want of grandeur and repose. There are, however, two points in the laying out of this garden, well deserving the attention of British landscape-gardeners: the first is, that the situation and turnings of every walk are accounted for, by trees or shrubbery, in the axils, so to speak, of their intersections; and the second, that great depth of interior view is given from all the principal points, by studiously avoiding to intercept the views by trees. In short, nothing in this plan of the park of St. Ouen seems as if it could be otherwise than as it is; and this is always a good test. M. G. Thouin, though he has never been in England, and therefore cannot have a clear idea of what an English park is, yet lays out such parks, in France, on strictly scientific principles. The entrance lodge and iron gates to the park of St. Ouen (fig 50.) have a very elegant appearance, and a glimpse of the house is obtained from them, though it is at quite the other extremity of the park: a proof of how much the depth of perspective has been studied. The gardens and pleasure-grounds of M. Doublat, at Epinal, have the reputation of being the finest specimen of English gardening in France. Their merits are great, though they depend more on the natural beauties of the situation, and on the surrounding scenery, than on the exercise of any style of art. M.Doublat's grounds consist of a rocky hill (fig. 52.a), rising abruptly from the town of Epinal, to the height of 300 or 400 feet, and stretching away to the east in the form of a narrow ridge, of a mile in length, gradually declining till it terminates in the vale of the Moselle. This hill and its continuous ridge bear a remarkable resemblance to those on which Edinburgh Castle and the Old Town are built. The town of Epinal (bb) embraces the hill on three sides; the Moselle passes through the town, and forms the northern boundary to the ridge; and a public road, accompanied by a small tributary stream, constitutes the western boundary. M. Doublat, the proprietor, a banker in Epinal, and the receiver-general for the department des Vosges, assisted by M. Grillot and his son, architects of Nancy and Epinal, began to plant and improve this domain about 1793, and have continued doing so ever since. The great merit of the place, so far as art is concerned, is, that the planting is done in groups and masses, in which one species always prevails in one place; and in which the trees are disposed in a free, natural-like manner; and not in heavy, lumpish, formal shapes, as in some of M. Sekell's works in the English garden at Munich. As leading features of the grounds at Epinal, we may direct attention to the mansion (c); to the ruins of the castle of Epinal, on the highest part of the rock (d); to a large piece of water, formed adjoining what was formerly the moat of the castle, and including the moat (e); (this water, brought by pipes from a spring on a mountain some miles distant, can be rendered available to M. Doublat's house, and to the whole of the town of Epinal, at a moment's notice, in case of fire;) to a succession of terraced walls planted with fruit trees and vines (f); to the terraced kitchen-garden (g); to the dairy, cow-houses, and poultry yard, placed in the ravine, formerly a dry ditch for the defence of the castle (h); and finally, to the general variety in the direction of the walks and roads. In one part of the grounds, it will be observed that, they are intersected by a public road (i); but the grand drive, which displays all the main features of the place (k), passes over this road on a bridge (l). On tracing this drive in the figure, it will be found very ingeniously contrived for going and returning over the same bridges; and also for combining the greatest length with the greatest variety of line. The most striking feature of these grounds is the rock on which is scattered the remains of the ancient castle. The castle of Epinal was a place of great strength, till it underwent a siege, in the time of Louis XIV., when it was taken, blown up, and has since remained in ruins Some of these masses are very large and entire, while others are shattered by perpendicular rents; and, leaning to one side, remain monuments of the tremendous force of gunpowder. It appears that the cannon-balls made use of in the siege were partly formed of granite; as numbers of these, as well as of iron balls, are constantly dug up by the gardeners. The great inequality of the surface, and the various forms of the masses of rock round these ruins, with the distant amphitheatre of wooded hills and mountains on three sides, and the valley of the Moselle on the east, seen from them, constitute by far the finest part of the scenery. In our notes made on the spot in October, 1828, we find noticed two stupendous piers of the drawbridge, one rent from top to bottom, a height of nearly 100 feet, and leaning towards the other; immense masses of rock, beautifully varied with creepers, and more especially with the Ampelopsis hederacea; birch trees, larch, firs, and Scotch pines, protruding from crevices of the ruin and of the rock; a cleft or ravine with steep rocky sides, planted with larches, and having a Swiss air; a tunnel through the rock, of several yards in length, forming part of the road, and displaying a very striking view of the Moselle and its vale, from one end, and of one of the highest of the mountains of the Vosges on the other; and the imitation of natural woods, by planting very young trees among the older ones, always of the same sort in one place, so as very successfully to imitate the spruce fir forests of Prussia, the pine and birch forests of Sweden, and the larch and silver-fir scenery of the Alps. The grand and savage character of the mountain scenery, on the one hand, as contrasted with the buildings and bustle of the town, and the vale of the Moselle, with its meadows and vineyards, on the other, add greatly to the charm of M. Doublat's grounds in our eyes; though, if the domain belonged to an aristocratic Briton, the town would be deemed a nuisance, and the great object of all his efforts would be to plant it out from the view. So far is M. Doublat from entertaining any opinion of this kind, that his grounds are thrown open every Sunday to the whole town of Epinal; and at all times they are open to strangers. Villeneuve d'Etang, near Marne, was occupied before the Restoration by Marshal Soult, who is said to have been very much attached to it, and to have derived much pleasure from planting and altering the grounds. The park may contain upwards of 300 acres, which occupy two sides of a valley, through which runs a small stream. The house, which is small, but with very extensive offices, is placed on the margin of the park, and in the lowest part of the grounds. A worse situation could hardly have been fixed upon in the whole 300 acres. The planting in the park has been done in what is considered the English style; but the formal clumps, which are conspicuous in the plan (fig. 53.), show that the designer has considered that style any thing but an imitation of nature. The small stream of water (a) is made to spread out into a pond (b), and it is crossed by numerous bridges, under which are cascades (c c c), The only parts of the grounds which are tolerable, and which create in the mind any allusion to natural scenery, are a flat bottom, varied by spruce firs (d); and a somewhat irregular piece of ground (c), said to have been laid out under the direction of Soult himself. This last scene displays some apparently natural rocks and stones on the margin of the stream, and contains some groups of American shrubs. The Duchess d'Angouleme, having coveted this place, obtained it with some difficulty from Soult; and she has the merit of having added to the house (i) a large conservatory and an aviary (f), and also a dairy establishment (g) and a poultry yard (h). Notwithstanding the duchess's desire for the place, we were (in 1828) informed that she passed only one night at it, during the whole time it was in her possession. The kitchen-garden here (k) is on an elevated platform, and when we saw it, the walks were beautifully bordered with Iberis sempervirens, which makes a large, but very handsome edging. In some of the pits were a few very finely grown pine-apples. Taken altogether, Villeneuve d'Etang affords an example of a situation highly favourable for the natural style, but mangled by a description of art, without either the expression of purpose, or the expression of style. The chateau de Radepont, M. de Radepont, presents no grand or striking feature; but the grounds are varied, well planted, very well laid out, and exceedingly well kept. The extent of the demesne may be thirty or forty acres, partly on the side, and partly along the bottom, of a valley. The house, a plain modern building, is situated in the middle of a low, flat surface, and is unaided by any external feature. The interesting part of the grounds is the irregular acclivity which rises from the level ground on which the house stands; and the leading feature of this acclivity is formed by the ruins of an ancient castle or fortress, and its various outworks. These are exceedingly well managed, and made the most of, by walks leading to different points of view; and by a chapel, hermitage, mausoleum, and armoury. Another feature is a conservatory, with some good orange trees, and perhaps thirty or forty species of the common greenhouse plants. There is a temple of Fame, with a statue in it of some prince, or other person belonging to the court, who had honoured Radepont by a visit; and there are also various seats, covered and open (the former with rush mats, or cushions, both for sitting on, and to place beneath the feet); an American ground; a hanging wood, with a dark walk; a bridge over the stream which drives the cotton mills, and passes through a part of the low grounds; a cascade; an aviary and a menagerie, with a lemur, turtle-doves, pheasants, &c.; English cottages, a dairy, and avery neat cow-house; with some similar objects of amusement and interest. The walks are for the most part, ornamented with groups of showy annuals of the commoner sorts; asters, marigolds, poppies, mallows, &c. The views from the rising grounds are over the house and the low grounds, to the naked chalk-hills on the other side of the valley; and those from the low grounds are, in most places, limited by boundary of wood, and are chiefly from one object to another within this boundary. The kitchen-garden may contain three acres, surrounded by a mud wall, trellised: it has a very good gardener's house, a fruit-room, a hothouse, pits, and frames. The hothouse contains some good old plants of general interest, such as the sugar-cane, date palm, Ficus elastica, &c. The frames were shaded with straw-mats, and contained, if we recollect right, a few fine plants, some Cantaloupe melons, and several pots of cuttings. The walks, like all the others about this residence, were laid with fine river gravel; which, as it does not bind, is kept soft and even by frequent raking. The edgings in the kitchen-garden were of strawberries, or of sorrel, or other culinary plants. The borders were planted with fruit trees, some dwarfs, and others trained en pyramide; in the compartments were some standards. The whole, even to the melon-ground, was in the most perfect order; the walks newly raked, and scarcely a weed to be seen. With the exception of the house, this place may be considered as a very successful imitation of the English manner. (Gard. Mag., vol. v. p. 647.) The villa at Chantilly, of the late M. Berthoud, architect to the government in the time of the consulship, contains upwards of one hundred acres, and has been laid out in the natural manner with extraordinary care. The surface consists of a hill or bank, in great part covered with natural wood; and of a hollow with a small stream of water. The house is placed at one end of this hollow, close to Chantilly: and there is one short approach from the town, and another long one through the bank of natural wood, from across-country road. This may be described as a double approach, there being one road for entering and advancing to the house and another for returning; both are admirably adapted for showing all the beauties of the place to the best advantage; a circumstance exceedingly favourable for the stranger, who, in order to see the place completely, requires to do nothing more than drive up to the house and drive back again. After passing through the gates at the lodge, and advancing about one hundred yards, the stranger meets two roads, beside one of which is a post, with the words chemin du hameau: on returning from the house, at about the same, or perhaps rather a greater distance from it, the road divides in a similar manner, and close to one branch of it is a post exhibiting the words chemin du depart. The house of M. Berthoud is in the Italian style; small, but richly ornamented. The principal view from it is along a valley, in which the eye catches, in succession, glimpses of water, and buildings among trees and grass. In walking through this valley, the buildings, seats, urns, statues, and rockwork are found to be very numerous. Near the house is a rustic grotto, over which is a highly finished and richly furnished bedroom. A concealed door in the grotto leads to a small kitchen and other conveniences; so that this detached building seems to have been intended either to serve as an addition to the house, or as a lodging for a friend. Not far from this grotto, and also near the house, is a larger building, with the external character of a chapel: on entering we found that the ground floor assumes this character, that the sunk story is a winecellar, and the room over a billiard-room. Hard by is an ice-house, disguised so as to appear a mass of rock, but partially covered with trees and bushes. A conspicuous object from the house, is an obelisk, covered with hieroglyphics, and dedicated aux arts. The Chinese buildings, ornamental cottages, rustic bridges, and fanciful cattle-sheds and sheepcots, are too numerous to be recollected. The stables, the Chinese buildings, and also part of the exterior of the house, are painted in fresco externally; but, to an eye not accustomed to this style of ornament, this conveys the idea of superficial construction, and temporary duration. The only building about the place which we could thoroughly approve of, was the entrance lodge. The usual defects of too great a width of grave or sand in front of the house, and of rounding off too much of the angles of junction in the walks and roads, were less obvious at this place than in most others which we have seen in the neighbourhood of Paris; as, for example, Madame de Cayla's villa. When we saw this villa in 1828, the whole was in a state of dilapidation; but we have no doubt that, when it was in complete repair, it displayed much natural beauty, though with a greater mixture of architectural objects, and with less repose of effect, than harmonises with the British taste in landscape gardening. The villa of Fromont, on the Seine. M. Soulange Bodin combined, at Fromont, an elegant villa residence with an exotic nursery, and an institution for young horticulturists. M. Soulange Bodin was, as M. Vilmorin is, at once a skilful cultivator, a seedsman, a scholar, and an accomplished gentleman. Having been connected with the army, M. Soulange Bodin had been all over Europe; and having been long, to use the Prince de Ligne's phrase, under the influence of the jardinomanie, wherever he went, the gardens were the main objects of his attention. At one time he had the principal management of the gardens of the Empress Josephine at Malmaison. On M. Bodin's retirement to Fromont, in 1814, he commenced laying it out in the English manner, and so as to combine the picturesque scenery of the park with the profitable culture of the nursery. The grounds exceed a hundred acres of a surface gently varied, and sloping to the Seine. They are surrounded by a walk or drive, which displays varied views of the interior, the main feature of which is the chateau; and of the Seine, with some rising grounds, beyond the boundary. In various spaces among the groups of trees are formed beds of peat earth, in which seedlings of American shrubs were raised; the more rare kinds being propagated by artificial methods. In the walled garden near the house were numerous pits and frames, in which the more popular exotics, such as the orange, Camellia, Azalea indica, and numerous other greenhouse, and hothouse plants, were increased by hundreds. In effecting this, one of the principal modes employed was herbaceous grafting, or grafting on the young wood. The plants thus raised are sent to all countries. In the larger greenhouses and hothouses there is a collection of fine specimens, intended principally for ornament. The object of the institution for the instruction of young gardeners was, to supply French country gentlemen with young men well acquainted with both the practice and the theory of their art in all its branches. For this purpose there were professors, a library, a museum of implements and models, and a monthy journal, entitled Annales Horticoles de Fromont. This institution being, however, partly supported by the liberality of Charles X., who paid the salaries of the professors, was given up on the fall of that monarch, in 1830. M. Soulange Bodin died in 1846, and his son, who inherited the estate and the nursery grounds attached to it, is selling off the trees and shrubs as fast as he can, without attempting to replace them; so that in 1848 the gardens might be said to be in a state of ruin as regarded their original design. As an example of the exterior appearance of a magnificent old chateau, of the time of Louis XIV., we shall refer to the chateau de Neuviller, on a commanding situation in the valley of the Moselle, between Nancy and Roville (fig. 54.). This chateau stands on an eminence, which protrudes boldy from the range of hills which skirt the north side of the valley. The summit of this eminence has been levelled so as to form a platform of nearly two acres. About half an acre is occupied with the chateau and its different courts and offices, the remainder is laid out as a geometrical garden. The entrance is through a short avenue from behind; the carriage of the visitor passes under an archway to the court of honour. and the stranger entering the saloon is struck with astonishment and delight at the magnificence at the prospect, which comprises the fertile valley of the Moselle, with its numerous villages, farm-houses, corn-fields, and vineyards, bounded by undulating hills covered with wood. The remains of terraced gardens, orchards, avenues, canals, and of all the component parts of a highly enriched geometric garden, still exist, though they have been utterly neglected for upwards of thirty years, and though the house was pillaged during the first excesses of the revolution. At the base, and on the sides of the knoll on which the chateau stands, are the cottages, which compose the village of Neuviller, and the public road; and we were told that it was the unjust acts perpetrated by the proprietor, in endeavouring to remove this village and road to a distance, which cost him his chateau, and ultimately his domain. On looking over the numerous apartments, of spacious dimensions, on the ground-floor, we found that a number of them had never been finished; and that a very few of the bedrooms were what in England would be considered habitable. The chateau de Querille, the seat of the Prince de Montmorency, near Rouen, is a large, plain, modern edifice, approached through a broad avenue of lime trees, descending rather than ascending; the effect of the whole, to an English eye, is the reverse of grandeur, dignity, order, neatness, and habitableness. It put us in mind of some of the wretched chateaus which we have seen in Poland and Russia; and, with every desire to be pleased and to commend, we could really find nothing either in the house or grounds on which we could bestow our approbation. The house is surrounded by a very broad sandy area, on which are placed a profusion of old orange trees and pomegranates, and a number of the commoner greenhouse plants of the last century; few of them well grown, or, in our idea, at all ornamental. On what may be called the garden front of the house, was an open avenue of grass, perhaps 150 feet wide; and on each side was a wood, in some places open like a grove, and in others thicker, like an artificial plantation; in the thick parts, the Pin de Bordeaux (Pinus maritima), which the gardener informed us was greatly to be preferred to the Pin d'Ecosse (P. sylvestris), or the sapin epicier (Abies communis); because shrubs and grass grew much better under it, and the cones, which are thick, and from six to eight inches long, made an excellent fuel for the poor, being picked up by them as they fell from the trees, so that the proprietor of the wood sustained no injury. There are various walks, straight, and winding, both in the woods and in the grove. In the latter, near the house, are several swings of different kinds, very completely equipped, for ladies and gentlemen; and roundabouts, which the gardener informed us were much used by the younger part of the family. There was also a skittle-ground, a place for playing at bowls, and a sort of rustic house, containing a table nearly as large as a billiard-table, but fitted up like a bagatelle-board, for playing at trou madame. Those contrivances for amusement seemed to be very judiciously placed under the shade of the trees, which were at the same time so lofty, so naked-stemmed, and so far apart, as to create or admit a gentle cooling breeze. Directly in front of the house, on the centre of the grass avenue just mentioned, is a merridien & detonation, the cannon three feet long. Beyond the wood there is a small meadow with winding walks a l'Anglaise, which we looked at over the turf fence, but did not enter. (Gard. Mag. vol. v. p. 641.)