The Garden Guide

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

Potempkin's Taurida Palace Garden

Previous - Next

454. The gardens of Potemkin, a man whose mind, as the Prince de Ligne has observed, contained mines of gold and steppes, and who was one of the most extravagant encouragers of our art that modern times can boast, were of various kinds, and situated in different parts of the empire. The most extensive gardens of this prince were in the Ukraine; but the most celebrated were those belonging to the palace of Taurida, now an imperial residence, in St. Petersburgh. The grounds are level, with several winding and straight canals and walks, adorned with numerous buildings, a rich collection of exotics, and most extensive hothouses of every description. Their grand feature, in Potemkin's time, was the conservatory, or winter garden (fig. 138.), attached to the palace. The plan of this part of the building is that of a semicircle, embracing the end of a saloon, nearly 300 feet long. It is lighted by immense windows, between columns, has an opaque ceiling, and is at present heated by common German stoves. It is too gloomy for the growth of plants; but those grown in the glass sheds of the kitchen-garden are carried there, sunk in the ground, and gravel walks, turf, and every article added, to render the allusion to a romantic scene in the open air as complete as possible. The effect was, after all, it is said, never satisfactory but when illuminated. This palace, the original exterior of which was in a very simple style, and the interior most magnificent, is said to have been the design of Potemkin, but it was entirely remodelled at his death by Catherine, used as barracks by Paul, and is now very imperfectly restored. (Edin. Encyc. art. Landscape Gardening.) This winter garden, or conservatory, so much spoken of, is thus described by Storch:�'Along one side of the vestibule is the winter garden, an enormous structure, disposed into a garden, only separated from the grand hall by a colonnade. As, from the size of the roof, it could not be supported without pillars, they are disguised under the form of palm trees. The heat is maintained by concealed flues placed in the walls and pillars, and even under the earth leaden pipes are arranged, incessantly filled with boiling water. The walks of this garden meander amidst flowery hedges and fruit-bearing shrubs, winding over little hills, and producing, at every step, fresh occasions for surprise. The eye of the beholder, when weary of the luxuriant variety of the vegetable world, finds recreation in contemplating some exquisite production of art: here a head, from the chisel of a Grecian sculptor, invites to admiration; there a motley collection of curious fish, in crystal vases, suddenly fixes our attention. We pre-sently quit these objects, in order to go into a grotto of looking-glass, which gives a multiplied reflection of all these wonders, or to indulge our astonishment at the most extraordinary mixture of colours in the faces of an obelisk of mirrors. The genial warmth, the fragrance and brilliant colours of the nobler plants, and the voluptuous stillness that prevails in this enchanted spot, lull the fancy into sweet romantic dreams; we imagine ourselves in the blooming groves of Italy; while nature, sunk into a deathlike torpor, announces the severity of a northern winter through the windows of the pavilion. In the centre of this bold creation, on a lofty pedestal, stood the statue of Catherine II., surrounded by the emblems of legislature, cut in Carrara marble. It was thrown out of the building on its being made into barracks.' The gardens at Potemkin's other residences, as well as many imperial and private gardens in Russia, were laid out by Gould, a pupil of Brown. Sir John Carr relates an anecdote on Gould's authority, which was confirmed to us, in 1813, by the present gardener, Call, his successor, and deserves a place here. 'In one of the prince's journeys to the Ukraine, Gould attended him with several hundred assistants, destined for operators, in laying out the grounds of Potemkin's residence in the Crimea. Wherever the prince halted, if only for a day, his travelling pavilion was erected, and surrounded by a garden in the English taste, composed of trees and shrubs, divided by gravel walks, and ornamented with seats and statues, all carried forward with the calvacade.' On another occasion, 'having accidentally discovered the ruins of a castle of Charles XII. of Sweden, he immediately not only caused it to be repaired, but surrounded by gardens in the English taste.' (Carr's Baltic, &c.)