The Garden Guide

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

Sans Souci garden designers

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317. The ancient gardens of Sans Souci, at Potsdam, are in the mixed style of Switzer, with every appendage and ornament of the French, Italian, and Dutch taste. Various artists, but chiefly Manger, a German architect, and Salzmann, the royal gardener (each of whom has published a voluminous description of his works there), were employed in their design and execution; and a detailed topographical history of the whole, accompanied by plans, elevations, and views, has been published by the late celebrated Nicolai, of Berlin, at once an author, printer, bookbinder, and bookseller. The gardens consist of, 1. The hill, on the summit of which Sans Souci is placed. The slope in front of this palace is laid out in six terraces, each ten feet high, and its supporting wall is covered with glass, for peaches and vines. 2. A hill to the east, devoted to hothouses, culinary vegetables, and slopes or terraces for fruit trees. 3. A plain at the bottom of the slope, laid out in Switzer's manner, leading to the new palace; and, 4. A reserve of hothouses, chiefly large orangeries, and pits for pines, to the west, near the celebrated windmill, of which Frederick could not get possession. The Sans Souci scenery is more curious and varied than simple and grand. The hill of glazed terraces crowned by Sans Souci has, indeed, a singular appearance; but the woods, cabinets, and innumerable statues in the grounds below, are on too small a scale for the effect intended to be produced; and, on the whole, distract and divide the attention on the first view. Potsdam, with its environs, forms a crowded scene of architectural and gardening efforts; a sort of royal magazine, in which an immense number of expensive articles, pillared scenery, screens of columns, empty palaces, churches, and public buildings, as Eustace and Wilson observe, crowd on our eyes, and distract our attention. Hirschfeld, who does not appear to have been a great admirer of Frederick, and who, as the Prince de Ligne has remarked, was touched with the Anglomania in gardening, says, in 1785, 'according to the last news from Prussia, the taste for gardens is not yet perfect in that country. A recent author vaunts a palace champetre, which presents as many windows as there are days in the year (fig. 77.): he praises the high hedges, mountains of periwinkle, regular parterres of flowers, ponds, artificial grottoes, jets d'eau, and designs traced on a plain. ' (Theorte, &c.,tom. v. p. 366.) Hodgskin, who visited Prussia in 1817, says, 'I merely looked at the gardens, and the outsides of the palaces at Potsdam. Truly, the lodgings which are here provided for one family might almost serve a nation. There are not less than eight spacious palaces in Potsdam and its vicinity belonging to the sovereign. I doubt if the prolusion of the sovereigns of France, whatever their splendour might be, ever equalled the profusion of the sovereigns of Prussia. The extensive gardens of these palaces are ornamented with a number of statues and busts. Many of them are mutilated, and most of them are covered with moss. The climates of Greece and Rome, from which countries we have borrowed the custom of placing statues in gardens, were much more suitable to it than the cold and wet climate of the North. The Greeks, and the Romans, also, lived much more in the open air, in their public places, in their gardens, and amongst their statues, than we do or can. We live, principally, in our houses; and it is our houses, therefore, which we ought to render convenient, and to adorn. Statues in our gardens accord neither with our climates, with our habits of life, nor with the best mode of laying out our grounds. The great expense of so many carved pieces of marble is a mere absurd imitation of an ancient custom; it is unsanctioned by reason, and is equally condemned by good taste and sage economy. ' (Travels in Germany, vol. i. p. 76.) Bramsen, speaking of the same gardens in 1818, says, 'they are very spacious, and tastefully laid out. Near the staircase of the pavilion of Sans Souci are the tombs of some of the favourite dogs of Frederick II. The concert-room is adorned with no less than ninety-six lamps, and vases in the shape of pine-apples. The kitchen represents a Roman ruin. The grotto is elegant. The garden lies on the borders of the lake called the Heiligen See, and on the banks of the river Hovel. It commands an extensive prospect, and can boast of some very picturesque scenery. ' (Letters of a Prussian Traveller, p. 51.) 'The charming and sylvan retreat of Sans Souci,' says the courtly physician Granville, 'is approached through the Brandenburg Gate. On a small hill, disposed in terraces, stands the chateau, to which the ascent is by a flight of steps, with quickset hedges on each side. The terraces, and the well-arranged shrubberies, by the side of the palace, are ornamented with flowers and fruit trees, vases and busts. At the foot of the hill, the gardens are decorated with single statues and groups of figures in marble, and with two large marble reservoirs of water. A little to the right of the pavilion a handsome edifice, containing a gallery of pictures, forms, together with the principal buildings, an exceedingly pleasing landscape, which we viewed with pleasure from the western extremity of Potsdam. ' (Granville's Travels, &c, vol. i. p. 266.)