The Garden Guide

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

Tsarskoe Selo garden design

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452. The first attempt at the modern style of gardening in Russia was made by Catherine II., about the year 1768, at Zarskojeselo, or Tzarsco Celo (imperial spot), at that time enlarged and relaid out. This princely residence owes its origin to Catherine I., and its enlargement and embellishment to Elizabeth; but it is indebted for its completion, in its present state, to Catherine II. The gorgeous magnificence of this residence is well known. A natural birch forest, on ground somewhat varied, forms the groundwork of the park and gardens. The gate by which they are approached is an immense arch of artificial rockwork, over which is a lofty Chinese watchtower. The first group of objects is a Chinese town, through which the approach leads to the palace; a building which, with its enclosed entrance court, offices, baths, conservatories, church, theatre, and other appendages, it would seem like exaggeration to describe. The rest of the garden scenery consists of walks, numerous garden buildings, columns, statues, &c.; with bridges of marble and wood, a large lake, and extensive kitchen-gardens and hothouses. The gardens are laid out in the English manner; Catherine II. having imbibed that taste from reading a work written by the Count Munchausen, called the Hausvater. She first ordered that no more trees should be clipped in any of the imperial gardens, and afterwards told her architect and gardener; that in future, when making gardens, they should endeavour to follow nature; but this they could neither feel nor comprehend. They made various attempts to please the empress, but always without success. She did not know how to direct them exactly what they ought to do, yet she felt convinced that what they had done was not right. At length, finding that she could have nothing that pleased her, she determined to get a landscape-gardener from England to lay out her garden. John Busch of Hackney was the person engaged to go out to Russia for this purpose; and he was preferred, on account of his speaking the German language. In the year 1771, he gave up his establishment at Hackney, with the nursery and foreign correspondence, to Messrs. Loddiges. In the year 1772 he commenced his first work, though not at Tzarsco Celo, but on a hill about five miles nearer the town, called Pulkova. In 1774 the empress paid her first visit to this place. On entering the garden, and seeing a winding shady gravel walk planted on both sides, she appeared struck with surprise, and exclaimed, 'This is what I wanted !' This walk led to a fine lawn, with gravel walks round it, which seemed to strike her still more forcibly, and she again said, 'This is what I have long wished to have !' The following year the Tzarsco Celo gardens were given to the charge of John Busch, who carried on the improvements till the year 1789, when he left the service of the empress, and returned to England. His son, Joseph Busch, succeeded him, and went on with the works; but the garden was not completely finished during the reign of Catherine. The emperor Paul, who succeeded Catherine, preferred straight walks and clipped trees, and the late emperor Alexander was fond of both styles. Clipped trees are still partially continued at Tzarsco Celo, and other places. Carriage roads being introduced, intersecting the walks, make the gardens rather unpleasant to walk in, as one must always be on the look-out, in case of a carriage coming. Hence these gardens have become a park in a pleasure-ground, and not, as is usual, a pleasure-ground surrounded by a park. There are a variety of good buildings in the gardens, particularly some designed and built by Charles Cameron, and a new front to a part of the palace (fig. 137.) by Guaringi. The emperor Alexander enlarged these gardens considerably, and continued, in a mixed style of old and modern art, to add to and improve them, till his death. In the park, he built a dairy, which the imperial family often visited during their residence at Tzarsco Celo, and also two gates, with lodges in the Gothic style. These and other buildings, with the new roads and other improvements that have been made, have added much to the beauty of the place since we saw it in 1813. In the gardens, which are about four miles in circumference, the keeping is equal, if not superior, to any in Europe; no expense being spared to have every thing in the best possible order. The improvements made by Alexander were executed by an architect who succeeded Mr. Busch in that department. (Gard. Mag., vol. ii. p. 386.) Among the curiosities of this garden that admit of a description, the following objects may principally be recorded:�A small temple, containing a collection of antique and modern statues; a solitude for dinner parties, like that in the Hermitage; a magnificent bath; a coach-hill, similar to that at Oranienbaum; picturesque ruins; a miniature town, to commemorate the taking of Tau-rida, &c. Two artificial lakes are connected by a running stream, crossed by an arched bridge, covered at the top by a roof resting on two rows of marble columns, on the model of the bridge at Stowe. On one of the islands on these lakes stands a Turkish mosque, and on another a spacious hall for musical entertainments. In a thick shrubbery there is a pyramid in the Egyptian form, in the vicinity whereof are two obelisks. This majestic sanctuary of art and nature, says Storch, is at the same time a magnificent temple of merit. Formed of the rocky foundations of the earth, here the monuments of great achievements tower toward the skies, fearless of the destructive vicissitudes of time. A marble obelisk reminds us of the victory near Kagul, and of the victor Romanzoff Zadunaisky. To the Dey of Tschesmi, and the hero Orlof Tschesmenskoy, a marble column on a pedestal of granite is devoted. A grand triumphal arch proclaims the patriotic ardour of Prince Orlof, with which he faced rebellion and the plague in the capital, and quelled them both. The victory in the Morea and the name of Feodor Orlof are handed down to posterity by a rostral column. Plain and gigantic as the sentiments of the heroes whose memories are perpetuated in these masses of rocks, they stand surrounded by the charms of Nature, who softens her majesty by a veil of artless graces. The palace of Tzarsco Celo, Alexander observes, in 1829, 'has had immense sums expended in beautifying it by Catherine and Alexander: the agate, amber, and lapis lazuli rooms have not their equal any where; the floors are inlaid with the most costly exotic woods; and the chapel is so resplendent with richly gilt carved work on a black ground, that it is impossible to conceive that any thing of the kind can surpass it. The Russians carefully preserve the clothes of their sovereigns; and here, in the bedroom of Alexander, are the gloves, cocked hat, and boots, which he left before his death at Taganrog. The grounds of Tzarsco Celo are of great extent, and are diversified with artificial hills and crags, groves of trees, streams, lakes, and grottoes. A curious Chinese theatre has been recently erected in the park; and the farm-yard contains cattle from all parts of the world: an English bull that we saw there was eighteen hands high.' (Travels in Russia, &c., p. 57.)