The Garden Guide

Book: History of Garden Design and Gardening
Chapter: Chapter 4: British Gardens (1100-1830)

Famous examples of landscape gardening

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582. The country-seats in which the modern style was first employed are described by Shenstone, G. Mason, and Whately, in their works on gardening, and incidentally by some other authors. Stowe appears to have been the first extensive residence in which the modern style was adopted. Lord Cobham seems to have been occupied in re-modelling the grounds at Stowe, about the same time that Pope was laying out his garden's at Twickenham. His lordship began these improvements in 1714, employing Bridgeman, whose plans and views for altering old Stowe from the most rigid character of the ancient style to a more open and irregular design, are still in existence. Kent was employed a few years afterwards, first to paint the hall, and afterwards in the double capacity of architect and landscape-gardener; and the finest buildings and scenes there are his creation. The character of Stowe is well known: nature has done little; but art has created a number of magnificent buildings, by which it has been attempted to give a sort of emblematic character to scenes of little or no natural expression. The result is unique; but more, as expressed by Pope, 'a work to wonder at,' than one to charm the imagination. The friends of Lord Cobham seem to have considered him as the first who exhibited the new style to his country, if we may judge from the concluding lines of an epitaph to his memory, placed in the garden,-'ET ElEGANTIORI HORTORUM cULTU HIS PRIMUM IN AGRIS IllUSTRATO PATRIAM ORNAVIT, 1747.' We visited these gardens in 1831, and found them considerably extended, and greatly improved by the present gardener; who, singularly enough, bears the same name as his great predecessor, Brown: for Launcelot Brown, the landscape-gardener, was originally the head gardener at Stowe. In 1848, in consequence of the pecuniary embarrassments of the Duke, all the temples, &c., in these gardens were sold by public auction. Woburn Farm, near Weybridge, in Surrey, is supposed to have been one of the first small places where the new system struck out by Kent was adopted. Southcote, says G. Mason, possessed a genius in many respects well suited to the purpose, but was rather too lavish of his flowery decorations. The extent of the grounds was 150 acres, thirty-five of which were ornamented to the highest degree; two thirds of the remainder were in pasture on rising grounds, and the rest in tillage. The decorations consisted in having a broad margin of shrubbery and gravel walk to almost every fence, but varied by difference of style, views, buildings, &c. It is minutely described in Whately's Observations, as an example of an ornamented farm. G. Mason thinks the decorated strip often too narrow, and sometimes offensive, from the impossibility of concealing the fence. To this bordering walk, he thinks, may probably be attributed the introduction of the belt. His remarks refer to the year 1768. We visited Woburn in 1830, and found the principal walks still existing, but the shrubberies overgrown, or gone. There were many fine specimens of exotic trees; more especially the hemlock spruce, liquidambar, tulip tree, catalpa, cedar, pine, &c. Pain's Hill, the creation of the Hon. Charles Hamilton, ninth son of James sixth earl of Abercorn, is supposed to have been one of the next specimens exhibited of the modern style. Hamilton is said to have studied pictures with a view to the improvement of his grounds. Pain's Hill was formed from a common, having an undulating surface, and a dry gravelly soil, fortunately accompanied by a small stream of water. It has been planted with admirable taste, and its merits in this and other respects will be found done ample justice to in Whately's Observations. We have frequently visited this place, and always with renewed pleasure. When we last saw it in 1831, it was, as it had been for many years before, in a state of neglect and decay; but the beautifully varied surface, and the tasteful disposition of the trees, remained. The property has since changed its proprietor, and has been thoroughly repaired. Hagley seems to have been improved about the same time as Pain's Hill; in effecting which, Lord Lyttelton might probably receive some hints from the poet Thomson, who was then his guest. The grounds are much varied, and the distant prospects picturesque. A very small rill, which passed through the grounds in a sort of dell, was surrounded with shrubbery and walks, from which the park scenery formed a sort of foreground, and sometimes a middle distance, to the offscape; thus, in the language of Whately, 'blending the excellences of the park and the garden.' The fine trees, the distant prospects, and the principal buildings, still remain; but the garden scenery has been long since choked by the growth of forest trees; and some years ago the fence was removed, and the whole thrown into the park. In 1831, we found the park in tolerable order; and in 1840 it was very greatly improved. South Lodge comes next in time. Soon after the improvements of Hamilton and Lyttelton. 'the great Pitt, G. Mason informs us, 'turned his mind to the embellishment of rural nature,' and exercised his talents at the South Lodge upon Enfleld Chase. 'The first ground surrounding the enclosure was then wild and woody, and was diversified with hill and dale. He entertained the Idea (and admirably realised it) of making the interior correspond with the exterior scenery. His temple of Pan is mentioned in Observations. But the singular effort of his genius was a successful imitation of the picturesque appearance of a by-lane, on the very principles Price supposes it might be practicable.' The Leasowes were improved about the same time. This place was literally a grazing farm, with a walk, in imitation of a common field, conducted through the several enclosures. Much taste and ingenuity were displayed in forming so many points of view in so confined an extent, and with so few advantages in point of distance. But root-houses, seats, urns, and inscriptions were too frequent for the whole to be classed with a common, or even an improved or ornamented, English farm. It was, in fact, intended as an emblematical scene, in which constant allusion was made to pastoral poetry; and if we consider it in this light, viz. that of a sentimental farm, it was just what it ought to have been. Shenstone is said to have broken his heart in consequence of pecuniary embarrassments; a salutary warning to men of great taste and small fortunes. We regret to find that Repton should attack the taste of this amiable man, from a misconception, as we presume, of his intentions, by blaming him for not 'surrounding his house with such a quantity of ornamental lawn or park only as might be consistent with the size of the mansion, or the extent of the property.' We fear that, if Shenstone had adopted this mode of improvement, the Leasowes never would have been distinguished from places got up by the common routine of professorship. The last time we visited the Leasowes was in 1831; when we found it in a state of indescribable neglect and ruin. Could the shade of poor Shenstone return to earth, we doubt the possibility of his recognising his once beloved abode. Claremont and Esher are well known. Claremont took its name from having originally belonged to the Earl of Clare, by whom it was laid out about 1710. It afterwards belonged to the Duke of Newcastle, and was improved by Kent. Claremont was afterwards enlarged, and the house and kitchen-garden added, by Brown. Walpole and Whately have celebrated both, and also Garth. Esher is praised by Warton, in his poem, The Enthusiast, or Lover of Nature, 1740. It was laid out by Kent for its proprietor, the Right Honourable Henry Pelham. Esher no longer exists; but Claremont is kept up in good style for Leopold king of the Belgians, and served as a refuge, in 1848, for Louis Philippe, the ex-king of the French. Peircefield was laid out so late as 1750. It is a small park, with an interesting walk, carried along the brow of a romantic rocky bank of the river Wye, perhaps as faultless as this nature of the place admits of. 'I cannot recollect,' says G. Mason, writing of this place in 1708, 'that any of the scenes on the Wye are the least adulterated by the introduction of any puerile appendage whatever.'