The Garden Guide

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

Georgian garden design

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571. During the reign of George II. (1727 to 1760), Queen Caroline enlarged and planted Kensington Gardens, and formed what is now called the Serpentine River, by uniting a string of detached ponds. This was a bold step, and led the way to subsequent changes of taste. Lord Bathurst informed Daines Barrington, that he was the first who deviated from the straight line in pieces of made water, by following the natural lines of a valley, in widening a brook at Ryskins, near Colnbrook; and that Lord Strafford, thinking that it was done from poverty or economy, asked him to own fairly how little more it would have cost him to have made it straight. It appears, however, that Christopher Wren, chaplain to King Charles I., dean of Windsor, and father of Sir Christopher, the architect, claimed the origin of serpentine rivers as his invention. In a marginal note affixed to Sir Henry Wotton's Elements of Architecture, published in 1624, he says, 'for disposing the current of a river to a mightie length in a little space I invented the serpentine, a form admirably conveighing the current in circular and yet contrary motions upon one and the same level, with walks and retirements betweene, to the advantage of all purposes, either of gardenings, plantings, or banquetings, or aery delights, and the multiplying of infinite fish in a little compass of ground, without any sense of their being restrained. In brief, it is to reduce the current of a mile's length into the compass of an orchard.' (Gard. Mag., vol. iii. p. 480.) Kensington Gardens were originally only twenty-six acres in extent; Queen Anne added thirty acres, which were laid out by her gardener, Henry Wise. The principal additions were made by Queen Caroline, by whose directions nearly three hundred acres were taken out of Hyde Park, and laid out by Bridgeman. (Lysons's Environs.) Bickham, who wrote in 1742, says, 'the gardens of Kensington Palace, which are three miles and a half in circumference, are very fine; and have been much improved and enlarged since his present Majesty came to the throne, under the care and management of the late ingenious Mr. Bridgeman. They are kept in the greatest order; and in the summer time when the court is not there, are resorted to by a vast concourse of the most polite company.' (Deliciï¾µ Britannicï¾µ, p. 32.) From Horace Walpole's correspondence we learn that Queen Caroline proposed to shut up St. James's Park, and convert it into a noble garden for the palace of that name. When her Majesty asked Sir Robert Walpole what it might probably cost, he answered 'only three crowns.' Batty Langley, who wrote in this reign (1728), says, 'the regular gardens were first taken from the Dutch, and introduced into England in the time of the late Mr. London and Mr. Wise, who being then supposed to be the best gardeners in England (the art being in its infancy to what it is now), were employed by the nobility and gentry of England to lay out and plant their gardens, in that regular, stiff, and stuck-up manner in which many yet appear.' Yet Batty Langley's style is proverbial for the very faults he complains of; a clear proof that the modern style was little known in England in 1728.