The Garden Guide

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

Mid eighteeenth century English landscape gardens

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585. The partial corruption of the modern style took place as soon as it became fashionable. Though it may be true that, 'in all liberal arts, the merit of transcendent genius, not the herd of pretenders, characterises an era,' yet in an art like that of laying out grounds, whose productions necessarily have such an influence on the general face of a country, it is impossible to judge otherwise of the actual state of the art, than from the effect which is produced. This effect, about fifty years ago, when clumps and belts blotted every horizon, could never be mistaken for that intended to be produced by such professors as Kent, or such authors as Whately and Mason. The truth is, such was the rage for improvement, that the demand for artists of genuine taste exceeded the regular supply; and, as is usual in such cases, a false article was brought to market, and imposed on the public. A liberal was thus for a time reduced to a mechanical art, and a new character was given to modern improvements, which, from consisting in a display of ease, elegance, and nature, according to the situation, became a system of set forms, indiscriminately applied in every case. This system was in fact more formal, and less varied, than the ancient style to which it succeeded, because it had fewer parts. An ancient garden had avenues, alleys, stars, pattes d'oie, pelotons or platoons (square clumps), circular masses, rows double and single, and strips, all from one material, wood; but the modern style, as then degraded, had only three forms, a clump, a belt, and a single tree. Place the belt in the circumference, and distribute the clumps and single trees within, and all that respects wood in one of these places is finished. The professor required no further examination of the ground than what was necessary to take the levels for forming a piece of water, which water uniformly assumed one shape and character, and differed no more in different situations than did the belt or the clump. So entirely mechanical had the art become, that any one might have guessed what would be the plan given by the professor before he was called in; and Price actually gives an instance in which this was done. The monotonous productions of this mechanical style soon brought it into disrepute; and proprietors were ridiculed for expending immense sums in destroying old avenues and woods, and planting in their room young clumps, for no other reason than that it was the fashion to do so.