The Garden Guide

Book: London Parks and Gardens, 1907
Chapter: Chapter 2 Hyde Park

The Serpentine and natural landscape gardening

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When Queen Caroline conceived the idea of throwing the ponds in Hyde Park into one, and making a sheet of water, the school of "natural" or "landscape" gardening was becoming the rage. Bridgeman, a well-known garden designer, who had charge of the royal gardens, has the credit of having invented the "ha-ha" or sunk fence, and thus led the way for merging gardens into parks. Kent, who followed him, went still further. He, Horace Walpole said, "leaped the fence, and saw that all Nature was a garden." The fashions in garden design soon change, and the work of a former generation is quickly obliterated. William III. brought with him the fashion of Dutch gardening, and laid out Kensington Gardens in that style. Switzer, writing twenty-five years later, says the fault of the Dutch gardeners was "the Pleasure Gardens being stuffed too thick with Box"; they "used it to a fault, especially in England, where we abound in so much good Grass and Gravel." London and Wise, very famous nursery gardeners, who made considerable changes at Hampton Court, and laid out the grounds of half the country seats in England, had charge of Kensington Palace Gardens, and housed the "tender greens" during the winter in their nurseries hard by. These celebrated Brompton nurseries were so vast that the Kensington plants took up "but little room in comparison with" those belonging to the firm. Queen Mary took great interest in the new gardens. "This active Princess lost no time, but was either measuring, directing, or ordering her Buildings, but in Gard'ning, especially Exoticks, she was particularly skill'd, and allowed Dr. Pluknet �200 per ann. for his Assistance therein." After his queen's death William III. did no more to the gardens, but they were completed by Queen Anne. She appointed Wise to the chief care of the gardens, and when in 1712 rules for the "better keeping Hyde Park in good Order" were drawn up, and people were forbidden to leap the fences or ditches, or to ride over the grass, a special exception was made in favour of Henry Wise. Switzer, in tracing the history of gardening to his day (1715), praises the "late pious Queen, whose love to Gardening was not a little," for "Rooting up the Box, and giving an English Model to the old-made Gardens at Kensington; and in 1704 made that new garden behind the Green-House, that is esteemed amongst the most valuable Pieces of Work that has been done any where.... The place where that beautiful Hollow now is, was a large irregular Gravel-pit, which, according to several Designs given in, was to have been filled, but that Mr. Wise prevailed, and has given it that surprizing Model it now appears in. As great a Piece of Work as that whole Ground is, 'twas near all completed in one Season, (viz.) between Michaelmas and Lady Day, which demonstrates to what a pitch Gard'ning is arrived within these twenty or thirty years."