The Landscape Guide

19.3 The garden revolution of the 1890s

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After a century of exotic plants and eclectic styles, there was an understandable call for purism in gardens. As it came from the Arts and Crafts movement, I believe the results of this call are best known as the Arts and Crafts Style. Thomas Mawson leant support to this title with his 1901 book on The Art and Craft of Garden Making. The leading practitioners, including Gertrude Jekyll, Reginald Blomfield and William Robinson, argued with each other at the time, but from the perspective of another century can be seen to have agreed in principle. They wanted a return to Englishness, to the principles of artistic composition and to traditional building methods. They were a coherent set of principles, and produced some of the best gardens that have ever been made in Britain. Jane Brown has called them "the gardens of a golden afternoon' (Brown, 1982). For better and for worse, that afternoon lingers on and on. The style of Jekyll, Lutyens, Sissinghurst and Hidcote became so popular that the modern "abstract' garden hardly made an appearance in England. Elizabeth Kassler could find but one English garden for inclusion in her book on Modern Gardens, and that garden was made in the 1930s (Kassler, 1964).

In continental Europe and the Americas, the Arts and Crafts style was less influential and soon developed into Modernism. The appeal to Englishness and to traditional building methods carried no weight, but the emphasis on artistic principles became very important. This produced the Modern or Abstract Garden. As with Modern Art and Modern Architecture, the Modern Garden was based on the principles of abstract composition. Lines, shapes, colours and proportions were related to functions and arranged to form abstract designs, which had no stories, meanings or intentional symbolism of any kind. Concrete construction was often used in preference to traditional construction, because it was modern, value-free and meaning-free.