The Landscape Guide

19.1 Four revolutions in the history of garden design

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Towards the end of a century, English garden design tends to be in a revolution condition (Figure 19.1).

The revolution of the 1690s

In England, the middle years of the seventeenth century were a time of revolution. A king was executed and the country flooded with republican ideas. The restoration of a king who had lived his adult life in France, in 1660, brought an influx of late-Renaissance ideas. Another king was brought from Holland, in 1688, bringing the enlightened ideas of a very advanced country. The stage was set, by 1690, for England to take the lead in world development. A philosophical movement, empiricism, revolutionized science and had a profound influence on garden design. Rationalists believed that human reason is the ultimate source of certainty in knowledge. Empiricists believed that observation of the external world is the ultimate test. In gardens, this led to an increasing dislike of straight lines and to a love of irregularity. Sir William Temple published his essay Upon the Gardens of Epicurus in 1692, with the following remark:

What I have said, of the best Forms of Gardens, is meant only of such as are in some Sort regular; for there may be other Forms wholly irregular, that may, for aught I know, have more Beauty than any of the others; but they must owe it to some extraordinary Dispositions of Nature in the Seat, or some great Race of Fancy or Judgement in the Contrivance...

His remark heralded a revolution. Pevsner, using ink of a vivid purple hue, wrote that

This passage is one of the most amazing in the English language. It started a line of thought and visual conceptions which were to dominate first England and then the World for two centuries. It is the first suggestion ever of a possible beauty fundamentally different from he formal, a beauty of irregularity and fancy. (Pevsner, 1956) [See plan of Moor Park Surrey]

The Enclosed Style was deposed in the 1690s

The Serpentine Style was deposed in the 190s

The Mixed Style was deposed in the 190s