English Baroque Garden Design
The chief credit for bringing the gardens at Hampton Court to their present form is due to William and Mary. Both of them had a great liking for the palace, and made it their permanent residence. Christopher Wren, at that time beyond dispute the greatest living architect, was summoned to build a new, important palace on the east side, round the pretty old Tudor building, which still was encircled with a moat. The style of this palace shows that men’s eyes were directed towards Versailles. London and Wise, both pupils of Rose, were commissioned to lay out the new gardens (Fig. 442).
In front of the lately erected east wing they cut off a large semicircular piece of the park, and laid it out as a flower-garden; for this the walks which led up to the old castle had to be put back, and then other walks, and also a canal, were made round the semicircle on the outside. On the inside it was laid out with parterres de broderie, the paths being kept in the form of a star which led to the castle. There were thirteen fountains, some large, some small, and a great many statues. By the side of the house ran a gravel path, 2300 feet long, following the whole length of the house and its side wings, and this path had to serve instead of terraces.
Although William had large plans, he could not see his way to making those enormous earthworks which sunk gardens would have involved, and this was the only way of getting a terrace. His contemporaries, and writers of a later date, all bewail the want of a terrace to give a general view. The gravel walk was furnished in summer with a row of fine orange-trees. These were thought very appropriate by the royal pair, who saw in them a half-political allusion to the House of Orange. The south gardens were also remade: the lesser ones were now turned into special gardens for flowers, and among these the so-called pond garden (Fig. 344, Vol, I.) is even now a charming piece of Renaissance work. The hill for a view rose behind, and looked towards the Thames, in the so-called private grounds: there is a summer-house on the top, which is seen in the view from Christopher Wren’s new wing. It was levelled, and flower-beds were set out.
The back of the semicircle, where the “ mount “ had been, was shut off by an iron trellis containing twelve gates, among the most beautiful works of art of this kind. The designer was the Frenchman, Jean Tijou, who produced many other works in iron for English people (Fig. 443).
These particular gates were removed in 1865, at the time when garden art was most degraded, and placed in the newly founded South Kensington Museum; for the institution was in want of works of art, and there was a wish to accustom the public to their exhibition. Fortunately, it was recognised a few years later that things of this kind had the best effect in the places they were intended for, and the iron-work was restored to its old home. One of the most private and secluded parts of the garden, the wonderful covered walk called Queen Mary's Bower, belongs to an earlier date, for it was seen and admired by Evelyn.
The last change made by William was the conversion of the old orchard on the north side into the so-called Wilderness. This is a significant indication of the conservative feeling in the English gardens of the period. The great idea in the French garden was the shaping out of the bosket or thicket as “relief,” with a view both to variety and the provision of grand displays, but this notion seldom took hold in England. People were content in the royal garden with a wilderness plan, which was adopted at the beginning of the century, with winding paths cut in the thick growths, the greenery mostly held back by trellis at the side, The small importance of the grove was a consequence of its being ill-suited to the damp climate, and shade was preferably sought in long airy avenues and walks.
The gardens of Hampton Court belong to the very few which in their main lines have kept their original form, True, the fountains in the great parterre have disappeared to the last one, and out of the beds with box borders have grown large lawns of trapezium shape, while the park avenues have been continued into the garden as avenues of yew; but the sameness of this part is enlivened by a marvellous show of flowers, and the surround and main lines of the garden are just as they were. This fact seems surprising, for in England the great revolution in taste raged high. Were we not aided by excellent engravings, it would be hard indeed to get a tolerably comprehensive view of England’s gardens about the year 1700. But a flood of copper engravings, mostly Dutch, such as the work of the engravers and draughtsmen Knyff and Kip, who tramped up and down trying to get views for their drawings and plates, and more especially the views of important castles and gardens, had now reached the country. They are preserved in a great series of pictures, which we often find repeated in the different books. The best of these, for the size and beauty of the drawings, is Le Nouveau Théâtre de la Grande Bretagne, which appeared in 1714.
The pictures show first and foremost that the French fashion for large lines had made an impression even in England. The actual size of the gardens was more imposing than it had been hitherto. The bosquets were thought less of, as we have said. The many kinds of water arrangements had lost their importance; even the great canal is not universally present, and when it does appear, is not situated so favourably as at Hampton Court, but lies at the side and does not connect with the garden. It is not unlikely that such a peculiar situation is due to Dutch influence, for in Holland, as we shall see later on, it seems to have come about from natural causes. St. James’s Park, also made by William III,, is a typical example (Fig. 444), and the canal is at the side of the park in
one long strip, with straight avenues running alongside and enclosing wide-stretching rneadows. In front of the palace there are two fine lawns, also bordered with trees. The side of the palace looks on a flower-garden with finely laid-out parterres, but the boskets are unimportant. In spite of the fact that it is all so very unlike the French style, there is a legend that Le Nôtre drew up the plans for this garden also.
We have already spoken of the English parterres, which almost always put the lawn itself in front. An entirely level situation of the garden is the first requisite for its beauty, even more here than in France, and on this account the hill to give a view over it has often been kept in a later garden. But here too a raised terrace with balustrades has been much liked, attached to the house. Where a hilly ground favoured terraces, as so often in Scotland, and also in the more important English gardens, they were used, but surprisingly seldom, for cascades.
One peculiarity of English country houses at the time of the Renaissance often conditioned the site of their front gardens: the old Tudor house was always entered through a front court; carriages drove up to it, and visitors had to go on foot through a second court on a paved path; there were lawns on both sides, with fountains or perhaps parterres. It was not before 1700 that people began to alter these inconvenient approaches. Then at Hatfield House and at Montacute the entrance was changed to the other side, close to the house.