The Landscape Guide

British gardens in the time of James I  

Drummond Castle Garden  
Hatfield House Garden  
Montacute  Garden  
Haddon Hall Garden 

When in 1603 James I. ascended the English throne, there were already certain traces of Italian Renaissance influence to be seen in Scotland, his native land. Indeed in some ways the castles of Scotland, for the most part on high ground rising steeply from the neighbouring country, were more inclined to learn a lesson from the Italian terraces than the English were. It is almost impossible to get a really clear picture of the Scotch Renaissance gardens, because the descriptions are so meagre, but all the same the effect of these terrace structures, with their firm base-lines so hard to remove, was no doubt to protect many of these garden in the North during the destructive wars of the eighteenth century. And if it is true that the gardens of to-day, which are proud of their marks of antiquity, have nothing to show but the framework, it is also the fact that a place like Drummond Castle in Perthshire cannot deny the influence of Italy in the terraces, whose lofty protecting walls are intersected by graceful sloping steps, or in the doors that lead out from the terraces into the open. Barncluith in Lanarkshire calls to mind Italian villas, partly by the row of five narrow terraces overlooking the high bank of the Avon, partly by the stairway at the side, and partly by the delightful summer-house at the end with the semicircular steps that lead up to it.

The gardens in Scotland later on became more like those of Italy, because of a growing taste for the evergreen yew hedges, which were introduced in the seventeenth century, and were excellently acclimatised, and so remained in favour in the eighteenth. One must not, of course, be led away by present-day appearances to fancy one has a picture of what things looked like at the beginning of the seventeenth century.

King James himself was an ardent garden lover, and when he was King of England he took an active part in introducing foreign plants. He made manifest his interest in the castles and gardens round about him in the lordly fashion (we must admit) of his forefathers. It is at all times a dangerous undertaking for a subject to play host to his king. Burleigh’s son, the first Lord Salisbury, in the summer of 1606 entertained James and his guest, the King of Denmark, with extraordinary festivities at his family seat, Theobalds. Ben Jonson enhanced the glory of the foreigner’s visit by producing one of his masques, in which three “ Hours,” Law, Justice, and Peace, present an address in Latin verse.

The eyes of James were dazzled by the splendour of it all, and his desire to call this beautiful country place his own became irresistible, Salisbury made the best of a bad job, and accepted the proposed exchange of Hatfield, at that time the king’s property. Less than a year afterwards, on 22 May, 1607, the new master entered Theobalds with great pomp and ceremony, and once more Ben Jonson’s muse honoured the feast : the grieving Spirit of the House is brought into the presence of the new mistress, Queen Anne, and the beauty and glamour of the lady change lament to joyfulness. But Ben Jonson is a bad prophet when he makes Mercury reply to the Genius, who has asked what induced the former master to leave his home:

Nor gain, nor need; much less a vain desire
To frame new roofs, or build his dwelling higher;
He hath with mortar busied been too much,
That his affections should continue such.
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For Lord Salisbury had hardly turned his back on the home of his fathers when he started with undiminished energy at Hatfield “ to frame new roofs, and build his dwelling higher” (Fig. 348). In his time the fine house stood almost as it is still inhabited by the successors of the man who founded it. True, the greater part of the garden itself is made on a site that was acquired later, but it follows the old style, only on a larger scale. All the gardens on the east side are fairly new : one of them leads from the terrace next the house to a parterre, from which you first come to the bowling-green, then to a labyrinth somewhat sunk, and on the other side to a charming water-garden, which has lately been remade, It is only the western sections that have kept their old appearance, at any rate in the main features (Fig. 349). 
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One square of about 250 feet is shut in by a kind of arcade of clipped limes, The parterre is confined by a rather low hedge, and among other ornaments has a simple, beautiful fountain. A small rose-garden, to-day in front of the stables, very likely dates from the king’s time, for we find part of the Elizabethan house built up into the stable.

It is obvious that these were not the only gardens. In the records of accounts we find mention of a handsome Neptune fountain in marble, which Salomon de Caus erected for £113; and another Frenchman of the name of Simon Sturtevant was to have added an important water-piece, but this was put a stop to by the death of Lord Salisbury in 1612. The accounts also speak of a garden at the foot of the declivity, and its flowers and avenues. It was called the Valley Garden, and had pretty bridges across its stream.

On the otherside was a fine vineyard, which Lord Salisbury, who was full of enterprise, laid out himself. He also zealously supported the cult of mulberry-trees, which James had successfully imported. The mulberry was well known in England in Queen Elizabeth’s reign, and tradition even says that the four noble specimens at Hatfield were planted by the queen herself. Shakespeare was familiar with the mulberry, and makes Volumnia say (Coriolanus, Act III. Scene ii.):

Correcting thy stout heart,

Now humble as the ripest mulberry
That will not hold the handling.
[EDITOR’s NOTE : There were other references:
When he was by, the birds such pleasure took,
That some could sing, some others in their bills
Would bring him mulberries and ripe-red cherries;
He fed them with his sight, they him with berries.
Venus and Adonis.
Feed him with apricots and dewberries,
With purple grapes, green figs and mulberries.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act III Scene i.
And Thisby, tarrying in mulberry shade,
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act V. Scene i.
Shakespeare not only knew the mulberry but grew it. He planted it in his garden at New Place, Stratford-on-Avon. Those who doubt this may note Malone’s assurance:

That Shakespeare planted this tree is as well authenticated as anything of that nature can be . . and till this was planted there was no Mulberry tree in the neighbourhood. The tree was celebrated in many a poem, one especially by Dibdin, but about 1752, the then owner of New Place, the Rev. Mr. Gastreil, bought and pulled down the house, and wishing, as it should seem, to be damned to everlasting fame, he had some time before cut down Shakespeare’s celebrated Mulberry tree, to save himself the trouble of showing it to those whose admiration of our great poet led them to visit the poetick ground on which it stood.

It should be noted that Malone was a highly diligent and competent student of Shake- speare; see his supplement to Steevens’s edition, 1778, and his own admirable edition of 1790. The famous mulberry is mentioned in “ Boswell,” Thus : “ This joint expedition of these two eminent men [Samuel Johnson and David Garrick] to the metropolis was many years afterwards noticed in an allegorical poem on Shakespeare’s mulberry-tree, by Mr, Lovibond, the ingenious author of The Tears of “ The reference under date March 25, 1776, should also be read. See The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL,D., by James Boswell, " Temple Classics," J. M. Dent and Sons Ltd.]

It was Salisbury who sent Tradescant abroad as his gardener, to collect fruits and flowers for Hatfield from Holland, Belgium, France and Italy. The whole estate is a splendid example of an English country house of the period : in front of the mansion with its three wings is a court closed in with balustrades and fine trellis-work, through which originally ran the main approach to the house, with a broad paved path and plots of grass on either side. Behind this at Hatfield are the domestic offices and kitchens, but in most houses the garden is close adjoining, and often has wide terraces overhanging on both sides.

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There is a very similar place at Montacute (Fig. 350) in Somersetshire, built at the end of the sixteenth century, and until recently the home of the family of its original founder, Sir Edward Philips, but afterwards of Lord Curzon of Kedleston. Two inscriptions are left that point to a hospitable spirit : at the entrance porch the words, “ For you, my friends,” and at the garden gate, “ Through this wide open door none treads too early and none leaves too late." At this house, as at Hatfield, the main entrance has been changed to the opposite side. Originally one approached the house through the fine front court, which had a balustrade-top to the walls and also a fountain. On this balustrade there are obelisks, two pretty pavilions in the middle, and also, in the corners flanking the entrance, unusually fine summer-houses. On the side of the court and house runs a wide terrace, from which steps lead to the flower plot—a sunk parterre, overlooked by high walks, partly gravel, partly grass. At the cross-paths stands the chief ornament, a basin with a balustrade in the best Renaissance style, the simple shell fountain of spring water in the middle. The parterre is nowadays laid out in lawns with pyramids of box; but this plantation belongs to a later date, taking the place of geometrical patterns worked out in box and flowers. On the other side of the house there is a huge lawn, where we might expect to find kitchen- and tree-gardens, 350 feet by 150 feet, but as a fact planted with only a few big trees; perhaps it began as a bowling-green between two avenues.

There is another garden, which has kept only its outlines, but it is enough to show how lively was Italian influence at the end of the sixteenth century. This is Haddon Hall (Fig. 351), in Derbyshire, the seat of the Manners family, dukes of Rutland.

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 The house belongs to very different architectural periods, and forms a large irregular mass, with four terrace gardens at the side, accommodated to the height of the hill—the higher one a broad strip of grass with a row of trees on either side. This kind of plantation is one of the English Renaissance ideas, with steps at the side leading to the first terrace by which we pass straight on to the house. The corners of the lawn are emphasised by lofty yews, and a balustrade at the front end has a stairway through it leading to the chief parterre, which is sunk near the house ; very high walls stand between the two lower terraces and the actual dwelling, the terraces in no regular arrangement, lying at the foot of the hill and connected with kitchen-garden and orchard.