The Landscape Guide

Dutch Baroque Park and Garden Design

Enghien  Neuberg  Het Loo  Honslaerdyk 

No country  suffered as much as Holland ridicule from the hostility of supporters of the picturesque style . Everything freakish, petty, in bad taste, or contrary to nature, was stigmatised as “A Dutch garden,” in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Indeed the country had every fault of the old style laid at her door. This happened more and more, and in England, where these hostilities began, they may be explicable by local conditions. But if we look at the part played by Holland in garden history—and this will take us back to an earlier period when she was flourishing—we shall be enlightened as to her peculiar position. People were misled by the term “ Dutch garden,” as it came to be used derisively in the eighteenth century, and so they were always trying to discover some special definite Dutch style.

The very important part played by the canal in Dutch landscapes and therefore in Dutch gardens has caused people, and especially later writers, to think that the Dutch garden was a leading factor in the development of the French canal plan. Although at the first glance this seems an illuminating idea, considering the close relations of the two countries, the whole course of our story shows that the merit must be accorded quite simply to the natural development of the gardens of France. Although, however, as Hirschfeld perceived, Holland does not play so important a part in garden history as this, she has evolved a peculiar style of her own which is due to geographical conditions. In garden history, just as in the general history of art and culture, Holland appears late. 

The gardens of the Netherlands, with which we dealt in our account of the Renaissance as a flourishing branch of German gardening, were developed in the southern provinces of Belgium. In those fine engravings that de Vries has left us, the canal plays no part, and water altogether plays a much smaller part than in many another country, including Germany. Later on, Belgium was here, as everywhere else in the world of art, only a branch of French development. We can understand such a garden as the Dukes of Enghien (Fig. 537) laid out in the middle of the seventeenth century, only if we bear in mind that the chief idea of Louis the Fourteenth’s grand style was still apprehended in only a vague way, and was confused with the works of the Renaissance. Separate gardens

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are still small and numerous, and are not controlled by one great plan. The canal, too, is made use of as an important central axis for a side garden. The bosket arranged in great concentric circles is peculiar, and gives a fortress-like character. Long avenues proceed from it all through the park. But in Holland the nobility and the inhabitants of towns were so completely occupied with the weary war for their deliverance from the Spanish yoke during the later part of the sixteenth century (which was so important in the history of gardening) that they had neither the time nor the security needed for adorning their open country, in its perilous condition, with the gentle, peaceful arts of the garden.

At the close of the war came the great boom in trade, whereby Holland became one of the wealthiest and most flourishing countries in Europe. In this favourable time many things contributed to help the culture of all sorts of gardens. First and foremost stood the battle between sea and land, and the Dutch owe the security of their homes to the work they had done consistently ever since the twelfth century, in setting up barriers against the sea. When trade, which was constantly improving, had provided enough capital to make them feel strong and inclined for new undertakings, they began to consider how their growing population could get more room, and how they could win tracts of territory from the sea and reclaim the inland marshes. One part of the country lay below the level of the sea and was enclosed by high dams, but it needed wide canals to carry off the excess of water and to serve as conduits; for when the land is quite flat, with no descents, canals are absolutely necessary for regulating the flow. By a water-loving people the canal, as well as the rivers, had always been used for convenience in traffic. A great deal of particularly fertile land was acquired at the beginning of the seventeenth century by the reclamation of a number of these inland water-spaces.

A formal style was natural for Holland, a country which had from the first conceived the idea of conducting its farming operations by rule and reason; and not only were kitchen-gardens and fields subjected to such regulation, but so also were country houses and villas and their gardens, which often were happily established on the ground reclaimed in the neighbourhood of a large town. One example may here stand for many. In the years 1624 to 1658 the so-called Diemermeer was drained by the town of Amsterdam and a great part of the reclaimed land was given up to suburban houses. Each of these, none large, had a small piece of garden, reaching as far as the canal. The canal formed the end of the garden, and served as a connection, while together with a path on the opposite side it made a road for general traffic, Then when people got accustomed to thinking of water as a connection and not merely as a division, they were separated from their neighbours only by a narrow canal, so that most gardens were divided off on three sides in this way.

For the most part such gardens were no bigger than a simple parterre, generally with a fountain in the middle, and clung to the Dutch feeling for all that was thoroughly clean, neat, and pretty, being laid out in the fashion of that day with box and coloured clays, which made neat patterns round the flower-beds. The owner being rich and his space small, it often happened that there was an excessive amount of ornament, as much being crammed in as the place could possibly hold. Statues, small pavilions, much clipping of hedges, all made an attempt to satisfy the pressing requirement for variety in these little gardens. No one man or place could fulfil the demand for greater stretches of park and so common land was made use of at the side of the houses. Thus in a drawing of the Diemermeer there is a large tennis-court behind the house with several avenues, and this is meant for the people who live there to use in common. This type of building for suburban houses and gardens is everywhere typical of Holland; it extended for miles, and even now is often to be met with.

The kind of flowers that were cultivated in Holland had another considerable effect on the extension of gardening. As already remarked, soon after the end of the sixteenth century the growing of bulbs was the first interest for botanists, and the trade of Holland was the centre of the flower market. Speculation grew to a mad frenzy and seized upon this trade in bulbs, especially tulips, but it scarcely deserves mention as a curious matter of history, and did not affect the world of botany, to say nothing of the art of gardening. All the same, the passion for flowering bulbs made a great difference in Dutch gardens. It certainly was a protection against the hostility to flowers that was prevalent for a time in England and in France, though it also caused a certain stiffness in the beds, and perhaps more than anything else an inclination towards excessive variety in colour. When the eye grew accustomed to the many brilliant colours of these perishable flowers, it also came to pass that Dutchmen demanded a substitute to serve in those long periods when they had to wait for their beloved flowers to bloom. To be sure, the many-coloured globes which mirrored the garden in all sorts of hues were not a Dutch invention, for in the Renaissance-gardens of every country this form of decoration was popular, and one has only to call to mind such a description as Bacon’s; but it was first in Holland that this kind of ornament was conspicuous, together with little bells, coloured clays, and coloured statues—all in such a small space that taste became satiated, and somewhat later a great change was inevitable.

In the Holland of the seventeenth century statuary found a place in the garden, where it could make its way to extreme realism, as though it were one branch of the great art of painting. We saw in other countries how at the first beginning of a baroque style a naturalistic statuary of a genre kind found its way into gardens, and how even Alberti did not stand aloof from it. In Italy, later on, naturalistic modern statues took the place of the Muses among the great sculptures of the gardens. But what they achieved was always too little to hold its own against other objects of art; and in the lands on the other side of the Alps these carvings had to take their place with the purely ideal forms of gods and nymphs. In Holland, however, the naturalistic style proved more and more victorious, and became increasingly noticeable because of its variety in colouring, which was often conjoined with sound and movement produced mechanically. In order to get as much ornament as possible into the little gardens, these scenes were frequently expressed in miniature; and a conglomeration of grotesque figures in clipped trees was the last characteristic feature of the Dutch garden in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The effect was naturally most impressive as it appeared to the eyes of a traveller who passed along comfortably by the water-way, repeated as it was a hundred times, for “ the love of a garden prevails everywhere, and much money is spent on it. Everybody who can possibly manage it, owns a garden nearer or farther from the town, where he lives with his family from Saturday to Monday.”

Johanna Schopenhauer visited Holland in 1812, and looking at the gardens with very friendly eyes, saw to her sorrow that the English style was encroaching rapidly. But she gives a description of the gardens in the village of Broek which show, even in an exaggerated way, complete specimens of Dutch taste pure and simple. “ The gardens in front of their houses," she says, “ are just as wonderful to look at. You find everything there except nature. There are trees, which no longer look like trees, so clipped are their tops, and whose very trunks are painted with white oil paint to make them ornamental. There are all kinds of possible and impossible animals from the known or unknown world cut out of box, and columns, pyramids, and grand gates, all carved out of yew-trees. In the middle of the garden stands the choicest decoration, perhaps a Dutchman sitting on a tub, and very highly coloured, or perhaps the figure of a Turk smoking his pipe, or an enormous flower-basket with the figure of a gardener looking out of it roguishly, painted white with gilt extremities. The ground is covered with countless scrolls and flourishes, as neat as though they were drawn with a pen; the spaces are filled in with coloured glass beads, shells, stones, and pots in all manner of colours; and in their perfect symmetry they resemble embroideries of colossal size and the very worst taste.” And yet in this little remote village the prevailing modern style has had its destructive effect.

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A specimen of this sort of little garden has been preserved here and there (Fig. 538), but a colourless photograph gives an incomplete idea, and makes the pretty but overladen erections look like cardboard boxes. The little temple at the side, clipped to an antique style and lacquered white, has in front of it a small musical box, painted in many colours and standing on a support like a table; there can be no doubt that it used to produce music by some mechanism. On similar supports there are little wooden figures variously painted. The centre piece is the shell fountain; there is a heart made out of different-coloured stones bearing the emblems of Faith, Hope, and Charity, with the figure of Fame on the top, and all round it a parterre laid out with box and filled with flowers in many colours. As usual in the decoration of eighteenth-century gardens, the Indian or Chinese pagoda is to be found here.

Such were most of the private Dutch gardens of that period, but the latest efforts have only remained as curious survivals even in Holland—just as in the case of the garden called by Riat the Jardin minéralogique. That means that there was no trace of vegetation kept, the walls were decorated with coloured shells, and, in order to get still more decoration, with vases of faience, gilt birds, statues made in shells, men and animals, and waterfalls made of glass which fell into basins of tortoiseshell. Only a few beds with tulips were left.

It goes without saying that important and beautiful gardens, as well as these small ones, were made in Holland and the Netherlands generally in the seventeenth century, for the country was growing rich. But it must be clearly understood that France exercised the chief influence in the grand style; and that every effort to prove that Holland took a leading part in the garden history of Northern Europe, either before or after the time of Le Nôtre, is labour in vain. In 1668 there appeared the most important and the most widely read of Dutch works on gardening, Van der Groen’s Den Nederlandischen Howenier. This book was translated into French and German, and was very widely studied, because of its useful hints to gardeners. Its two hundred plans of parterres show plainly—compared with the earlier French ones by Mollet and Boyceau—how very strongly inclined the Dutch taste is towards what is simple and small, even petty. The debt to France is frankly acknowledged. Groen was gardener to Prince William of Orange. The house called Neuberg (Fig. 539), which William II. built in the neighbourhood of Ryswick, may serve as an example of the famous gardens of the middle of the seventeenth century. 

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The completely level ground made it far from easy to get the rhythm and variety which were so rigidly required by French taste. The whole middle axis was partitioned into four squares, which were parterres held together by fountains or statues of some kind. A semicircle made by berceaux formed the end of these. In France itself at that time the parterres in any typical garden would scarcely have been separated even by very low fences or corner pavilions. Here there were pairs of rectangular basins to right and left, placed quite symmetrically, and separated by a bosket, those in front adorned with pretty fountain groups, with narrow ones at the side bordering the whole garden in a charming fashion. The outside limits were defined by a canal and avenues of trees, which were carried round the whole estate. The special park groves were on the other side of the house, and on both sides there were giardini secreti.

William III., whose love of gardens we have heard about in England, had produced fine examples, fit for a prince, in Holland also, during the last third of the seventeenth century. At the command of Queen Mary, and inspired by her, Harris, the king’s physician, helped her to give the good impression of Holland which she desired by writing a close description of the country, ending with the statement that “ the Dutch deserve from us much respect and kindly feeling.” Through him we obtain a very distinct picture of the gardens of that day.

The chief home made by the royal pair, and the one they loved best in their old country, was Het Loo (Fig. 540). 

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Mary laid the foundation stone herself, and they never forgot the place, even after they had settled down at Hampton Court. In Holland, Het Loo naturally got the name of a second Versailles. Some liveliness of contour was cleverly contrived, for the chief garden with its eight parterres was sunk, and it had a terrace surround, and behind was brought to an end by an avenue of oaks. The middle part was open. The view was not impeded over the upper garden, which was somewhat raised, and which ended in a semicircular gallery and a series of fine water-works, The idea of the sunk parterre, which originated in the Italian Renaissance, had been already taken up and frequently carried out with success in the French garden. Two large gardens, one on either side of the house, still keep the Renaissance character at Het Loo, and the whole place shows the same feeling in many other ways. There are groves on either side of the middle part, and in their form, which is partly baroque, they differ, far more than the show-gardens do, from the grand style at Versailles. The canal divides the halves of the garden with two arms, but has not here the important task of uniting garden and park. It need scarcely be said, considering the small measurements of the house, that the total area is nothing like that of Versailles.

Very similar in plan to Het Loo is another pleasure-castle called Haus Honslaerdyk (Fig. 541), which William built not far from The Hague.

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 The canal riot only goes round the garden, which adjoins three sides of the house, but also round the house itself, thus giving it the character of a water-castle. The boskets, in accordance with their smaller dimensions, are treated far more simply than at Het Loo. A good many other royal castles of the period are preserved for us in writings and engravings, but none of them are so large or so important in their decoration as Het Loo.

The beautiful garden of Heemstede in the province of Utrecht has a country road between it and the cross-canal used for traffic (Fig. 542). 

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The drive up to the dwelling- house, a small one in the middle of a large garden and surrounded by a canal, is as usual on the land side, whence the house is reached by way of numerous shrubberies; beside it there is an open grass plot. The real flower-garden is alongside the canal; and next to the house there is a very fine parterre, and on it one of the oval basins so much beloved in Holland. About the beginning of the eighteenth century the passion for gardening, and also real skill, attained their highest point in Holland; indeed the form of the garden had a peculiar quality because of its unusual grouping, separate gardens being arranged within one encircling band of canal or river, This gave a local self-contained unity, so that each individual garden acted as one factor in the gigantic scheme. It is noticeable that the

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issues of engravings recognise this. In the eighteenth century Dutch engravers were incontestably at the head of their art, and they not only supplied Holland with numerous pictures of its own gardens and houses, but also satisfied a great part of the demand in the rest of Europe, as we have seen, and especially in England. In Holland the chief complete sets are Watergreefs of Diemermeer bij de Stadt Amsterdam, Het zegenprahiende Kennemerland, and the Zegenprahiende Vecht; there were many others of the same sort.

All the villas have an open parterre by the canal or river, and the travelling on water-roads like these cannot be too much praised, especially on the Vecht, which is one of the most beautiful. Hirschfeld has a description of what it was in his own time (1785).

The country houses and gardens [he says], on both sides, make travelling on this river and in such surroundings one of the greatest pleasures a human being can imagine. Every moment the view changes, first to a labyrinth in a garden, showing thousands of shapes cleverly cut out of lime-hedges, elms, or yews, then again avenues of lime-trees and chestnuts. Sometimes a canal cuts through, sometimes two gardens are separated by a little meadow; or another garden has thickly woven arbours and covered walks. Sometimes hard by the bank there is a pretty house built of brick, another time the gardens are enclosed with iron trellis-work. The traveller can see into gardens and paths, which are ornamented with statues, and along the banks there are long beds with flowers, the tulips making a splendid border. They are especially pleasing to the eye; and a traveller passes by so quickly that he does not feel wearied by the uniformity and regularity everywhere, because he sees such a constant change and succession.

Thus circumspectly speaks the traveller who is kindly disposed to the picturesque style.

At the greater estates the main garden is extended behind the house to the side away from the water-road, according to the style familiar to us in French gardens and in the instruction books. The houses, which are small according to French and German ideas of the period, are hardly ever raised on a terrace. It is only the real old castles that have still mostly kept their character as water-castles, and still present a more important appearance with their moats and drawbridges than the many villas of a later date that are mostly like pavilions (Fig. 543).

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 In the gardens the actual ground is seldom tampered with, and if it is, it is only to get an artificial hill with a summer-house on the top (Fig. 544) or a sunk parterre—a boulingrin.

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The demand for variety had to be satisfied, first and foremost, by water. But fine and multiform as its devices were—sometimes the great mirror-like basin (Fig. 545), which was often at the end of a large garden, sometimes the fountains in countless forms with shells and all sorts of figures, sometimes a canal enclosing either the whole garden or separate parts of it (Fig. 546)—there was always wanting what was naturally one of the greatest attractions, the cascade.
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There can be no doubt that at the turn of the seventeenth century the standard in Dutch garden art was astonishingly high. We very often find Dutch gardeners in foreign service, where they were sought for to cultivate flowers. It must not be forgotten, too, that Peter the Great first studied in Holland the gardens that he afterwards copied in his own land. But in this connection the Dutch garden must be reckoned as of the French school, and must find its place as one member in the whole body of French development.