The Landscape Guide


The first attempts to reform the garden were made by two artists, and were started from different directions; but every attempt aimed at the same thing: to make a more worthy home in the garden for all the plants that now arrived in such numbers. In the forties and fifties of the nineteenth century the eyes of architects, especially Englishmen, had been turned once more to Italy. Sir Charles Barry, the English architect, travelled in the South, and especially in Italy when a young man. He took back with him to England a knowledge of Italian art as treated more or less from the historical point of view, and applied it in a series of country places, sometimes entirely new, sometimes only altered and restored. The buildings which he designed show a strong likeness to Roman suburban villas, such as Villa Borghese and Villa Doria Pamfili. We feel the resemblance to the parterre of the Doria Pamfili when we walk through an “Italian garden” at an English country seat. Almost all Barry’s work was done between 1840 and 1860. A piece was cut out of the picturesque garden, generally close to the house and as a rule only on one side of it, and was then laid out as a sunk parterre. The beds were edged with box, and here the treasures of the greenhouse were “ bedded out,” to be changed several times in the course of the year. There were fuchsias, lobelias, heliotrope, shrubby calceolarias, and in particular different kinds of zonal pelargoniums. Somewhat later there were begonias. These, with many others, formed a brilliantly coloured carpet of flowers. The corners of the beds were marked by dwarf trees, but as the whole parterre was to be allowed no shade, tall trees were banished. Wherever the ground allowed, this part of the garden was laid out in level terraces adorned with Italian balustrades, which contributed the chief or even the only architectural feature. Where terraces were not possible, the parterre was sunk, with the just belief that the view could be best seen from above. One famous example of a house of the period was Trentham Castle (Fig. 607) which Barry altered for the Duke of Sutherland. 

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The open arcade and the balustrade on the roof made the chief decoration. The idea was carried out in very wide and rather low terraces, all with balustrades, Another ornament was found in small open summer-houses. There were also a few Italian statues, for example the Perseus of Benvenuto Cellini. The great lake at the end had its straight side next to the parterre, and its curving banks stretched out into a picturesque pleasure-ground. The garden was designed by Nesfield, the artist, who often worked with Sir Charles Barry.

All these Italian gardens showed the same character as a whole, though in particular parts and in particular circumstances they might differ. Colour effect, as produced by bedded-out plants, was more desired than general design. Most important English landscape gardens of the period had a semi-formal character. If one turns over to-day the pages of beautiful illustrations of English gardens which are given in the periodical Country Life, one is surprised to see how many of the older ones are faithful to the formal idea. Some examples are Harewood House in Yorkshire, Holland House in London, and Longford Castle in Wiltshire, where Italian parterres have been wrested from picturesque parks. In Scotland more especially we find a revival of the earlier terrace structures. To this class belongs Drummond Castle (Fig. 608), where the old plan of terraces received a much altered stamp from the new style of planting. 

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Another English place, Shrubland Park, near Ipswich, which was laid out in the first instance by Sir Charles Barry, in conjunction with Nesfield, for Baron de Saumarez, could not have acquired the perfection of its terrace-building without the help of old examples of the same kind. Between an upper and lower Italian parterre there runs an elegant flight of steps at the head of five steep terraces, all bordered by balustrades, and emphasised at top and bottom by an open Italian summer-house (Fig. 609).

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When once the historical interest in particular styles had become active, whether through imitation or revival, people attempted to accommodate what they already had to other types. When the Duke of Westminster cut out a flower-parterre from his picturesque garden at the neo-Gothic castle, Eaton Hall, Cheshire, he set up statues of knights and ladies instead of Renaissance works of art. A dragon fountain was placed in the beautiful pond, and Gothic pointed arches were put on the balustrades. The time was gone by when the life and feeling of a nation expressed itself in one particular style, which had both educated and limited its own artists. Every style recorded in history lay open to choose from, and architects, from 1850 onwards, made it their pride to be able to build in any style they pleased. Sir Charles Barry, who introduced the Italian style into his own land, was the architect of the Gothic Houses of Parliament, and had also attempted purely classic buildings, even adopting the Palladian style of architecture.

This feeling for history, this eclecticism, which so characterises the art of the nineteenth century, tried to find a place in the garden parterre, but there it was never more than a name. People liked to put a French parterre by the side of an Italian, or even a Spanish; but it would have been a difficult thing, even after a close study, to say where the difference between them came in, Newstead Abbey, that old Augustinian monastery which has gained an imperishable renown from the name of Byron, had not seen good days under the ownership of the poet’s family. His immediate predecessor ruined the park, but he set up a little fort and a tiny flotilla in the lake, which was all in accordance with the taste of the moment, and is described by Horace Walpole. 

The old estate showed signs of its monkish origin in having a fountain at the crossways, and also a fish-pond. After Byron's death the place passed into other hands, and the gardens were laid out in the prevailing fashion about the middle of the nineteenth century. There was now an Italian parterre, a French, and a Spanish. These had to endure each other’s company amid the far from modern surroundings of the monks’ fish-pond, called the “ Eagle Pond “ (Fig. 610). The beds of all the parterres were edged with box, and had Gothic railings.

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The largest garden of the formal type which was made at that time in England was at Chatsworth, Derbyshire. The Duke of Devonshire, who was President of the Horticultural Society, wanted to make new gardens, and found a highly gifted man in young Joseph Paxton, who was on the point of going abroad, as he was in want of work. In 1826 the duke made him his head gardener, and commissioned him to lay out the grounds at Chatsworth. It is not easy to determine what was the state of the place when Paxton took it over, or how much was in existence, but certainly a good part of it had been laid out previously in the picturesque style. However that may be, Paxton took note of the main paths belonging to the old formal style and retained them. He and Barry were among the very first who set out parterres in formal lines.

As at Newstead, we find one Italian and one French garden. The latter at least has a certain claim to its name, because it had a parterre de broderie in front of the former orangery, and also statues standing on tall pillars at the end of it. These certainly did produce a somewhat French effect. But Paxton went beyond the parterre, and the great ideas and scope of the time of Le Nôtre were recalled by the axial line from the south front of the house leading to a canal-like pond at the very end of the garden. All the same, the wide gravel walks and lawns marked a great difference between this place and anything French, Paxton allowed the old cascade, which had been much esteemed, to remain in its place, but improved it. He restored water-works as far as possible. Where there were any weeping-willows he kept them. The style of the place did not differ widely from that of the English garden as it existed, under a certain amount of French influence, after the Restoration; but the way it was planted, especially in the western parterre, certainly gave a modern appearance.

Paxton was a person of clear understanding who reached what he aimed at quickly and in a practical manner. His own personality comes out in his works in the garden. His ingenuity was exhibited the most markedly in the great palm-house, which he began in 1836 and finished in 1840, and which became the horticultural wonder of the world. This iron and glass construction made it possible to cultivate great palms, tree-ferns, and other tall tropical plants in northern lands; and to create a garden of the Torrid Zone even in the depth of winter. It was 300 feet long, 123 feet wide, and 67 feet high. With its wonderful system of heating it created as much enthusiasm as the beauty of the tropical gardens which it enclosed. Not only was Paxton’s building the model for many others, but it also served as a model for himself, when in 1850 his plan was accepted in preference to 233 others for the palace of the first great exhibition. The Crystal Palace at Sydenham, by which he made a great name, is one more in the long series of his buildings and gardens. A knighthood was conferred on Paxton for all he had done. He became a personal friend of the duke, whose service he had originally entered as an assistant gardener, and died full of honours.

Following Paxton’s example, glass houses with their tropical gardens sprang up everywhere, and the Temperate House at Kew gained an international renown, which it still enjoys. It was now so easy to study foreign plants as they grew, and their conditions of life, that gardeners were emboldened. and not only bedded out exotics for decorative purposes in summer, so contributing a new touch to the carpet-garden as well as to the parterre, but also endeavoured to grow them outdoors throughout the year. The climate of some parts of England was favourable to such attempts, as for instance Cornwall, where camellias grew into large trees, The rhododendron was also successful, and about the middle of the century there were many kinds to be seen in gardens as well as in conservatories. In the south of England, especially in the New Forest, the rhododendron serves as a sort of underwood In gardens and parks it has often been made into great boskets. It was a favourite plan to set large beds at the sides of the long carriage-drives, which generally described a wide curve and were very ornamental.


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The terrace at Trentham