The Landscape Guide

English Baroque Garden and Park Design 

Hampton Court St. James’s Park Badminton Bramham Park Melbourne Chatsworth

England was probably affected least of all, at any rate permanently, by the direct influence of French art. When Charles II. came to the throne after years of severe Puritanical rule, he could not carry out his own plans so swiftly as Louis XIV. had done. A great part of the gardens of his forefathers had been destroyed, or at any rate neglected. Nor did his means put at his command those far-off artists whom his royal friend was able to employ on the other side of the Channel, Moreover the utilitarianism and sobriety of the Puritans, always controlled by reason, continued to influence in no small degree the gardens of England, even after the Restoration. In his Diary, that mouthpiece of contemporary fashions, Pepys tells of a conversation which he held with Hugh May, an architect in the king’s service, about the ruling styles soon after the Restoration:

Then walked to Whitehall, where saw nobody almost, but walked up and down with Hugh May, who is a very ingenious man. Among other things, discoursing of the present fashion of gardens to make  them plain, that we have the best walks of gravell in the world, France having none, nor Italy; and our green of our bowling allies is better than any they have. So our business here being ayre, this is the best way, only with a little mixture of statues, or pots, which may be handsome, and so filled with another pot of such or such a flower or greene as the season of the year will bear. And then for flowers, they are best seen in a little plat by themselves; besides, their borders spoil the walks of another garden: and then for fruit, the best way is to have walls built circularly one within another, to the South, on purpose for fruit, and leave the walking garden only for that use.

This increasing hostility to flowers was sometimes felt in France, but was not so evident because of the plentiful water, statues and other sculpture. The English garden, with its love for wide convenient paths, and very small provision of sculptures, must at that time have looked empty and dull. As a fact, good taste was turning the other way; and in the year 1665 a violent protest was raised. Rea writes in his garden book Ceres, Flora, and Pomona: “ A choice collection of living Beauties, rare Plants, Flowers and Fruits, are indeed the wealth, glory, and delight of a Garden,” and he goes on to say that the new plan of gravel walks and close—cut lawns is only suitable for town houses, though leading features at many a stately country seat whence garden flowers, “ those wonders of Nature, the fairest ornaments ever discovered for making a place beautiful,” are banished, He adds a hope that this “ new-fangled ugly fashion “ will disappear together with many other alterations.

This protest against the hostility to flowers was repeated twelve years later by the much-read author, John Worlidge. But those two men of understanding, Pepys and May, had happened on the very centrepoint of the requirements of an English garden, when they spoke of wide paths, seats to rest on, and objects to make for on a walk, because here we have the essentially English delight in active exercise in the open country. And so Rea’s objection to wide paths was not endorsed by Worlidge himself, who thought that it was by no means the least part of the pleasure given by a garden to go for a walk in it with friends or acquaintances; or to go alone and so get refreshed, free from the cares of the world and society which are often burdensome; then if one were tired, or if there were more great heat or rain, one could take a rest under a fine tree or in a covered arbour before again enjoying the open air.

Of this sort of garden to stroll in, no Southerner or even Frenchman had ever dreamed. For them the open parterre was to be looked at from above, or enjoyed at leisure when it was cool; in the sunny squares people preferred to be carried, or to drive in little carriages along the broad paths into the shady boskets, and even there they did not walk. Quite peculiar to England, both then and now, are the smooth garden walks of grass. The unrivalled beauty of the lawns, which England owes to a damp climate, produced a reaction in France in favour of the grass parterre à l’anglaise. In England such a parterre was of course often an unbroken lawn, with flowers only on the borders; or it might be, as was the fashion at the end of the century, adorned with vases, statues and small green trees. It was in England too that were first made with thick short grass the wide and sometimes very long alleys for playing bowls. It is evident how little the other countries were likely to have lawns of this kind when one sees the odd meaning of the word " bowling-green “ as used in French garden language. It is possible that they did not know that “ boulingrin “ was an English word at all; it was understood at the date of the Théorie et Pratique to mean a sunk piece of grass, which formed the centre of a bosket and often had a fountain on it. 

So far the lawn had only been regarded as attractive to look at, and it was not connected in the least with the French jeu de paume ou mail— a game which, if not played under cover, had a course of earth stamped flat. Later on, the word " boulingrin “ was derived from boule (= bowl) and green, so meaning a green hollow place.

It is not surprising that one innovation from France found a welcome in England, namely, the avenue. Not that these long straight lines, closely uniting house and garden, were an invention of the French gardeners, because we found them in Italian and Spanish gardens at the end of the sixteenth century; but their regularity is the first expression of the large all-embracing scheme of the French style. For there would be three to five walks, all starting from a single point, which was as a rule in the central axis of the garden, and leading through the park in different directions, often with some distant church or fountain as point de vue, but sometimes going up to the main entrance as a grand carriage- drive. Led by this fashion, Charles II. had wide avenues cut through both parks at Hampton Court, reaching from the east nearly to the front of the palace. The great canal also, of which Charles at once took possession after his return, seems at first to have led up close to the house-front on the east side. Thence started the star-shaped avenues of the park, out of which the great semicircular garden was afterwards made, Evelyn visited the place 9 June, 1662, saw. these innovations, and mentioned them as adding to the beauty of the park. He found many pretty bits in the gardens to praise, but thought that they were very much too small as a whole; so he can have seen only the old Renaissance gardens on the south front. Even if the semicircular site already existed in Charles’s plan, he certainly had not made much progress with it. In any case he felt a lively desire to learn all that was possible from France, and for this purpose sent his gardener Rose to Paris to be educated. Indeed, Charles went farther, and asked at the French court if Le Nôtre himself could come on a short visit to England; and Louis appears to have given Le Nôtre a somewhat hesitating permission, though nothing is heard of his coming to stay in England at that time.