The Landscape Guide


[Editor's Note: Chapter 17 was commissioned from Walter P Wright, in 1928, as the penultimate chapter of the English edition of Gothein's  History of Garden Art. Wright was the editor of the 1928 edition. The text is of some interest as a contemporary view of English gardens but many of his judgements do not stand up when viewed from a longer perspective.]
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The royal estate at Sandringham in Norfolk is representative of the period.
Some hard things are said in the present work about a style of gardening which, under the description of "English", was supposed to have laid a blight on many Continental gardens of the eighteenth century. But in those years England had no style so firm and distinctive as to deserve to be called national. 

[Editor's Note: the opening comment about 'some hard things' could refer to Gothein's remarks on the Jardin Anglo-Chinois or to the manifestation of the style in Germany, or it may reflect Wright's dislike of what he describes at the foot of this page as a 'supposed "natural"' style. The remark that  'England did not adhere permanently to the formal style' implies a regret that Kent and Brown ever lived, much as Cromwell's time was regretted after the Restoration of 1660. Judged by the attitudes prevailing at the end of the twentieth century, it is a remarkable opinion for a garden historian to have held. Even more surprising, he manages to retain the traditional English dislike of Versailles and the baroque [see his remarks on water and fountains]. This chapter is much weaker than all the others in Gothein's History of Garden Art. It is included here for completeness and as a historical curiosity, telling us something of the attitudes which prevailed amongst English garden designers in the first quarter of the twentieth century. Wright is insular and ill-informed on history. His chief interest is planting design. This became a preoccupation of twentieth century English garden design and a cause of other weaknesses ].

It is true that England did not adhere permanently to the formal style which was introduced from Italy in the time of the Renaissance and from France during the spacious days of Louis XIV. There was a reason for this which was entirely dissociated from Art, although eminently sensible and practical. The fact that her two great university towns, Oxford and Cambridge, lay in relaxing situations, supplemented the ordinary effects of a damp climate in creating the necessity for much more physical exercise than was needed in drier countries, and consequently young members of wealthy families acquired habits of activity which they carried into their homes. The result was that grounds were extended and walks lengthened. But parterres and fountains could not be provided to accompany every winding path. Groups and belts of trees and shrubs could, however, be planted.

This, perhaps more than anything else, even including Addison's essays and Pope's satires, explained the development of a supposed English “natural” style. As a matter of fact, the actual old English garden always was more or less formal. Grass thriving naturally in the humid climate, it was, and is, brought close to the house and most of it mown and trimmed into “lawns,“ often broken with groups of beds. Right and proper as this procedure may be, one can hardly describe it as "natural".


[Editor's Note: Wright does not provide evidence for his unusual view that a damp climate and a sporting ethos at Oxford and Cambridge were responsible for the great 'revolution in taste' which came upon English garden design in the eighteenth century. It appears that he holds to the nineteenth century view that Lancelot Brown's style was a regrettable aberration, based on a misunderstanding of how a 'natural'  style of design could and should look. His view of English garden history, like that of so many nineteenth century garden designers, was fixed by the views J C Loudon held at the start of his career (see diagrams below)]


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The style diagrams from J C Loudon's Country Residences (1806). The top right diagram represents  'A residence formed of fig 1 in Mr Brown's style -generally prevelant at the present day, 1806'. The lower right diagram represents 'A residence formed of fig 1 in the style of the author J Loudon'. Though accurate in principle, the diagram of Mr Brown's style was cruel.