The Landscape Guide

Flemish gardens

To this period belongs the garden full of a proud and artistic charm that was laid out by Rubens at his fine house at Antwerp (Fig. 372). 

Illustrations on CD edition of Garden Visit and Travel Guide - see


A triple “gate of triumph” leads out of a great court beside the house, and gives a view of the garden, which has a pretty summer-house at the end of it, set up in that peculiar mixture of Flemish and Italian styles which is characteristic of the whole house. If we pass into the garden, the large parterre decorated with vases is at our side in front of the chief room of the house. On this follows a curiously divided plot of garden, where a very fine pavilion of lattice-work between pergolas divides the place either from the neighbouring garden or from a final tree-garden of its own. Although the laying-out of the parterre as shown in the engraving of 1692 points to a later time, the actual site, the complete absence of water, the gaiety of it all, the garden houses, and also the simplicity of the carved work, indicate that spirit which pervaded wealthy Antwerp at the turn of the century, when its greatest artist could make himself this lovely home, he being also one of its most important citizens.

The flat country of Holland hardly comes under consideration at this time in respect of garden formation. Dutch families were still living outside the towns, mostly in their strong water-castles. In the last decades of the century Dutch trade first made its marvellously rapid start, and from the beginning concentrated on flowers and the importation of foreign plants to Holland. It is obvious how great a difference the bulbs, and especially tulips, must make in the appearance of European gardens; but in spite of this the development of French gardens and parterres was to become more influential, and to grow less and less like the gay variegated show of Holland. It came about that the tulip trade when finally established diverted men’s minds from the true art of gardening, and became only an affair of bargaining, for which the innocent bulbs served as material. All the same, the interest in botany bore timely fruit in Holland, and by 1557 the Botanical Garden at Leyden (or Leiden) was founded, which for some time was at the head of all the scientific gardens. But the real importance of the Dutch garden begins at a later period, when in the seventeenth century this country of rich tradesmen set up flourishing villas on the outskirts of the growing towns, and along the course of the canals.

In Germany garden interest reached its highest point at the turn of the century, before the outbreak of the Thirty Years’ War. In Vienna a garden was shown on Shrove Tuesday, 1613, by the barons Georg Wilhelm Jörger and Wolf Tonradtel, “decked with lovely trees, citrons and others, and with music playing.” French and Italian books on the subject now began to be translated into German. In 1597 appeared the first German garden book, by Johann Peschel, which (in its long title) proposes to give instruction in all garden matters. For the lay-out he demands before all things that it shall be thought out and drawn on paper first and properly squared, then the beds are to be put in.

But there must also be covered walks, and these he calls Stackete, or Gelender, or Khemerer. Only after all has been thought out, set on paper, and strictly measured, can the plan be transferred to the land, This demand shows the German spirit in the tendency to theorise. Peschel’s book passed through many editions, and its first rival in success was the garden book of Doctor Peter Laurenberg of Rostock: this work appeared in a German edition in 1671. But the numerous copperplates of parterres taken from French examples were influential also.

About this time there was for the most part no lack of examples of any kind of art, and in particular the copper engravers followed the lead of the Dutch by using their welfare of his native town, and thought out a careful social scheme which was very far in advance of his time, and has only nowadays pressed into the circle of modern interests. For not only did he plan school buildings, where seats and tables were carefully designed for the children’s health, but he wished to have a school garden in front, which he named the “ little garden of Paradise “ (Fig. 373), “ so as to awaken good thoughts in the children, of walking in Paradise, and so practising them in the Christian religion and other good, useful and honourable studies.” 

Illustrations on CD edition of Garden Visit and Travel Guide - see


Thither the teachers were to take their scholars, and there a public examination was to be held. As a room for trials, he designed a large domed place in the middle of the garden, with four chairs in it, where there should be children, boys and girls together, holding their little disputations, and on the walls there were to be hung up the things they had made. Four doors led into the quarters of a large garden square that was traversed by wide walks, and these divisions were cut up by little arboured paths into four flower-gardens, where the young examinees were allowed to gather the flowers in the beds as a reward; in the middle was a large fountain. In the first section there was a model of Adam and Eve, with the mother of mankind plucking an apple from a real tree of Paradise and offering it to her spouse. Below this group the children could read the words, cut in stone:

Through Adam’s fall, on garden ground,
Mankind, alas, his ruin found.

But consolation was at hand in the garden section on the right, where on a “very charming mound in the middle there was a figure carved in stone of Our Lord and Only Saviour Jesus Christ rising out of his grave in the garden,” with the following inscription below:

In garden ground, where Christ lay dead,
Mankind is now deliverèd.

When there was to be no examination, the children were to run about in the garden, and enjoy its beauty; they might pick flowers and fruit, and each child was to receive a cake baked for himself. It does not appear whether the people of Ulm ever carried out a scheme so kindly and so good for children, or whether this too was only an architect’s dream.

At the same time as Furttenbach, the elder Menan began his useful work, though perhaps he laid less stress on the garden side of it. He gives a great number of illustrations of German castles and the gardens attached to them, and these have the advantage of having been actually carried out. But the pictures of foreign gardens, Italian and French as well as German, must have had a great influence on his contemporaries.