The Landscape Guide



Garden art

At no period was the art of gardening thrust forward so strongly into the sphere of literary interests as when the style was revolutionised in the eighteenth century. This movement went far beyond the circle of the parties immediately concerned, i.e. garden artists and owners of gardens. One of the chief objects aimed at in the second half of the century seemed to be to study the nature of art in general through the medium of gardening. It was inevitable that a reaction should set in. The principles of picturesque art had never won a decisive mastery, indeed, we see counter-influences rising up, first in one place and then in another, sometimes on the theoretical side and sometimes on the practical. They were so frequently and so openly discussed, that they penetrated into the consciousness of the general public.

The subject took the tighter hold (in Germany perhaps even more than in England, and certainly more than in France) because men’s sight became somewhat blurred when the picturesque style approached nearer and nearer to nature. There was no more interest taken in the great contrast of style in the old formal gardens, nor even in the romantic gardens which laid stress on buildings and sentiment. Little by little, people forgot to look for art at all. The unavoidable consequence was that as far as the generality of mankind was concerned there was an increasing lack of interest in the garden. Goethe observed this apathy as early as 1825, when he expressed to Varnhagen von Ense his surprise at the change of sentiment. “Park-sites, once the ambition of all Germany, especially after Hirschfeld’s book was widely circulated, are now quite out of fashion. People neither hear nor read, as they used to, that somebody or other is still making crooked paths, or planting weeping-willows, and it looks as though the fine gardens we have will soon be broken up to make potato patches.” Certainly there was no fear of this, for destruction on a large scale is only the result of active revolution. But the development hitherto helped forward by the general interest in art, had now become affected by two other powerful influences: science and democracy, which modelled and even controlled civilised life in the nineteenth century, and had a very marked effect on the art of gardening.


Illustrations on CD edition of Garden Visit and Travel Guide - see
Humphry Repton's design for a flower garden