The Landscape Guide

Russian Landscape Gardens

The Landscape Garden was introduced to Russian by Catherine the Great. Born a Prussian princess, and married in her mid-teens to Peter III of Russia, she was a fair-minded, very intelligent and liberal girl. Her husband was impotent, irritable and ineffective. His mother was Peter the Great's daughter and a tower of strength. Shortly after she died, Catherine had good reason to fear that Peter III was going to divorce her. The nobles urged her to stage a coup, which she did. Catherine became Empress of All the Russias. She loved the country and did her best to bring about reforms. Since society was extremely conservative, this had to be done by despotic methods. She became an enlightened despot in the style of Frederick the Great. She read constantly, became a correspondent of Voltaire and invited Diderot to Russia.  To produce the heirs which everyone expected her she took lovers. Since her nature was romantic and passionate, and none of the men proved ideal, she had a long succession of lovers. In the style of modern Hollywood, this was serial monogamy rather than wantonness. Since many of her lovers were handsome young men, in their twenties when she was in her fifties, this attracted scandalous gossip throughout Europe. Peter III was a fanatical admirer of Frederick the Great and saved him from near-certain defeat in the Seven Years War.

Throughout her hectic life Catherine strove for what she called an 'English Simplicity'. The illustration, right, shows her in English dress in one of  her English gardens, looking not unlike a character from a Jane Austen novel. Catherine  became great friends with an English ambassador and dedicated one volume of her memoirs to him. As in other parts of late-Baroque Europe, a landscape garden became, for Catherine, a badge of enlightenment. She made two of them, at Tsarskoe Seloe and at Pavlosk. Her private domains were far more liberal than the vast empire she ruled. Both are near St Petersburg, Russians 'European capital' and a city which she greatly preferred to Moscow. A later Russian despot, Stalin, hated St Petersburg precisely on account of its European-ness. It remains a great Baroque capital with Catherine's landscape gardens in the suburbs.