The Landscape Guide

Salomon de Caus, garden designer and author

Wilton House Garden

Under the earlier Stuarts the garden pursued the even tenor of its way. People began once more to look eagerly towards France, the court and nobles even to call in French experts. One of the most interesting figures among artists was Salomon de Caus. He was an engineer and architect, a native of Normandy, who had travelled far and wide, and accumulated, chiefly in Italy, a great deal of knowledge, more especially of water schemes and devices, James I brought this well-informed man to the court as drawing-master to his children, Elizabeth and Henry Frederick. 

The young Prince of Wales lived, during the last years of his life, at Richmond, where he died young and unexpectedly in 1612. It was to please the restless merry boy, who always loved to live and play out of doors, that Salomon de Caus had several different projects carried out at Richmond and more particularly a series of ingenious inventions for water novelties, so as to “ satisfy that fine appetite for knowledge, always striving after something new.” It was now that he discovered how water could be shot upward by the expansion of steam, and this conferred on him the great honour of being reckoned among the discoverers of the steam engine. He had commissions to construct fountains in country places, as for example at Hatfield House for Lord Salisbury. Unfortunately we know very little about the Richmond garden, for when the young heir died there was an end to the activities of de Caus in England. His pupil Elizabeth, after her marriage with the Count Palatine Frederick, summoned Salomon to Heidelberg, where there was great scope for his work in the construction of the garden at the castle. But he left his son Isaac in England, and in 1615 the Earl of Pembroke employed him at Wilton House in Wiltshire, where he created one of the most important gardens in all England. The father and the son both had literary leanings, and they made their works known with pen and pencil. The garden at Wilton House (Fig. 352) and also the Heidelberg garden were pictured in full detail in twenty-four copperplates, and a book was published (in 1615) under the title of Hortus Pembrochianus.

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The wide stretch of ground, four thousand feet long and four hundred feet broad, was divided into three sections, one behind the other, cut by generous paths. The first consists of parterres, with beds cleverly hemmed in by low hedges, every four with one fountain and its waterspout, and connected in fours with one marble statue set up in the middle of the group. The designation, “ embroidered parterres,” proves that this particular kind had already come over from France. Possibly Isaac de Caus had himself seen them there, but it is more likely that André Mollet, Claude’s son, who was also in King James’s service, had brought them over.

This parterre de broderie was apparently laid out in box only, without any flowers, for Isaac still prefers to keep his flowers on the side separately. At the end of this section is a narrow lower terrace, put there “ to give a better view over the parterre.” Next come two large thickets, through which the river Nadder—at this point forty-four feet wide —flows in such a remarkable way that its course is not altered at all. The wood is here strictly measured out, and in its, centre are the usual statues of Flora and Bacchus (Fig. 353), but no attention is paid to the stream. 

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


On both sides of the thicket there are covered walks three hundred feet long. The wide road in the middle crosses the river with a fine bridge which was at a later time ornamented with figures of lions, At the extremity of the thicket there are on each side of the way two great water-tanks, with a column in the middle, and bright glittering jets d’eau. The third great section has walks made in concentric ovals, with cherry-trees planted at the edge of strips of grass ; and in the centre of the space left stands the Borghese Gladiator, which was considered by de Caus to be “ the most famous statue of antiquity.” On both sides there are again covered ways with pavilions where they cross. At the very end is a terrace extending the whole width of the garden, with a balustraded wall as a boundary. In the middle of this terrace you pass under the arches into a grotto, where marble statues and niches and pillars are ranked along the inside wall. Here there is the well-known type of grotto architecture, no doubt a design of Inigo Jones. On both sides stairs lead up, and on their balustrade sit sea-monsters, sputing water upward to the terrace. Above the grotto is a large basin with a well, and these various singularities remind one of the garden at Heidelberg. There is nothing left now of what is here described, for the Pembroke family adopted every new style as it came up. Grotto, terrace, parterre, all have vanished, and the river course is now spanned by a bridge of the classical type. The picturesque style had obliterated all, when in the nineteenth century there came a fresh wave of fashion, and the place was once more made architectural and formal in design.