The Landscape Guide

The Tide of Picturesque Taste

In the midst of this contest which raged to and fro in their own camp, there very soon arose other voices which condemned the whole fashion of landscape gardening uncompromisingly. It was from English Classicism that the style, so often and justly called romantic, had originated; the Romantics themselves were only in part admirers of it, indeed the first important attack was to come from their side. Among the leaders of the English Romantic school William Wordsworth stands high, with his so-called æsthetic style. He feels proud that painters and poets are the creators of English horticulture, and that now they will win for themselves the high praise that they are the fathers of better taste, In this sense he writes to his artist friend Sir George Beaumont, at whose house he stayed. “As to the grounds,” he adds, “ they are in good hands—the hands of Nature.”

He adopts Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s principle that the house and garden must belong to the landscape, the landscape must not be subsidiary to the house. One ought to lose oneself in the beauty of the actual countryside; and this is what business people will never do, but only painters and poets. Thus did Wordsworth express his innermost feeling; and it is from his personal idiosyncrasy that there arose in him an aversion for places that by their emptiness have cut out all life, and so make one think of the legend of the upas-tree, which breathes death and devastation around. The poet of the garden, he says, should weave into one sympathetic whole the joy of every living being, of men and children, birds and beasts, hills, rivers, trees, and flowers, We are warned, however, against “ dressing the whole of a landscape in the livery of man “ ; Nature must take entire charge, so that everything we do is suited to her beauty. This is the fundamental law that Words- worth always obeys, and it is a law of nature purthed from sentimentality.

A hundred years had passed since the birth of the picturesque style, when Sir Walter Scott, in 1824, describes in Waverley the old garden of Tully Veolan, and throws down the gauntlet to the formal style. The park, he tells us, comprises several square fields with walls round them and a short straight avenue of horse-chestnuts and sycamores, which is the approach from the lower to the upper gates. Three steps lead down from the main terrace, which has a balustrade in stone, and animals as ornament; in the middle grotesque shapes one passes along wide terraces to a canal, which has a waterfall at the end of it, and an octagonal summer-house with a bear on the roof. [Editors Note: Scott designed his own garden at Abbotsford. Tully Veolan house is thought to have been modeled on the nearby Traquair House]

Sir Walter Scott admits that he had in his mind a real Scotch Highland garden, and many specimens like it can still be found (Editor's Note: eg Edzell Castle and Pitmedden Garden). Scott defended his love for this garden, which he had described as a poet, writing of it later in a little paper in the Quarterly Review. The garden was, he confesses, in the highest degree artificial, but it was a lovely sight, a triumph of art over the elements , . . nothing being so distinctly a work of art as a garden. He even defends the beauty of walls, with the warm tones of English bricks, in contrast to the green, and also the tabooed water-works; and although clipped hedges and trees are rejected for these new gardens that he would like to have, he still wants them in the old places where they give him such a feeling of quiet and seclusion.

Earlier, and much more decidedly, the German Romantics spoke out for the old style. George Jacobi in a series of letters had written disapprovingly of the English garden, but in favour of the kitchen-garden, for every deviation from the original purpose appears to him a concession to luxury. He mocks at the notion of attempting large landscape effects, and thinks the formal garden is the proper contrast to the country that surrounds it.

Tieck, in Phantasus, takes up this idea, and in particular thinks that in a hilly country the formal garden is not only the most suitable but the most attractive. In majestic surroundings any imitation of the landscape would be silly. “ This garden lies at the feet of a giant with his forests and waterfalls, and quietly and humbly plays among its own flowers, arbours and fountains as a child plays with its innocent fancies.” This scene appears to him "a bright miniature taken from the parchment manuscripts of the olden time". He confesses that he loves above all others such gardens as were dear to our forefathers, “which were merely a roomy, green extension of the house. . . . There they were encompassed by enchanting Nature, governed by the same laws as men of understanding and reason, the laws of the inward unseen mathematics of life.”

Tieck does not quite exclude landscape gardening, but whereas the French style seems to him, as it did to Sir William Temple, to have scarcely any fault, the English garden, he thinks, should never be copied and repeated, for each is unique. There should be no failures or confusions through losing the real personal feeling for nature. An English garden ought to be a true and perfect poem, a lovely individual thing, sprung from one mind only. This thought he expresses elsewhere, using words that Wordsworth would have heartily endorsed.

But Goethe also towards the end of his life had lost his affection for the English style. On a walk with the Chancellor von Müller to the Belvedere, he commended the way French gardens were laid out, at any rate at the great castles. “The spacious arbours and bowers, the Quincunx, allow of a large party coming and going in a decorous way, whereas in our English places (which I might call Nature’s little jokes) we keep knocking against one another, and either get boxed in or quite lost.” In such words as these Goethe seems to express almost a repulsion from his early enthusiasm and the silly sentimentality on which it was grounded.

It must also be remembered that Goethe, who created the park at Weimar, never contemplated treating the garden at his own town house in the picturesque style; and to this day it bears traces of the older fashion. The walled-in square has two summer-houses in the corners at the back, and is divided into regular straight-lined sections. At one time the poet put masses of flowers in it, when the trees—now overgrown and casting broad shadows—only marked the edges of the beds, and did not exclude sun. In the background is a pergola, leading from one summer-house to the other, and this makes a quiet walk for anyone strolling there from the. house.

Thus were voices raised in opposition, especially in Germany, and even the leaders and promoters of the art detected faults and bad taste in this or that particular example, though not in the style itself. The whole of the nineteenth century must complete its tale of sins before the foundations are shattered. In its first decade there appeared in Germany a new inspired prophet of landscape gardening in the young, good-looking, enthusiastic Prince Pückler. His personality was his chief asset; and through that he brought to realisation his ideas and his wishes; and the performance in which he took most pride, the park of Muskau, shows his handiwork at every glance. He came into his family estate, Muskau, when it was in a rather neglected state, only the old castle with not much park-land, an insignificant part with warm springs, a few fir-planted fields, and a great deal of marsh. He at once formed the resolution that he would create a place that should surpass the much-admired English masterpieces (Figs, 603a and 603b).

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


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


In his Hints on Landscape Gardening, which was published in 1834, he sets forth his ideal, which is to convert a whole estate without any particular demarcation into an improved landscape, not paying too much attention to economy, yet effecting the purpose at no great cost—perhaps less, indeed, than people generally incur in such cases.

In his own scheme at Muskau Pückler did not set a good example so far as economy was concerned, for he put all his great wealth into it and went bankrupt. But the work itself was a masterpiece, and having been cared for by pious hands ever since, is preserved intact. In a few decades he changed the whole vast region of the Neisse valley, with its border of mountains that enclose the pleasant bath-buildings, into a great park.

Quite at the beginning the prince commissioned the artist Schirmer to paint him some landscapes of the park as he saw it in his own mind, and these pictures he used afterwards as patterns. He had a predecessor here, for Count Girardin, Rousseau’s friend, had had Ermenonville laid out from pictures which he had ordered. Pückler, with a view to getting rid of the wretchedly bare look of a young plantation, transplanted large trees in their own earth, and this turned out a great success. And yet the gardeners tell you that the park has only to-day achieved the beauty of the inspired picture which the prince put before the painter’s mind. The importance of the scenes which one sees in a long series in ever-changing groups in an hour’s walk, lies mainly in the arrangement of individual trees, which Pückler especially loved, groups of beeches and a border of forest trees, with meadow ground and water. It is most surprising how variety can be gained by the help of colour and light, “ which ever leaves something for Fancy to guess.”

Pückler does not despise the aid that buildings lend; besides the castle, and the towers of the little town, he has two temples, a vaulted church, a ruined tower, and some country houses farther off; but these are only meant to enliven the picture, not to force on any particular mood. In the whole scheme, sentimentality is banished; even the inscriptions from Goethe in the park at Weimar Pückler prefers to read from the master’s books.

The passion for ruins now took on an historical character; it was no longer excited by the thought of the transitoriness of life, but by the recollection of some actual or imagined incident. “ A garden on a grand scale is a picture gallery, and a picture must have a frame”.

One secret of art is, so to contrive that each path leads on to some new picture, on which the interest may be freshly concentrated. And this great end the spirit of the prince did attain when he was working upon things that were large and distant, But his noblest triumphs, such as his wise plan of extending the park beside the castle into the open wild park of the Kur-region, we seek in vain in his private garden, the English pleasure-ground adjoining the castle. “ Round the house one has to be satisfied with a charming garden within a small compass, as far as possible in contrast with its surroundings; and in this narrow space it is not the variety of landscape, but only convenience, grace and elegance that we desire.” Pückler applied this principle in deliberate opposition to English parks, where the house generally stands cold and bare in a monotonous green meadow, at best only enlivened by cattle (Fig. 604). 

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


“ Among the English it is almost an obsession that one can never have a cheerful landscape without animals in it.”

In gardens near the house one may exercise one’s own taste freely, and alternate at will formality and the opposite. But, successful though Pückler had been in his larger efforts, his idea miscarried here, and his taste became childish to the point of caricature. Men seemed from now on to forget what true formality meant; and although the prince in his travels all over the world had seen and studied the gardens of very many different lands, and although in words he was for ever setting up as models the Italian gardens of the Renaissance. yet the garden round his own house is frightful, and disastrous in its effect. The lake that bordered one side of the castle bore no trace of the grandeur everywhere remarkable in the park at Neissefluss, and the other sides of the building are surrounded by so-called flower-gardens. Here for the first time in Germany we meet with Carpet Bedding. Beds which are called “artistic,” that is beds without any order or plan, are strewn over the lawn—here a cornucopia, here a star, there a flower-basket or pyramid of flowers, which have nothing to do with their surroundings, and make the actual flowers look ugly and mean, mixed together so badly and packed so close (Fig. 605).

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


The whole of the nineteenth century suffered from this lamentable invention of the carpet-garden. It was one of the most mistaken attempts ever made to keep something of the old brightness of the parterre, and to bring back again the flowers which had been drawing away more and more shyly from the neighbourhood of the house so that they could be seen from the windows. The result is only a sign of barbarous taste. Thus Pückler appears on the one hand as the man who proved the grandeur and importance of landscape gardening and made it live, and on the other as the man who proved the utter impotence of this style for the garden in its narrower sense, i.e. in the immediate neighbourhood of the house. But landscape gardens for long decades to come were to exercise an almost unlimited influence—an influence, however, which on the side of art was entirely unproductive.