The Landscape Guide
BRITAIN: contents
Garden Design 1650-1740
2.1 Enclosed Style of garden design
Diagram & Examples of Enclosed Style of Garden Design
Early British gardens
Roy Strong's classification of Rensaissance garden styles as: heraldic, emblematic, mannerist and eclectic.
Moor Park in Hertfordshire, as described by Temple.  
Next section
Previous section
Copyright ã
Campden House, Gloucestershire, c1750
Illustrations on CD edition of Garden Visit and Travel Guide - see
The enclosed garden at Somerset House (c1700)
Illustrations on CD edition of Garden Visit and Travel Guide - see
One of the fountains from Somerset House (by Francesco Fanelli) is now at Bushey Park in West London
Hampton Court c1550
Illustrations on CD edition of Garden Visit and Travel Guide - see
The yew hedge at Bingham's Melcombe dates from the fifteenth century
Illustrations on CD edition of Garden Visit and Travel Guide - see
The house and garden at Boscobel were carefully recorded because Charles II hid there in 1651
Illustrations on CD edition of Garden Visit and Travel Guide - see
The mount at Boscobel with its restored summer house - a feature of mid-seventeenth century enclosed gardens from which one could view the surrounding countryside. The oak tree, in which Charles II took refuge in 1651, has died, but the tree in the fenced enclosure is said to have been found growing beside the original tree
Illustrations on CD edition of Garden Visit and Travel Guide - see
A reconstruction of the plan of the garden at Moor Park in Hertfordshire
Illustrations on CD edition of Garden Visit and Travel Guide - see
The garden Temple admired has gone. Moor Park now has a Palladian house in a Brownian park.

Gardening has been popular in England at least since Roman times but no complete gardens and few records survive from the period before 1650. Such evidence as we do have about the condition of pre-Civil War gardens comes from books, archaeology, estate records, traveller's tales, topographical drawings and occasional glimpses in the corners of portrait paintings. There are also a number of garden walls and a few fountains, grottos, steps and related features which survive from Tudor and early Stuart times.

   Return to section heading 

All the evidence shows that early British gardens were essentially rectangular walled enclosures which provided their owners with a place to grow plants and an opportunity to enjoy some of the pleasures of outdoor life. In the middle ages a garden of this type was known as a hortus conclusus (L. hortus, a garden or orchard, and conclusus, closed off). Its most important ornaments were flowers, herbs and trellis work. The joy's of an enclosed garden were celebrated by Abbot Strabbo in his bestselling poem Hortulus

Though a life of retreat offers various joys,
None, I think, will compare with the time one employs
In the study of herbs, or in striving to gain
Some practical knowledge of nature's domain
Get a garden! What kind you may get matters not.....

The advice given here is no copy-book rule,
Picked up second-hand, read in books, learned at school,
But the fruit of hard labour and personal test
To which I have sacrificed pleasure and rest.  

The history of British garden design after 1500 and before 1650 is covered by Roy Strong in The Renaissance Garden in England . It is a history of the stages by which the hortus conclusus of the middle ages evolved into a British version of the Italian Renaissance garden. The accession of Henry VIII in 1509 marks the point at which gardens became a symbol of the power and prestige of the court. For two centuries after this date the kings and queens of England were leaders of taste in garden design and used their gardens, and those of their nobles, as the settings for parties, masques and other courtly festivities of the type which took place in Italian gardens. To begin with knowledge of Italian gardens arrived via France, but by 1600 travellers were returning from Italy with personal knowledge of their wonders.

    Return to section heading 

Roy Strong has identified four styles of garden design which flourished in England between 1509 and 1642. He names them:

  •  the Heraldic garden (c.1509-1558), 
  • the Emblematic garden (c.1558-1603), 
  • the Mannerist garden (c.1603-1625) 
  • the Eclectic garden (c.1625-1642). 

The physical details and the symbolic significance of these styles are analysed by Strong with great skill but he aknowledges that even the sophisticated Mannerist garden 'essentially remains, however, the old hortus conclusus. It is a walled enclosure within which nature tamed by art is made to fulfil the wildest of Mannerist fantasies, above all by means of the new hydraulics'. It is for this reason that a single diagram (fig 1) can be used to indicate the style of British gardens at the start of the period covered by this book. The influence of the renaissance on British gardens was of great importance but its main impact was on the gardens of the aristocracy, and even here, as Strong notes, it was 'a piecemeal affair' and 'never altogether logical and doctrinaire'. Fig. 1 represents both the aristocratic gardens and also the large number of less stately gardens which survived in 1650 and which bore an even closer resemblence to medieval gardens. Boscobel in Shropshire, where Charles II hid after his defeat in 1651, is a good example of a modest seventeenth century rural retreat.  

From the point of view of the future development of British gardens the most important of the styles identified by Strong was the Eclectic garden. It is well represented by Moor Park in Hertfordshire. Sir William Temple, whose influence on the subsequent history of British gardens was discussed in the previous chapter, greatly admired this garden as a young man. He spent his honeymoon there in 1655 and remembered it as 'the sweetest place, I think, that I have ever seen in my life, either before or since, at home or abroad'. His description of Moor Park is one of the best surviving accounts of a garden made in the years preceeding the Civil War. The estate was granted to Lucy Harington, Countess of Bedford, by James I and the design of the garden is attributed by Strong to Isaac de Caus.

    Return to section heading

Moor Park lay on a gentle slope and contained three large rectangular enclosures stepping down a hillside. The first enclosure lay at the top of the slope and in front of the house. It was 'a quarter of all greens.....adorned with rough rock work and fountains'. Lower down the slope, and on the other side of the house, lay the next enclosure. It had a terrace adjoining the house and three flights of steps leading down to a very large parterre, which was 'divided into quarters by gravel walks and adorned with two fountains and eight statues'. There were summer houses at each end of the terrace and at the far corners of the parterre. Shady cloisters with stone arches and climbing plants ran along two sides of the parterre, and from the front, two further flights of steps led around an Italianate grotto to a third enclosure. No illustrations of the garden survive but the painting of Pierrepont House in Nottinghamshire gives a good impression of the second enclosure at Moor Park. A seventeenth century terrace of similar character exists at Ham House in London. The third and lowest enclosure was 'all fruit trees ranged about the several quarters of a wilderness which is very shady'. Something of the character of the third enclosure can be appreciated from the walled orchard at Penshurst in Kent.

Temple speaks wistfully of Moor Park as though it had fallen into neglect by 1685, but since he had 'passed five years without once going to town' it may be that he simply knew nothing of its condidtion. Many of the royal and courtly gardens which were made in the reign of Charles I did suffer from neglect and deliberate destruction following his execution. During his reign garden design had become associated with the principle of the Divine Right of Kings and was seen as 'an assertion of the royal will' because gardens were places in which nature was tamed by art. When the Parliamentarians came to power they despised the royalist gardens for the social life which they accommodated and for the principle which they represented. A large number of less stately Enclosed gardens were still in existence in 1700 - though few were destined to survive the stylistic revolution of the coming century.

Go to next Section