The Landscape Guide

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Gardenesque planting in Birmingham Botanical Garden. Loudon designed the garden in 1831.

The aesthetic considerations which led Loudon to priase Italian gardens also led him to devise a style of planting design which he named the 'gardenesque'. Loudon believed that there were two ways of evading the anomaly of making 'gardens' which could not be distinguished from 'nature'. The first was to base their layout on abstract shapes. The second was to make exclusive use of plants which are not native to the area in which the garden was made, and to keep the plants well separated from each other so that they can be recognised as exotics. This is the intellectual origin of the 'specimen' trees and shrubs which are still dotted around in British gardens.

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Gardenesque planting at Wakehurst Place, West Sussex. The estate is run by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. The plants are well-grown and well-labelled, as Loudon would have wished.

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Loudon described the main idea behind the Gardenesque style of planting as the Principle of Recognition and asserted that 'Any creation, to be recognised as a work of art, must be such as can never be mistaken for a work of nature'. His rules for applying the principle to landscape gardening were of the utmost rigour:  

The gardenesque is found exclusively in single trees, which have been planted in favourable situations; not pressed on during their growth, by any other objects; and allowed to throw out their branches equally on every side, uninjured by cattle or other animals; and, if touched by the hand of the gardener, only to be improved in their regularity and symmetry.  

The brook, lake, or river, is readily appropriated as a work of art, by planting exotic, woody, and herbaceous plants along the margins, in a natural-looking manner; carefully removing all that are indigenous.  

Even the turf should be composed of grasses different from those of the surrounding grass fields.

Loudon also discussed the problem of making a natural outcrop of rocks look artificial.  

By what means are the perpendicular rocks on the banks of the river Wye, at Piercefield in Monmouthshire, to be rendered a work of art? By substituting another kind of rock for the indigenous one? No; for not only is the scale too large to render this practicable, but, if it were accomplished, the very largeness of the scale would make it be still considered as the work of nature; unless, indeed, rocks, which every one knew did not exist in the country at all, were substituted for the natural ones'. 

His solution was to remove all indigenous vegetation and replace it with 'foreign vegetation of a similar character'. Given the impracticality of such expedients it is no cause for wonder that Loudon prefered regular gardens. However he also liked to see exotic plants arranged in naturalistic groups - providing they were well grown and well labeled.  

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Gardenesque planting at Leonardslee Gardens, West Sussex. Exotic plants are arranged in natural groups

Loudons's passionate interest in the plants which made his Gardenesque style possible brought his family close to financial ruin. His wife gave the following account of his labours:  

From the year 1833 to Midsummer 1838 Mr Loudon underwent the most extraordinary exertions both of mind and body. Having resolved that all the drawings of trees for the Arboretum should be made from nature, he had seven artists constantly employed, and he was frequently in the open air with them from his breakfast at seven in the morning till he came home to dinner at eight in the evening, having remained the whole of that time without taking the slightest refreshment, and generally without even sitting down....... In addition to the large sums in ready money he paid to the artists and other persons employed during the progress of the Arboretum, he found at its conclusion that he owed ten thousand pounds to the printer, the stationer, and the wood-engraver who had been employed on that work.

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The Arboretum et Fruiticetum Britannicum was eventually published in eight volumes with 'upwards of 2,500 engravings'. Professor Sir Joseph Hooker wrote that  

There is not a naturalist in Europe who could have executed the task with anything like the talent, and judgement, and accuracy, that is here displayed by Mr Loudon..... In short, nothing is omitted, either in the descriptive or pictorial matter, which can tend to illustrate the history and uses of trees and shrubs.... it will be seen at once of what vast importance must such a work be to this country, to every part of Europe, and the temperate parts of North America; and we may even say, to all the temperate parts of the civilised world.

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Loudon designed an excellent arboretum in Derby which survives in reasonable condition - though the local parks department does not label the specimen plants.

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The Derby Arboretum, designed by John Claudius Loudon. The mound was planned to create an orderly walk through which plants could be viewed in a botanical sequence.

Hooker judged the importance of the Arboretum correctly. He became the first Director of Kew Gardens two years after reviewing the book and set about arranging the trees and shrubs in accordance with the principle which Loudon had derived from Sir Uvedale Price,. Hooker opened the gardens to the public. The exotic trees and shrubs at Kew are arranged in naturalistic groups and great attention is paid to botanical accuracy - though Hooker and his successors have not prevented plants from being 'pressed on during their growth'. The same idea was employed by Paxton in the arboretum at Chatsworth and was been repeated in Victorian arboreta throughout the land. Two the best examples of gardenesque planting are Kew Gardens and Birmingham Botanical Garden (designed by Loudon). Woodland gardens can be found, as Hooker predicted, in 'all the temperate parts of the civilised world'. The can be classified as 'gardenesque' if they are laid out with the emphasis on botanical display and as 'Picturesque' if the emphasis is on pictorial composition.

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A design for geometrical carpet bedding by Charles M'Intosh (from The Book of the Garden, 1853) who worked for the Duke of Buccleugh at Dalkeith Palace and for the King of the Belgians at Claremont in Sussex. Many patterns of this type were published in books and journals and gardeners competed to produce schemes which would delight their employers and excite the admiration of friends. The art of floral bedding, or mosaiculture, has almost disappeared from private gardens but survives in public parks and institutional gardens. The example above is at Cannizaro in south west London.
Repton's design for the Flower Garden at Valleyfield, in Scotland. Illustrations on CD edition of Garden Visit and Travel Guide - see

Floral bedding, or mosaiculture, is another famous Victorian style of planting design, intended to make the gardener's work 'recognisable'. Its distant origins lie in the knots and parterres of renaissance Europe. Its immediate origins can be found in the flower gardens designed by Humphry Repton at Valleyfield, Ashridge, Woburn and many of his other later projects. They were part of the plan for making Beautiful foregrounds as the first stage in the Landscape Style. The patterns which were used for these gardens bear a distinct resemblence to Victorian bedding patterns but since Repton does not say that they were stocked with tender plants and changed at regular intervals they cannot be reckoned as true examples of carpet bedding. The principle on which the 'changeable flower garden' was managed are explained in Loudon's 1822 Encyclopaedia

All the plants are kept in pots, and reared in a flower nursery or reserve ground. As soon as they begin to flower, they are plunged in the borders of the flower-garden, and, whenever they show symptoms of decay, removed, to be replaced by others from the same source . 

In 1822 this practice was not so common as the 'mingled flower-garden', in which flowers were mixed with shrubs, but in the 1840s carpet-bedding became a craze. Flower gardens took on the appearance of brightly coloured carpets and gardeners vied with each other to produce new and ever more dazzling displays.  

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Loudon admired the circular beds at Hoole House Loudonesque circular bedding in Greenwich Park, London
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A drawing of circular beds from Loudon's Gardeners Magazine Circular beds with stone edging, designed by Edward Kemp at Stanley Park in Liverpool.

Loudon prefered to see bedding plants in circular beds. He considered the circle to be the purest geometrical shape and also the most practical for flowerbeds of all kinds:  

We wish we could strongly impress on the mind of every amateur, and of every gardener, that, for all general purposes of planting beds of shrubs, or beds of flowers on a lawn..... the best form is the circle, provided that it be always kept of small size, say from 18 in. to 6ft., in diameter, one circle never placed neareer to another than 2ft., and these beds be thrown together in groups or constellations, as stars are in the firmament.  

Loudon's wish was granted. Almost a century and a half has passed since he wrote the above passage and the circular flowerbed retains its popularity in suburban gardens and public parks. The flower garden in Greenwich Park is a fine example. The star has also been brought down from the firmament and used as a shape for flowerbeds.  

Joseph Paxton excelled at the art of carpet bedding and filled the grounds of Chatsworth, Mentmore and the Crystal Palace with the most elaborte displays. They were one of the chief attractions of the Crystal Palace and Paxton was most annoyed when publicly financed parks departments started making displays of bedding plants which could be viewed without paying an admission charge. Edward Kemp and Charles M'Intosh, who succeeded Loudon as popular writers on garden design, included patterns for carpet-bedding in their books and whetted the public's appetite for new designs. M'intosh even wrote a learned section on the application of the principles of colour harmony to the design of bedding schemes. It contained references to Repton, Loudon, Newton and Chevreul.

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