The Landscape Guide

Horace Walpole's essay On Modern Gardening: Early 18th Century

Introduction Ancient gardens Roman gardens Renaissance gardens John Milton Sir William Temple William Kent Early 18th century gardens Thomas Whately Landscape Gardens Lancelot 'Capability' Brown

Early 18th century English gardens

Having thus cleared my way by ascertaining what have been the ideas on gardening in all ages, as fan as we have materials to judge by, it remains to show to what degree Mr. Kent invented the new style, and what hints he had received to suggest and conduct 'his undertaking.

We have seen what Moor Park was, when pronounced a standard. But as no succeeding generation in an opulent and luxurious country contents itself with the perfection established by its ancestors, more perfect perfection was still sought; and improvements had gone on, till London and Wise had stocked our gardens with giants, animals, monsters, [On the piers of a garden-gate not far from Paris I observed two very coquet sphinxes. These lady monsters had straw hats gracefully smart on one side of their heads, and silken cloaks half veiling their necks; all executed in stone.] coats of arms and mottoes in yew, box and holly. Absurdity could go no farther, and the tide turned. Bridgman, the next fashionable designer of gardens, was far more chaste; and whether from good sense, or that the nation had been struck and reformed by the admirable paper in The Guardian, No. 173, he banished verdant sculptures, and did not even revert to the square precision of the foregoing age. He enlarged his plans, disdained to make every division tally with its opposite, and though he still adhered much to straight walks with high clipped hedges, they were only his great lines; the rest he diversified by wilderness, and with loose groves of oak, though still within surrounding hedges. I have observed in the garden at Gubbins [The seat of the late Sir Jeremy Sambroke. It had formerly belonged to Lady More, mother-in-law of Sir Thomas More, and had been tyrannically wrenched from her by Henry VIII, on the execution of Sir Thomas, though not her son and though her jointure from a former husband.] in Hertfordshire many detached thoughts, that strongly indicate the dawn of modern taste. As his reformation gained footing, he ventured farther, and in the royal garden at Richmond dared to introduce cultivated fields, and even morsels of a forest appearance, by the sides of those endless and tiresome walks that stretched out of one into another without intermission. But this was not till other innovators had broke loose from rigid symmetry.