Gardens from Earliest History
If you were to ask the average person on the street, 'what was the earliest form of Garden?' they would probably reply.... 'The Garden of Eden'. Indeed, Eden was a very early form of garden creation, dating back to the birth of Christianity and many other religions - but gardens of one type or another were undergoing design and construction around the same time as Eden. For example, Nebuchadnezzar II built The Hanging Gardens Of Babylon1 during his reign from 605 - 562 BC. They were designed and built for his homesick wife, who was longing for the wooded mountains and hills of her native country of Persia. Even before this Wonder had been imagined, there are recorded historical documents describing the practices of the Assyrian King Sargon II (ruled 721-705 BC) and his son, Sennacherib, who 'laid out gardens and parks in the capital of Nineveh in an attempt to re-create the marshlands of Southern Babylonia. When Herons came to nest in his simulated environment, it was proven that his efforts were successful'.
Although we can trace back centuries of Western gardens and designs, it was initially the Romans who first introduced gardens similar to those we know today into Britain. The Romans were very civilised, and their gardens were no exception. Roman 'Atria' were genuine outside living rooms, set within the house itself, looking something like a courtyard surrounded by four walls - a style that is now being reproduced in contemporary garden design. During an archaeological excavation at Fishbourne (near Chichester), it was discovered that, due to the heavy clay soils of the district, the Romans found it necessary to prepare special trenches for their plants. It has therefore been possible, in one of the earliest instances of 'garden archaeology', to trace the main outlines of the Roman garden . However, with the collapse of the Roman Empire, Britain was divided into small territories. Life became increasingly insecure, and gardens could survive and develop only where security could be assured - in the monasteries and castles of Medieval Britain.
Medieval English Gardens
In Medieval Britain, Monasteries continued the development of the garden within the shelter of the cloisters, mainly with the cultivation of herbs for cooking and medicine. The art of garden making had sustained an appalling loss since the fall of the Roman Empire. The earliest documentary evidence of Medieval Gardens dates from the Carolingian Empire, when Charlemagne (ruled 800-14) attempted to retrieve the dying art of gardening with his Decree concerning towns - each town in 'all crown lands' were to plant a garden with a specified quantity and selection of specimens. The gardening tradition was preserved, and the gardens that remained took on a new character. The monastic gardens flourished and England blossomed as never before. One of the earliest recorded Medieval drawn plans was for an 'ideal Benedictine monastery' in St Gall, Switzerland . Probably drawn by Abbot Haito of Reichenau in the 9th century, the plan for St Gall clearly shows various buildings grouped around a series of cloisters and rectangular beds, each devoted to one type of plant - a pattern very similar in monasteries throughout Medieval Europe and Britain.
Although no complete gardens and very few records survive from the period before 1650, research through archaeology, estate records, etc., 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 the pleasures of outside life. Such designed gardens were known as hortus conclusus, or enclosed gardens. The main characteristics of this style incorporated flowers, herbs and trelliswork. By the 13th Century, the monasteries controlled larger estates than previously noted, and gradually the impetus for the making of gardens shifted form the monasteries to the King and his noble subjects, and in the 56 year reign of Henry III, a new taste for luxurious living developed and gardens flourished. Henry III himself developed and embellished 9 major gardens, including Windsor, Nottingham Castle, Kempton, Woodstock and Winchester Castle. With the immense work involved in these and other projects, the regular appointment of Master Gardeners produced one of the first opportunities to enter the field of Landscape Design.
Coming out of the Medieval and Gothic era and entering into the reign of the Tudors, the principles of Garden design changed considerably. The accession of Henry VIII in 1509 marks the point at which gardens became a symbol of power and prestige of the court. In a futile attempt to regain the King's favour, Thomas Wolsey, Archbishop of York, gave Hampton Court to Henry VIII in 1529. The King began immediately to enlarge and elaborate upon Wolsey's already splendid palace by extending the existing gardens and also incorporating new garden areas,
"...gardens sweet, enclosed with walls strong,
Embanked with benches to sit and take my rest;
...with arbours and alleys so pleasant and so dulce,
The pestilent airs with flavours to repulse."
Within the Tudor garden, the crude rustic structures of the medieval garden had evolved into elegant shelters. Galleries arched over with trellis interlaced with ivy and other evergreens connected arbours and summerhouses. The re-invention of mazes and labyrinths became popular and widespread, and water, ornamented by fountains and sculptures, was now an essential aspect for these new 'gardens of pleasure'. On the whole, gardens took on a more decorative appearance, with patterned planting, and eventually whole gardens planned around circles, squares, hexagons, triangles and pentagons. Plantings of short-lived herbs gave way to the likes of box and yew, thus bringing an introduction to the popularity of the art of Topiary, and the delights of Knot Gardens. Wolsey's garden at Hampton Court apparently had 'the knots so enknotted it cannot be expressed!' . Although the garden features of the Tudor period are recognizably medieval in origin, there were two new features that set the Tudor garden aside. The first was the introduction of the mount as a deliberate garden feature. A mount was a raised mound of earth crowned with an arbour or seat - giving views out over the enclosing walls to the wilds of nature beyond, and down over the formally designed gardens below. The second Tudor feature was the treatment of the garden as whole rather than separate areas. Although Tudor style gardens have all but disappeared, remains of many great houses and their gardens may still be found in Northamptonshire by tracing the terracing and slight depressions or moundings of land left remaining from the purposefully built architectural features. Classic examples are Harrington, Holdenby, Lyveden and Wakerley.
Under the Tudors the garden evolved considerably but by the end of Elizabeth's reign, British gardens were far behind their European counterparts. The Renaissance period style evolved slowly, with geometrical designs and symmetrical planting. The two centuries that followed saw many variations on Italian and French themes, where water and tree cover played a larger role. Perhaps the most supreme of all gardens of this era are those created by André Le Nôtre for Louis VIX, the most famous being Vaux and Versailles. Le Nôtre's feel for unity, balance and proportion, and his insistence on sunlit spaces and unimpeded vistas, brought the French garden to a peak of classical perfection , their designs deliberately setting the garden apart from nature to demonstrate the status of the owner. Tastes were changing - and so were design ideals!
Following the death of Elizabeth and the close of the Tudor period, the Stuart form of gardening initially resembled the Elizabethan styles. Books became more readily available - especially those focused on gardens and gardening. William Lawson's A New Orchard and Garden, bound together with The Country Housewife's Garden was originally published in 1618. Lawson was greatly connected with the Tudor ideas and use of Mounts, but his outlook of practicalities is displayed in other aspects of garden planning. One of the most significant suggestions made by Lawson was that the garden should be 'compartmented, thus separating the pleasure garden from vegetables and fruit so that the appreciation of flowers is not marred by the odours of onions and cabbages' .
With the return of Charles II from France in 1660 a new age in gardening was born. Charles had spent a great deal of time at the palace of Versailles, and new inspirations from the palace were to be introduced into Britain. With the appointment of two brothers, Andre and Gabriel Mollet (both trained by Le Nôtre as royal gardeners in Versailles), Charles incorporated a vast semicircular walkway, lined with Lime trees and avenues at Hampton Court, very nearly transforming it into a miniature Versailles! With the radical changes and new ideas being styled in Britain, plants were becoming scarce. England did not at that time have many native varieties, and those that were available were somewhat insignificant compared to the foreign plants that were being brought into the country. The Stuart age saw the introduction of spectacular purpose built greenhouses into the country, and also the first types of nurseries so that plants could be propagated to meet demand. This also introduced a universally recognised system of both naming plants and of standardising varieties.
Although the Stuart gardens had changed dramatically, by the early 18th Century there was a growing discontent with French formality styles. Britain was at war with France, and this brought about a fresh approach to garden design by way of landscape gardening. The first to put the new ideas into practice was Charles Bridgeman, royal gardener to George II (ruled 1727-60). His work for private clients such as Blenheim, Claremont and Rousham House show the innovative spirit of the new era, for example, the introduction of the 'ha-ha', a sunken fence that demarcated the boundaries of an estate without requiring a visible fence, opened up uninterrupted vistas and cleared the way for greater freedom in landscape design .
Following in Bridgman's footsteps was William Kent (1684-1748). In 1708 Kent travelled to Italy to study painting, and returned to England in 1719 with many new aspirations and ideas. He was multitalented, and turned his hand to interior design and architecture before finally focusing on landscapes. With his experience and versatility he was the perfect person to meld together the new elements of the new styles. The idealised landscape scenes that Kent created were not English, but took their inspiration from Italy's romantic, classical times - a fusion of art and nature .
Perhaps the most well known designer of this era was Lancelot 'Capability' Brown (1716-83). By abandoning the formal continental style Brown's gardens sought to create a stylised imitation of nature, and he built on the foundations laid by Bridgman and Kent. Some say that Brown is responsible for the destruction of many historical gardens - in his thirty working years he influenced and designed over 200 commissions , including among others Longleat House, Blenheim Palace, Petworth Park, Chatsworth and Clumber Park. However, it was Brown who persuaded George III to retain the formal landscapes at Hampton Court. Rather than looking to the classical past, Brown's designs were to be enjoyed for what they were - landscapes that were wholly English in their character and inspiration . The designs looked so natural that you could be standing within one admiring nature and surrounding views - without realising you were standing in something manmade! Perhaps the finest example of Browns work can be seen at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire.
With a very different style of design, Brown's successor, Humphry Repton (1725-1818) saw skill in combining the beauty of the landscape with the convenience of the garden. Woodland was used, as was moving water, but more irregularly laid out than in Brown's designs. Contoured gravel paths skilfully lead the eye from the house to bring into view specific vistas, and the use of rustic buildings was incorporated into the overall design. Repton was renowned for his 'Red Books'- journals bound in red leather with the aim of marketing to his clients, explaining his proposals and incorporating watercolour paintings that exhibited the 'before' and 'after' images of the planned commission. By the time of his death in 1818, Repton had produced over 400 Red Books. However, by the 1820's, the Industrial Revolution was in full swing, and Repton was the last of his ilk. With the increasing distribution of wealth and the Victorian passion for picturesque formality and overkill, the ingredients of the High Victorian garden were assembled. The garden was now returning to being a work of art rather than a work of nature.
The Victorian Period and The Arts and Crafts Movement
With the idea of gardens as nature being regarded as a mistake of past generations, garden architects once again sought relics and ornaments from the Renaissance period. Victorian 'Italianate' designs were a mixture of Italian, French and Dutch Renaissance fashions. The Industrial Revolution had made materials available to the minorities - metals for making quality tools and non-taxed glass enabled the creation of many glasshouses affordable - and in the eyes of the English middleclass, essential. Working on the theory of showing a garden as art, 'bedding schemes' were introduced - non-native (and therefore, in the Victorian mind, 'unnatural') plants were closely grouped together. By the 1860's, the flower bed designs had become so much larger, gaudy and garish that the idea of 'carpet bedding' evolved - rather than flowers, shrubs and succulent plants with coloured foliage were massed together and clipped into elaborate patterns, and the whole design system seemed to get totally out of hand! Finally, by the close of the 19th Century, the impression that the garden could either be designed along formal lines by the architect or be informal and made by the gardener was established. However, this was all to change as the 20th Century dawned.
With the arrival of the Arts and Crafts design period, the theory of formal design and informal planting converged, mainly due to the ideals of Gertrude Jekyll and Edwin Lutyens. Garden design was no longer for architect or gardener - it had developed into a subject for architect and gardener. Jekyll, a gardener, and Lutyens, an architect, met in 1889 and formed a close partnership, which designed and created over 100 commissions . Working together they created a new style of English garden, the most well known being Jekyll's home at Munstead House, Folly Farm, and Marsh Court. Jekyll blurred the distinction between formal and informal approaches to gardening, and Lutyens designed the 'hard landscape'. Their influence on English gardens was profound. They created areas that were inventively geometrical using planting that was simultaneously disciplined and profuse .
Modern Gardens and Garden Design
The modern British garden was developed after the Second World War. A very influential Californian designer, Thomas Church, was the first person to suggest that 'Gardens are for people rather than a location in which to only cultivate plants' . It is Church who created the modern design approach using four key principles: unity, function, simplicity and scale, and developed a whole new garden form, which made gardens detailed but practical and simple with little emphasis on planting .
"Garden making, like many other art forms, draws on the past as it looks to the future. Tradition and innovation are the warp and weft of its history. A garden design is a visual statement of the relationship among human beings, their natural environment and prevailing cultural values. There will always be a handful of eccentrics with the means to turn their 'dream gardens' into reality, and there will always be those so imbued with material success they cannot resist turning their 'turf' into a status symbol. But small-scale gardeners, whether they live in urban, suburban or rural parts of the world, share a common goal: to create a retreat, however limited in space or charm, that offers sanctuary from the tensions of modern life, a place where people can once again relate to nature and feel the pulse of our living, growing planet.' taken from The Garden: Visions of Paradise by Gabrielle Van Zuylen
1 There are actually teories that the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were based on an exaggeration made by travelling Greek scribes. Please see Hanging Gardens of Babylon node for more information. Thanks to Teiresias for this information.
This writeup is taken from part of an assignment written for a course that Im currently studying in The Theory and Practice of Garden Design, and has been edited for posting on Everything2. It is written by Jaz, and is posted with her permission.
English Garden Design by Tom Turner
The National Trust Book of The English Garden by Richard Bisgrove
The History of The Garden. http://www.spidergarden.com by Toby Musgrave.
The Garden: Visions of Paradise by Gabrielle Van Zuylen
The Garden Design Book by John Brookes
Thanks to Pseudo_Intellectual for the advice on religious beliefs, contained within the first paragraph.