Landscape Gardening History in England & America

Landscape Gardening History in England & America

The history of English style landscape gardening designs in England and America.

Craftsman Style

¶ The architect labors almost in vain, if, after all, when the building is completed, the decoration of the surrounding grounds is neglected, or, what is nearly as bad, left to the tender mercies of "soi-distant" gardeners, who really know little more of landscape gardening as a fine art than mankind at large do of the soil and climate of the moon. It is a source of consolation, however, to the architect that there has been a great awakening on the subject latterly, in the United States, and that the prospect for its general advancement is continually brightening.

¶ Possessed as we are of every variety of country, from the rugged mountain landscape to the gentle undulations of the far-expanding prairie, including an amount of lake and river scenery unparalleled in the geography of any other country on the globe, we can have no complaint to make against Dame Nature, but, on the other hand, should feel grateful that she is so bountiful to the denizens of this New World, and hope that the field thus open before us will be ultimately improved in such a manner as to become, like the rural decorations of "merrie England", a source of national pride.

¶ We are informed by history (but we must be brief on this point) that "the Romans were the first who introduced landscape gardening into England, as we perceive among the remains of their Anglo-Roman villas, but after they had left that country, landscape gardening was little attended to, beyond the abbey grounds, till near the middle of the sixteenth century, during the reign of Henry VIII., when Cardinal Wolsey had Hampton Court laid out to decorate the princely mansion he had there erected".

¶ All landscape gardening, from the above date down to the days of William Kent, who flourished in the time of George II., and is the reputed author of the modern style, was done in the ancient or geometrical mode. A masterly hand thus depicts its peculiarities: "A predominance of regular forms and right lines is the characteristic feature of the ancient style of gardening. The value of art, of power, and of wealth were at once easily and strongly shown by an artificial arrangement of all the materials - an arrangement the more striking as it differed most widely from nature. And in an age when costly and stately architecture was most abundant, as in the time of the Roman Empire, it is natural to suppose that the symmetry and studied elegance of the palace or the villa would be transferred and continued in the surrounding gardens".

¶ But "Kent saw the incongruity of artificial design when at variance with nature. The straight walk, the clipped hedge, the tortured yew, sunk beneath the superior chastity of his taste. He made as much improvement as an innovator could do, who had a prevailing bad taste to contend with, but for which he was peculiarly gifted by being a historical painter. According to Lord Walpole, he at once leaped over all boundaries, and the first stroke was the destruction of circumscribing walls, and the introduction of the "ha-ha" or sunk fence in their stead; next, the blending and harmonizing the lawn with the park followed, for he at once saw that all nature was a garden, only bounded by lofty hills or the distant horizon, and he was painter enough to feel the charms of landscape. He was also bold and opinionative enough to dare and to dictate, and born with a genius to strike out a great system from the twilight of imperfect essays; for although he realized the compositions of Poussin and Claude, the greatest masters in classic landscape painting, yet Kent, says his lordship, was neither without faults nor assistance, for it was Alexander Pope who contributed to form his taste; and the gardens at Carlton House in London, which he laid out, but since destroyed to make way for a noble terrace, were probably borrowed from the poet's at Twickenham."

¶ It is but justice to the memory of Addison to say that as early as 1712, and before the commencement of Kent's landscape gardening that celebrated writer, in his papers on the Imagination, published in the "Spectator", prepared the minds of all educated England for the induction of the natural mode. To the poet, the painter, and the tasteful scholar, then, rather than to the practical man, does the world owe the inauguration of a system which, combining the beauties of nature in a harmonious manner with the productions of art, is destined to be coexistent with the truly beautiful in the human mind.

¶ We omit the notice of several who have distinguished themselves in this profession, not on account of their inferiority as artists, but because we wish to be as brief as we can to be consistent with the nature of our purpose. Nearer our own time we may speak of Humphrey Repton, who was "a beautiful draughtsman and began his career as a landscape gardener about the year 1788". Later we have John Claudius Loudon, whose herculean labors as an author on gardening and country architecture have contributed more to the diffusion of correct taste in these departments of art, than any single writer of whom we have any knowledge.

¶ The first American landscape gardener known to the public as a practitioner of the art, was the late Mr. Andre Parmentier, of Brooklyn, Long Island, who not only furnished plans for laying out the grounds of country seats in various parts of the Union, but in many cases personally surveyed them prior to giving designs for their improvement, and furnished the plants and trees for the execution of those designs. But it was left for Andrew Jackson Downing to awaken and popularize a taste for sylvan improvements never before universal on this continent.

¶ Hear his appeals to the ear of all America: "But if landscape gardening in its proper sense cannot be applied to the decoration of the smallest cottage residence in the country, its principles may be studied with advantage even by him who has only three trees to plant for ornament, and we hope no one will think his grounds too small to feel willing to add something to the general amount of beauty in the country. If the possessor of the cottage acre would decorate in accordance with propriety, he must not, as we have sometimes seen, render the whole ridiculous by aiming at ambitious and costly decorations, but he will rather seek to delight us by the good taste evinced in the tasteful simplicity of the whole arrangement. And if the proprietors of our country villas, in their improvements, are more likely to run into any one error than another, we fear it will be that of too great a desire for display too many vases, temples, and seats, and too little purity and simplicity of general effect."

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