Georgian Gardens


French formal Gardens

When George the First came to the throne in 1714, the rigidly symmetrical French formal garden as improved by Le Nôtre dominated garden style in England. Andre Le Nôtre relieved the monotony of the earlier French Formal Garden style with dramatic illusions and the technical control of water. Le Nôtre's vast garden plans at Vaux le Vicomte, Versailles and Chantilly overwhelmed any horticultural decoration making plants mere geometric elements in a highly structured design. These gardens were conceived to show man's control and domination of nature. This made horticulture quite secondary. Le Nôtre used allées and canals to draw the eye into the distance Longleat in 1757 with French formal style landscapingand marvelous fountains to add a sense of awe and splendor. In England,Charles II had copied the French Grand Style of Louis XIV at Hampton Court by adding a canal.

John James translated d'Argenville's 1709 codification of Le Nôtre's style into English in 1712 as The Theory and Practice of Gardening. This book became the standard international text on the French Grand Style. It ranks as one of the most influential garden books ever published. A small English garden in the French style with its, patte d'oie "goose's foot", star of allées walled with clipped hedges still exists at Inkpen in Berkshire. There is also a large garden in the French style at St.Paul's Waldenbury where the allée's of the patte d'oie have temples and statues at their end points to lead the eye into the distance and provide controlled views.

This style was also enlarged upon to create great star centered rides through woods on the vast estates of the landed gentry. At Dunham Massy in Cheshire, a five-mile ride between Lord Alan Bathurst's townhouse in Cirencester and his country house is still in existence. The 10,000 acre park at Cirencester is the best surviving example of Stephen Switzer's Rural and Extensive Gardening. Switzer's theory that the whole estate should become part of the landscape design was an important step toward Walpole's "modern principles."

Sweeping Views

John Vanbrugh's (1664 -1726) innovation of a raised terraced walk from which to view the countryside moved the garden from inward looking controlled views to sweeping vistas. Vanbrugh is most famous for his work for the 3rd Lord Carlisle (1670-1738) at Castle Howard where he began in 1699 to create a massively theatrical estate. "Nobody had told me," Horace Walpole wrote to a friend, Temple of the Four Winds at Castle Howard

"that I should at one view see a palace, a town, a fortified city, temples on high places, woods worthy of being each a metropolis of the Druids, the noblest lawn in the world fenced by half the horizon, and a mausoleum that would tempt one to be buried alive. In short I have seen gigantic places before, but never a sublime one."

Vanbrugh used a sunk fence, treated as a stone wall from the Park side and invisible from the house side due to the raised terrace, to open the grounds around the house to the views of the park while keeping the cattle off the house grounds. By both opening up the views with the use of the sunk fence or ha-ha and landscaping the park on a large scale to create better views, Vanbrugh created the world's first landscape garden. In the tradition of the good Whig landowner, virtually all Lord Carlisle's buildings were intended to serve some practical or symbolic function and not become mere landscape ornaments.

A Temple in the Grove or the Grand Tour Comes Home

In 1730, John Aislabie constructed the first wholly English garden Studley Royal near Ripon in Yorkshire. Through a considerable feat of engineering, based on previous canal work, a formal but simple pattern of water, moon ponds and temple at Studley Royal grass, and trees accented by a white marble temple was created in a natural amphitheater in a valley. The moon pond water garden embodies the simple elegance that marks the neoclassical style.

A young Yorkshire man named William Kent made his way to Rome where he met Yorkshire nobleman Lord Burlington (1695 - 1753) visiting Italy on his Grand Tour. They talked of doing for English landscaping what Claude had done for Italian landscape with his idealized paintings. Lord Burlington retained Kent to design the interiors of his villa Chiswick, located to the west of London, and redesigned the French formal gardens into an idealized natural style. The gardens at Chiswick did an about face from the formal straight lines of the French style to the curving "Nature abhors a straight line" William Kent imperative.

A wag said of Chiswick house " House? Its too small to live in, but too large for a watch fob!" It was just right to host the 3rd Earl of Burlington's saloons where he showed his paintings and discussed classical beauty. Burlington was one of the most influential arbiters of taste in 18th century England, both as collector and architect.

Stowe Bridgeman and Kent plans


In the eighteenth century, Stowe in Buckinghamshire was the most celebrated and visited garden. Its park became a changing display for the work of the most talented landscape designers of the period. This association with a series of cutting edge designers kept Stowe high on the "must see" list of the guide books to English gardens that began to be published in the early eighteenth century. At Stowe, Sir William Temple (1634-1697) had the architect John Vanbrugh design a new house almost contemporary with Castle Howard. In 1715 the Whig Viscount Cobham commissioned Charles Bridgeman to create an appropriate landscape setting. Bridgeman's plan of long, radiating avenues, a monumental octagonal pool, classical temples, and lawns brilliantly separated from the working meadows by a ha-ha opened up the countryside in a dramatic and revolutionary way. The hidden barrier of a ha-ha fist used at Levens in about 1695 was derived from a French military bastion. The ha-ha made uninterrupted vistas possible.

The pictorial landscape phase of the Stowe landscape began in 1733 when William Kent laid out the little valley called Elysian Fields for Lord Cobham. The stiffness of Bridgeman's original plan was softened by cutting down the long straight avenue of trees, thinning of groves, and redesigning the lakes and pools along natural irregular lines. Garden buildings and temples were removed or relocated in order to harmonize with the new open compositions of the idealized natural settings of the over four hundred-acre garden.


Kent designed an idealized classical setting for a hillside at Chatsworth. A replica of the Sybil's temple at Tivoli set at the hilltop with cascades cascade at Chatsworth recalling those at Villa Aldobrandini embodies an inspired English translation of Italian gardens. In his History of the Modern Taste in Gardening, Walpole said of Kent, "He leapt the garden fence and saw that all nature was a garden." This elegant and penetrating praise of Kent credited the garden designer with single handedly inventing the new garden style, but as we have seen it was a multi-staged progression carried forward by many designers all of whom had been captivated by an idealized classical past.

Kent was fully aware of all the exhilarating possibility of movement in the landscape offered by the revolutionary abandonment of "the line and level" when laying out a garden. At Rousham in 1738, he laid out a garden for General James Dormer that reminds one of a passage in Thomas Whately's "Observation on Modern Gardening" (1770)

"enchanted by the perpetual shifting scenes; the quick transitions; the total changes... The illuminated recesses, the fleeting shadows and the gleam of light glaring on the side, or trembling on the stream and the loneliness and stillness of the place all crowding together on the mind almost realize the ideas which naturally present themselves in the region of romance and fancy."


Mount Edgecombe

Mount Edgecombe the Cornwall home of the Edgecombe family was one of the most visited gardens in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Sir Richard Edgecombe laid out a walk by the sea with temples and romantic woods.


The Grotto meant to evoke a melancholy mood associated with creative talent became a common feature of gardens after Alexander Pope included a grotto in his garden at Twickenham in the 1720's. A grotto is one feature of the garden Henry Hoare II designed and built in collaboration with Henry Flitcroft from 1741 to 1765 on his Wiltshire estate. Hoare II, known in the family as 'the Magnificent', returned from Italy fresh from his Grand Tour in 1741 to take possession of the Stourhead estate. The garden at Stourhead was created in a nearby valley, which Flitcroft luxuriantly planted, created a lake, and laid out a carefully planned walk around the valley that provided a sequence of Picturesque inward looking views and encounters with temples, statuary, springs and a grotto. The walk was conceived as an allegory of Aeneas' voyage after the fall of Troy. The grotto marks a stage in his journey, and the Temple of Flora is inscribed with the caution uttered by the Cumaean Sybil, in Virgil's Aeneid, before she led Aeneas into the underworld to hear the prophecy of Rome's founding: 'Begone! you who are uninitiated, begone!' One of the principal Picturesque views at Stourhead is known to reflect Claude Lorrain's Coast View of Delos with Aeneas and the passage from Vergil on which it was based, relating Aeneas's account of his experience in the Temple of Apollo at Delos...The architectural set-pieces each in a Picturesque location include a Temple of Apollo, a Temple of Flora, a Pantheon (from the Claude painting), and a Palladian bridge." Hoare based his design for the bridge on Palladio's five-arched bridge at Vicenza and expressed the hope that the whole composition would resemble a painting by Poussin. The garden, meant to be like a painting, was itself painted by Nicholson, Turner, and Constable.

Lancelot 'Capability' Brown

Lancelot 'Capability' Brown (b1716 d1783) is the most famous English landscape designer. He was born in Northumberland and served an apprenticeship with Sir William Lorraine. Brown moved to Buckinghamshire in 1739 and was employed by Lord Cobham at Stowe in 1741. This gave him the opportunity of working with William Kent and John Vanbrugh. He later practiced as a landscape architect in his own right. On some occasions he designed both the house and its park. In 1764 Brown was appointed Master Gardener at Hampton Court. His practice expanded rapidly and he was often away on coach tours. Many examples of his work are open to the public. Seven hundred acre Petworth Park in West Sussex is the greatest example of a landscape garden left in England. The park was one of Lancelot Brown's first projects as an independent designer. In 1751 the Earl of Egremont employed 'Capability' Brown to landscape his deer park. When Brown arrived on the scene, there was a rectilinear garden, probably designed by George London (c1688), between the house and the lake. Brown swept this away, transported an estimated 64,000 tons of soil, dammed a stream and made a serpentine lake which became the park's centerpiece. The view of the lake from Petworth House illustrates Petworth House and lake Brown's typical work with the simple elements of grass, trees, a lake, and hills. The lawn runs right up to the lakeshores, which follow a serpentine pattern. The size of the lake is indiscernible, as Brown curved the far edges out of sight, and planted those shores with dense trees, thereby making the lake seem to stretch out into infinity, much as the rolling contours of his lawns mask the true size of the park. Brown planted the tops of hills with clusters of trees, thus accenting the movement of the land.

The cost of Brown's landscaping was enormous. He planted up to 100,000 trees on one estate alone, improved the soil, and dammed streams to create lakes. Using techniques developed by canal engineers 'Capability' Brown created lakes and turned the mechanical emptying of the lake into a thing of beauty like the delightful Rockwork Cascade in the glade below the lake at Bowood in Wiltshire. Maintaining his landscapes was actually profitable. One simply let the four-legged lawnmowers do the work. What better ornament for the park than, a money making, prize herd of cattle. Trees were an investment that could be judiciously harvested. The trees Brown thought fine enough for his work were the native English: elm, beech, chestnut, oak, lime, and Scotch pine. The imported trees he used were the cedar of Lebanon, the plain maple, and the evergreen oak. Lancelot Brown designed the grounds of over 140 estates, some of his best were Petworth, Blenheim Palace, Harewood House, Glamis Castle, and Bowood and Longleat in Wiltshire.

"I have a notion I shall begin here immediately so that the sooner you come the better," George Spencer, the 4th Duke of Marlborough, wrote imperiously summoning Lancelot `Capability' Brown, the leading landscape gardener of the day. At the time, the forty-seven year-old Brown's career was at its peak. 'Capability' Brown worked on the over 2000 acre Blenheim Palace Park near Woodstock in Oxfordshire from 1764 to 1768. A massive dam built near Bladon created the lake and two causeways were formed, allowing the river Glyme to flow out on either side of Vanbrugh's Grand Bridge. Large tracts of courtyard were grassed over and beech trees planted in the outskirts of the park.

Ornamental Gardening

Pagoda at Kew Gardens Sir William Chambers (1723-1796) was the chief critic of Brown's simple landscape garden. Chambers developed what he called ornamental gardening. He was following the fad for chinoiserie as beautiful hand painted wallpapers and Chinese influenced furnishings became the rage. Chambers became the architectural tutor to the then Prince of Wales who was later to be George III. As a confidant of George III, he enjoyed a privileged position of royal patronage. Chambers designed the pagoda at Kew Gardens for George III in 1770.

The Paradise Garden

Sir Humphry Repton (1752-1818 ) succeeded Lancelot "Capability" Brown as the premier landscaper in 18th century England. It is he that coined the term landscape gardening. The tireless Repton undertook more than four hundred commissions during his thirty-year career. After failing in the mercantile career his family had planned for him, Repton retired to the country, where he learned something of the management of land and had an opportunity to develop his talent as an amateur painter of watercolor landscapes. In 1788, he realized that his skills suited him to be a landscape designer. Repton's first job came from a family friend the Duke of Portland who invited him to make some alterations to his garden. Sheringham Hall Repton's work differed from Brown's in his less formal transition between house and grounds. By means of terraces planted with flowers, including steps, and balustrades, he created a casual, welcoming atmosphere. His innovation of making watercolor drawings of the grounds upon which he was asked to advise with his proposed alterations displayed as a hinged paper overlay contributed greatly to his success. His works include Barningham Hall in Norfolk, Glemham in Hereford, Harleston House and Park in Northampton, Holkoum, Langley Park, Sheringham Hall in Norfolk, and White Lodge in Richmond Park. Repton considered Sheringham Hall and Park in Norfolk (pictured here) to be his best work. In addition to several essays and a short play, Repton published three major books on landscape gardening: Sketches and Hints on Landscape Gardening (1795), Observations on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening (1803), and Fragments on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening (1816). In 1811, in the process of escorting his daughters back from a ball, Repton's carriage tipped over leaving him with back injuries that would confine him to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. It also aggravated a pre-existing heart condition that caused a further decline in Humphry's health. Repton's last book was prepared with the assistance of his son John. The work deals at length with the concepts of "Grecian" and "Gothic" architecture.

The Picturesque Garden 1795-1840

Sheringham Hall above as Repton designed it and below as Knight imagined it in the picturesque style In the early 1800's Richard Payne Knight (1750-1824) was the chief critics of Repton's work. He championed the dramatic scenery of the picturesque style of garden. He wrote an essay critical of Repton's work at Sheringham Hall. Above Sheringham Hall is pictured as Repton designed it and below as Knight imagined it in the more dramatic picturesque style. These gardens were meant to move the emotions like the poetry of the Lakeland poets Coleridge and Wordsworth. Examples of this garden style are Belle Isle at Windamere, the quarry garden at Belsay Hall in Northumberland, and the dramatic and popular garden at Hawkston in Shropshire.

Sheringham Hall at right above as Repton designed it and below as Knight imagined it in the picturesque style with dramatic unpruned trees and the placid stream replaced by a rocky cascade.

Sir Uvedale Price (1747 -1829) was another champion of the picturesque style. Like Richard Payne Knight, Uvedale Price criticized the blandness of Lancelot Brown's designs. Price advocated an estate layout with formal gardens surrounding the house, surrounded by a landscape garden, with the park beyond left in a wild state.

A Taste of India

Sezincote Sezincote House in Gloucestershire is a hybrid style combining Palladian and Indian styles built for Sir Charles Cockeral who had made a fortune in the India trade. The gardens were design by Repton but the garden sculpture was by Thomas Daniell a painter who had traveled in India. Sezincote Indian accents include a statue of the goddess Souriya, a bronze serpent, Brahma bulls, and a mushroom-shaped fountain. The gracefully curved orangery at Sezincote catches as much sun as possible.

When the Prince Regent visited Sezincote he said, "I must have one of my own." Thus was born the Brighton Pavilion.


The Empress Josephine was very interested in the new plants being imported from all over the world. She had an important garden at her house near Paris, Malmaison. She began a rose collection in 1804 that popularized the new China roses as a garden plant. During the Napoleonic Wars China Roses were considered so important special safe conduct permits were issued to ships carrying them. The China Roses: Hume's Blush, Slater's Crimson, Parks' Yellow Scented, and Parson's Pink became the parents of modern roses. Pierre-Joseph Redoute, who commissioned by French Empress Josephine, painted over 170 of her roses.

Garden Magazines

John Claudius Loudon published the first magazine for the suburban upper middle class gardener. The magazine offered plans for suburban gardens that would enhance the picturesque differences of their villas. By 1820 there were quite a number of these magazines in publication.

Jane Austen and Landscaping

In chapter 43 of Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen chose to set the first meeting of Elizabeth and Darcy after his disastrous proposal against the backdrop of a tour of Darcy's park at Pemberley. The way the landscaping preserved and enhanced the natural beauty of the area delighted Elizabeth. She later tells Jane, "But I believe I must date it [her love for Darcy] from my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley." Chapter 59 of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

Read more about gardens in the books: The Planters of The English Landscape Garden by Douglas Chambers
Capability Brown and the Eighteenth-Century English Landscape by Roger Turner
Humphrey Repton: Landscape Gardening and the Geography of Georgian England (Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in Britis) by Stephen Daniels

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