The geometric, highly organized, and formal-looking Paradise garden style (see previous post) dominated garden design for centuries. Then the Brits revolted.
The English Landscape Movement
In stark response to Paradise garden styles, the 1700’s English Landscape movement sought to create the natural, curving views of open fields, lakes, and woodlands depicted in landscape paintings and as guided by Alexander Pope’s (1688-1744) belief that all gardening is landscape painting. With no need to accommodate irrigation, England’s temperate climate and ample rainfall allowed landscape design to follow a less manipulated look. Geometrically structured planting patterns, gave way to meandering paths through naturalistic meadows and fields, over and around gently sloping hills, and leading to and alongside bodies of water that reflected the sky and adjacent scenery.
English Landscape movement leaders – Charles Bridgeman, William Kent, and Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, who saw his role as a fixer of nature’s mistakes – vastly manipulated topography to achieve their vision of a pastoral landscape from which man could contemplate philosophical and political ideas. In doing so they created landscapes no less manipulated than the structured, formal garden style they sought to undo.
The grounds of Stourhead between Wiltshire and Somerset, England, “is perhaps the most complete and elaborate example of the eighteenth-century English landscape style,” notes Russell Page in The Education of a Gardener (page 189). Created in the mid-1700’s, Stourhead’s design required damming a valley and creating earthen berms to form a lake, planting groves of trees, and constructing paths to and from columned, temple-like structures and in and around the water and trees. Page recalls the original plan “of water and hanging beechwoods and quiet dark green shrubberies … enlivened by a series of architectural incidents,” brought “coherence, dignity, scale, charm and tranquility.”
It would be interesting to do a study just on Russell Page – see images of his designs – but that’s off the current track. There is no denying that Stourhead is beautiful and calming, as are other English Landscape designs. But what struck me most was the extent of deconstruction/reconstruction. undertaken to obtain the final effect – and so many of these creations were on private estates. Want a lake in the design? Just damn a valley.
I tend to think more along the idea of enhancing the natural setting of a site so human impact blends into, rather than overpowers, nature’s design … maybe this is splitting hairs. Olmstead’s designs for Central Park in NYC and the Emerald Necklace in Boston both fixed nature’s mistakes and enhanced natural settings. The residents of both cities continue to benefit from these designs, but these are major park projects that enhanced quality of life for millions of people – they are not private properties redesigned for the enjoyment of a select few. Private properties, I think, do better by embracing nature’s design rather than forcing the land to become something out of context with it’s surroundings.