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experimenting with the different shapes of water coming from fountain spouts, mimicking and being mimicked by new shapes in fireworks. Grand spectacles would be staged with fireworks and fountains, set to music. English gardens


The English borrowed these formal


styles from the French and the Ital- ians, but in the 18th century began to do away with the apparent artifice in search of a more natural look that came to be known, simply, as the English garden. The first English gardens — William


Kent redesigned the gardens at Chis- wick House between 1733 and 1736 in the new style — preceded the begin- ning of the Romantic era by several decades, but the philosophies behind the two are fully interconnected. Both return to an appreciation for the natu- ral world in itself — a departure from the Renaissance ideal of conquering it. At first, English gardens were like


formal French gardens but with large swaths of lawn and wooded areas some distance from the house. It was not until Capability Brown (his real name was Lancelot; Capability was his nickname) began work as a gardener at Stowe House in 1840 that the style came into its own. Brown did away with parterres and geometric alleys, the last of the Renaissance characteristics, replacing them with rolling hills of grass right up to the house, with small copses of trees a bit further on. To these he added ponds and built artificial creeks, work- ing to make the garden an idealized version of the English countryside. The style was adopted all over the


continent. Favourite affectations included belvederes and gazebos, bridges, grottoes and fake ancient ruins known as follies. It also dominat- ed the style of the first public parks in Northern Europe and North America. The work of Frederick Law Olmstead, the renowned landscaper behind New York’s Central Park and Montreal’s Mount Royal Park, was inspired by a visit to England’s public parks in 1850. Victorians onward


In the 19th century, with the Victo-


rian penchant for the minutiae of botany, gardening came to focus more and more on plants and flowers. The gardenesque style was promoted as a way to show off collections of plants, each given its own space to be viewed. Today’s rose gardens are often present- ed in a gardenesque style. In contrast, later in the 19th centu- ry the Irishman William Robinson


54 • Fall 2016


Frederick Olmstead designed many parks in North Amerca. Above: New York’s Central Park.


published books describing his own style, which he called wild gardening. He practiced his wild gardening at Gravetye Manor in West Sussex. The gardens there have been restored and today the house is a B&B (rooms start- ing at 200 GBP per night) with a one- star Michelin restaurant. His ideas gave rise to the mixed


herbaceous borders of Gertrude Jekyll and, later, Vita Sackville-West—a design approach that continues to hold sway today amongst dedicated home gardeners. It’s a style typified by lush and floriferous plantings, natural shapes and curving lines. Sometimes called a cottage garden, it is in fact borne out of grand estates as much as the Renaissance and English gardens were, not out of the yards of peasants with a love of the land. Through the twentieth century there have been a few new styles tried that


have not been popular enough to usurp the herbaceous border format, though perhaps one or more will. Too many modernist styles have been cold and disinterested in plants, which will never receive the admiration of avid garden- ers.


One style that seems poised for popu-


lar adoption is called New Wave Plant- ing, which advocates the use of mass plantings of perennials chosen for their structure and colour. While it doesn’t sound much different from the precepts of Jekyll, in execution it has the look of a gorgeous and loosely ordered prairie, owing to a reliance on grasses. Dutch- man Piet Oudolf, a leading proponent, brought the style to the Lurie Garden in Chicago’s Millennium Park. Millennium Park opened in 2004,


which, in terms of eras, brings us to now. And thus a conclusion of a brief history of western gardening. x


localgardener.net


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