During the Georgian period (here taken as the period of the reigns of King George I to George IV from 1713 to 1830) there is the emergence of the English landscape garden whose ‘natural’ style would have as far-reaching an influence as Le Notre’s Versailles. The extravagance and sophistication of the Versailles of French King Louis XIV, the Sun King, could hardly be upstaged; what was needed was an entirely new direction. Although France’s Revolution of 1789 marked France as Europe’s engine of social change, it was the popularity of England’s estate gardens that heralded a period of British political and economic ascendancy on the path to Victorian empire, when British horticulture would gain its own voice and the admiration of Europe – putting it in a position from which has yet to be dislodged. This was also the period of Australian settlement.
Chatsworth – Early Eighteenth Century Painted by Pieter Tillemans (1684-1734) Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
It is in the Georgian period, and in particular the reign of George III, that European, and especially British, colonial power gathered momentum. The east coast of New Holland was visited in 1768 by explorer James Cook and the naturalists Joseph Banks (a personal friend of George III) and Daniel Solander on a voyage of scientific exploration that captured the imagination of the European courts and then, in 1777, this land that had so excited Cook’s naturalists was settled by the British as the Colony of New South Wales.
Social power and influence in Britain was now shifting from the royal court to parliament and the city, embracing a wider section of society. The first newspapers were published and with a vibrant and critical coffee-house culture the affairs of royalty were under close public scrutiny. Extravagant demonstrations of absolutist power in the style of the gardens of the French kings did not appear appropriate for Britain. Satirical writers like Alexander Pope lampooned the mathematics of the parterre, the absurdities of topiary, and the vanity of human artifice in general, pleading for a new naturalism and it was Pope who also coined the landscape gardening expression ‘genius of the place‘ (genius loci).
Famous Stourhead garden in the English landscape style Viewed from a high vantage point Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
While the ‘people’ of Europe were challenging absolute monarchs and social privilege, the privileged themselves were looking for diversions in their vast gardens. The new fashion in aristocratic gardening arrived in France as ‘Le Jardin Anglais’ in Germany as ‘Der Englischer Garten’ and in Italy as ‘Il Giardino Inglese’ (as at the royal palace of La Reggia at Caserta just north of Naples). Catherine the Great of Russia enthusiastically summarised the new trend as follows: ‘I passionately love gardens in the English style, the curved lines, the gentle slopes, the ponds pretending to be lakes … and I deeply disdain straight lines … I should say my anglomania gets the better of planimetry’.
In the early 18th century English country estates gardens amalgamated Italian, French and Dutch elements. The geometric style persisted, at least around the palaces and mansions, with gravel-pathed parterres, figurative patterns and abstract arabesques, sometimes with bedding plants but also using the colour of sands, coal, brick dust and the like. This was often accompanied by balustrades, urns and statuary. Divisions of the garden were high-hedged. Dutch gardens also included geometric designs but were on a smaller scale and many had introduced flowers no doubt the colonial experience in the East Indies and South America encouraged the cultivation of exotic plants.
However it was in about the 1730s that we see the introduction of landscape gardens banishing the old geometry of topiary, sculpture, parterres, fountains, hedged bosquets and long straight avenues along with clutter around the central mansion (including barns, orchards and farm labourer’s and their lodgings). Farming was done at a distance from the residence.
This different, independent English style expressed the more temperate and informal British spirit: a more rural style that removed continental bombast, geometry, and prohibitive expense. Views were widened, lakes created and the land contoured and planted with clumped trees.
It was in this context that we see the emergence of what we now know as landscape gardening through a sequence of steps: a softening of lines to incorporate and merge with the broader landscape; adoption of a classical pictorial style akin to that used by great landscape artists of the period; finally the creation of open meadow-like parkland in the style of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. Nevertheless, viewed from today, this was still elitist gardening on a massive scale: it is the style that typified the ‘gentleman’s estate’ referred to so frequently by Australia’s early explorers, settlers and journalists, and that also strongly influenced the much-admired moderate styling we are familiar with in Australia’s colonial city botanic gardens especially Hobart, Sydney and Melbourne.
Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne, Victoria, Australia As viewed from Government House. Note the uncanny similarity of appearance to Stourhead that results from the use of similar principles of landscape garden design
The Ha Ha ditch (used by royal gardener and designer Charles Bridgeman on the Stowe estate in 1714) removed the boundary between garden and countryside. Hard landscape features were now used to emphasise topography: temples on hills, picturesque ruins, hermitages and the like; straight paths and avenues were replaced by serpentine walks, water features, and clumps of trees which were preferably gnarled and unkempt, not clipped and in regimented rows.
A vogue for Chinoiserie, for temples and tea-houses and pagodas first appearing in the 17th century, arrived in about the mid 18th century, the pagoda at Kew completed in 1762, part of the landscape garden style being referred to as the Anglo-Chinese garden which coincided with a period of interest in Chinese philosophy.
The new movement was said, by fashionable and authoritative commentator Horace Walpole, to have been launched by Kent who ‘leapt the fence and saw that all nature was a garden‘. William Kent (1685-1748) was defying geometry by laying out gardens ‘without level and line’. Emphasis was on nature not human artifice and a disguising and softening of human intrusion. Poet William Shenstone (1714-1763) coined the term ‘landscape gardening’ in his essay Unconnected Thoughts on Gardening (1764) … ‘Gardening may be divided into three species – kitchen gardening – parterre gardening – and landskip, or picturesque-gardening…’[cited by Charlesworth, in Leslie & Hunt vol. 4 p. 61] and its close relation to landscape painting. Perhaps, to some degree, the development of the landscape garden was a conscious patriotic attempt to deliberately create a British style in the arts as would befit an ascendant political and economic power.[Eyres, p. 117]
The ha ha allowed an unimpeded view of what lay outside the garden, removing the sense of enclosure. The larger environment was the landscape park with trees in clumps and belts among grassland. The trees could be logged and the grass support livestock, sometimes deer but also sheep and cattle. Occasional buildings were not only classical but also Chinese, Indian, Turkish and Gothic. There was also the occasional fermes ornées encompassing the whole farm but with ornamental zones for decoration and pleasure.
Through the 18th century the influx of new plants would transform the British landscape. Avenues and specimen plantings traditionally consisted of native trees (linden, oak, beech, horse-chestnut, elm) but already in the 17th century exotic trees with strong forms and/or colourful foliage had been introduced but were yet to make their mark: Larch (Larix decidua) (1620), Robinia (Robinia pseudoacacia), Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani), Swamp Cypress (Taxodium distichum)(1640s) Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) (1650), Black Walnut (Juglans nigra)(1656), Liquidamber (Liquidambar styraciflua) (1690), Scarlet Oak (Quercus coccinea) (1691).
For the designer there were now the strong forms and colours of a new palette of conifers, the drooping foliage of trees like Weeping Willow and, most especially,the breathtaking autumn foliage colour of Gingko, Liquidambar, American maples and oaks, and others. A further benefit was that many of these trees were fast-growing. Romanticism with its emphasis on mood could be better expressed through weeping foliage and dark-foliaged conifers with their rigid forms. Much of this was a designer’s dream and was attributed largely to the introductions of Archibald, Duke of Argyle. Visitors to England from the continent were now taking notice of the impressive artistic effects achieved by these trees so new to cultivation.
Flower gardens existed as discrete areas that were often the province of women – possibly a tradition harking back to classical times. Better known ones (they were not usually created by their owners) were owned by the Duchess of Beaufort at Badminton, Lady Burlington at Chiswick, Princess Augusta at Kew, Duchess of Portland at Bulstrode, and Lady Elizabeth Lee at Hartwell. Garden beds did not follow any particular design formula and the practice of formal bedding with several displays a year did not arrive until the Victorian era.[Symes p. 84]
Historian and politician Horace Walpole famously stated that landscape gardener William Kent (1685-1748) ‘leaped the fence, and saw that all nature was a garden‘. Kent was an architect and designer, and an early practitioner of the new style. He had spent time on the continent absorbing the classical sights of Rome and gave special expression to the pictorial and classical elements so admired in the works of 17th century landscape painters – the Palladian bridges, Arcadian temples, and waterfalls as depicted in the work of artists Nicolas Poussin, Claude Lorrain and Salvator Rosa. Such gardens, though less authoritarian and calculated, were still elitist, rather like picturesque retreats into an Elysian classical fantasy world like those described in Virgil’s Georgics and Aeneid, an idyll for disillusioned educated patricians – although at least the viewer could drink in the scene from ground level rather than looking down on it as was the intention for Tudor and Jacobean embroidered parterres. And there was the bottom line: Kent’s gardens were still extremely expensive.
By the 1750s, to the disgust of Britain’s upper echelons, public taste was beginning to succumb further to the gathering wealth of merchant businessmen, civil servants and parliamentarians. As London was cloaked in the smoke and grime of the early Industrial Revolution these men too looked for rural retreats, while in the city itself many gardens ‘ … were laid out on formal lines, like old Roman gardens, in keeping with the Georgian respect for the classics, with rows of pots and straight box-edged borders filled with special flowers, as strongly scented as possible, to disguise the city smells …’ while even tradesmen, professionals and shopkeepers were calling their suburban gardens ‘Villas’.
Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown
In this progressive cultural democratisation, just as the economic prospect of the middle classes improved so the upper classes, bemoaning a general decline in taste, was forced to undertake some belt-tightening. The man for the job was Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (1716-1783) who had worked with Kent at Stowe and in 1751 set out as an independent consultant. He was to leave a lasting impression on the aristocratic estates of the country, even spending a little time in the 1760s as gardener to George III at Hampton Court. He worked on about 170 estates which included the finest in the country, leaving his mark on the English landscape by removing the former parterres and formal ostentations, bringing the grass sward right up to the buildings and working with lakes and judiciously distributed clumps of trees to produce a subtle effect that hardly differed from the appealing rolling greenery of the British countryside itself.
Brown was followed by another landscape gardener (he was the first to use this title) Humphry Repton (1752-1818) whose clientele extended beyond the aristocracy to bankers, merchants, manufacturers and Whig politicians. As the son of a businessman he did not have much practical experience but was clearly an excellent salesman using beautiful ‘before’ and ‘after’ watercolour sketches in his Red Books demonstrate to his clients what he could achieve. Repton worked on a smaller scale than Brown, whose work he was often employed to modify, he developed attractive vistas and avenues extracting maximum visual effect from the site without major alteration. Again there was public concern as when he harnessed woodlands, ideal for game, and swathes valuable as pasture this sometimes resulted in the eviction of the poor who had depended on such land.
Plant collecting & botanophilia
See also Botanophilia and Nurseries and networks
The era of the Georgian garden coincided with a period of unprecedented popularity of plants, a craze for the beautiful, curious and new, a time referred to as botanophilia, when plants occupied Europe’s elite in a way that will never be repeated. Several Enlightenment figures are towers of these times of botanophilia: Philip Millerof the Chelsea Physic Garden, Joseph Banks – explorer, plant collector, and de facto director of Kew Botanic Gardens, President of the Royal Society, Josephine Bonaparteand a close network of botanic gardens, wealthy collectors, explorer botanists and gardeners, plant hunters, and nurserymen.In England an era of gardener-explorers was launched in the 17th century with the London Tradescants, Elder (1570-1638) and Younger (1608-1662) and later included the Bishop of London Henry Compton (1632-1713) and his collection of over 1000 exotic species at Fulham Palace, most collected by John Banister; the hothouse specialist Lord Petre (1713-1742) of Thorndon Hall his formal estate in Essex whose collection was catalogued by Peter Collinson then assessed by Philip Miller for the gardens at Woburn after Petre’s premature death from smallpox; Archibald Campbell (1682-1761), Duke of Argyll, who Horace Walpole called the ‘treemonger’, growing on his 55 acre estate at Whitton Middlesex in 1750 were 17 newly introduced species including Siberian Stone Pine (Pinus cembra), Lombardy Poplar (Populus nigra ‘Italica’), Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera) and Caroline Holly (Ilex opaca); Charles Lennox (1701-1750) and his son purchased much of Petre’s collection to own one of the finest collections in the country with 400 different American trees and shrubs and 30 different oaks; Charles Hamilton (1704-1786) on his property of Painshill in Surrey, created a more informal garden than the predecessors mentioned here, his contacts, especially in France, allowing him to assemble a fine collection that featured a conifer pinetum.[Symes, pp. 76-79]
Many of the plants grown for the first time had first found their way to the Chelsea Physic Garden (Kew’s precursor) which was under the watchful eye of praefectus (keeper) Philp Miller. Among clients were The Dukes of Argyll, Bedford and Richmond, the Earl of Northumberland, and young Lord Petre who all grew new trees and exotic plants at Whitton, Woburn, Goodwood, Stanwick and Thorndon, estates with which Miller was associated professionally‘.
Symes vol. 4
Colonisation and improved transport allowed other countries to be imported in bulk with heaviest plant imports were from the Middle East and the English and French colonies in North America. Expeditions included Frenchman Joseph Pitton de Tournefort commissioned by Louis XIV in 1700-1702 to Turkey and Greece, Englishman Hans Sloane to the West Indies in 1687.
Anglican Minister John Banister had returned plants to several major English establishments including the Chelsea Physic Garden preceding Hans Sloane in 1694 and while also visiting Virginia which provided plants suited to the British climate, making key introductions of the first magnolia, M. virginiana, Liquidamber (Liquidambar styraciflua), the scarlet and red oaks (Quercus coccinea and Q. rubra), Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea) and Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos).
There was a further expedition to Virginia by naturalist Mark Catesby (1682-1749), a nodding acquaintance of botanist John Ray in 1712 and to the Bahamas in 1714, returning again in 1722-1726 to the Carolinas and Bahamas. He distributed plants from England to France and Europe but also brought back Indian Bean (Catalpa bignonioides), Carolina Allspice (Calycanthus floridus) and a magnolia with lemon-scented flowers, the Bull Bay (Magnolia grandiflora). Plants were arriving from far and wide as Britain became a magnetic hub for exotic plants, a centre from which plants would later be spread outward to become familiar across the world. Among these were, from China, Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica, 1730), Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba, 1750); from Japan the camellia (Camellia japonica, 1739); from Italy the Lombardy Poplar (Populus nigra ‘Italica’, 1758); from Turkey the Pontic Rhododendron (Rhododendron ponticum, 1763); from Australia the Rough Tree Fern (Dicksonia antarctica, 1786); from Chile, the Monkey Puzzle, Araucaria araucana, 1796).[Symes pp. 75-76]
Perhaps the greatest impact on horticulture in general would have come from the seed and plant exchange between Pennsylvanian John Bartram (1699-1777) and entrepreneurial businessman Peter Collinson (1694-1768) in London, a partnership that introduced many new American species into English commerce, changing the appearance of the estates of the landed gentry as Bartram ventured into new collecting sites – the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida and included a thriving network of horticulturists, botanists and European institutions that included Philip Miller at the Chelsea Physic Garden, Jakob Dillenius at Oxford, Grovius of Leiden, Queen Ulrica of Sweden and Linnaeus‘s student Pehr Kalm. Collinson’s own Hortus Collinsiana (1809), published after his death, ensured that new plant introductions attributed to Catesby, Sherard and Miller were given their correct provenance, his total number of new American introductions exceeding 170. showed that Collinson obtained plants from many other places including China where naturalist missionaries like Pere D’Incarville (who sent him the Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima). French interest in North America were shown though Andre Michaux (1746-1803) who established gardens in New Jersey and South Carolina and wrote the most compehensive Flora of North America to date, Flora Boreali Americana. (Symes p. 74-75)
Excitement gathered in the late 18th century as new plants were introduced from China, Australia, South Africa, South America and the East and West Indies. But there were other sources, as in the 17th century John Tradescant the Elder (c.1570-1638) had brought back plants from Russia. Greenhouses and orangeries allowed a wider range of tropical andsubtropical plants to be grown and shown off proudly as special collections. Botanic gardens were now taking on the role of accumulating exotic plants that were the trophies of colonial exploration. Meanwhile on the continent magnificent gardens could be seen notably the Louis XV garden at Trianon, Marie Antoinette later transferring a botanical collection to the Jardin des Plantes in Paris.
The ‘natural’ landscape which were selectively released to the eye through the use of the sunken ‘ha-ha’ was one that had been shaped by clearing and agriculture for several thousand years and was being subjected to new phase of enclosure in the 1770s and through 1790 to 1815: its ‘naturalness’ was not that of wild nature but the tamed and soft grazed greenery of rural countryside in a century of population increase and incipient suburbs of the growing cities and towns as the new wealthy tried to retain some seclusion while being near to work and entertainment. Indeed, as nature had come to take on the controlled look of a large-scale compartmentalised garden it would have seemed appropriate to combine the two. Deer parks as hunting grounds associated with manor houses had declined from the Middle Ages. It was not only the geometry and ornamentation that was removed from around the mansions but more productive areas like kitchen gardens, farmyards, and fish ponds, the deer replaced by sheep and cattle. [Spooner & Williamson in Leslie & Hunt vol. 4, p. 194] Growth was encouraged in the later 18th century by improvements in the turnpike (toll road) system.
Three kinds of estates can be distinguished: those of the great landed families, most of which were formerly deer parks, their size allowing room for large lakes and possibly some forestry. There were about ten of these in each county and they were the kind of estates that were worked on by ‘Capability’ Brown, Chatsworth being a good example. Second came the far more numerous 50-150 ha parks of the local landed gentry, many newly created, lacking the enterprises and designed by people like Repton. Thirdly, there were the parks, mostly less than 50 ha with just a few fields around a villa, owned by local squires, socially mobile bankers and businessmen, members of the military, and assorted professionals. These too were worked on by designers like Repton. To these can be added the ferme ornée from the 1730s which had walkways, shrubberies, various buildings and seats that gave visual interest as a combination of a small productive farm incorporating a semi-formal garden aesthetic. [Spooner & Williamson in Leslie & Hunt vol. 4, pp.196-202]
These were in part the private landscapes of gentility and islands of social exclusion although in the middle decades of the century there was some admittance of the middle classes into polite society, and dress became less a feature of class distinction.[S & W, p. 206] There was an increasing tendency for estates to become investments rather than hereditary dynastic homes.
See also British gardening literature
Though in this period we can still see the connections between gardening and the arts in general (painting, poetry, philosophy, fiction) it is the printed word that perhaps has greatest impact. From the eighteenth century on garden history becomes an exercise wielded as much on paper as with the spade. Estates become much more numerous and garden visiting gathered momentum. With the improvement of printing, both quantity and quality, there was a vigorous exchange of ideas about garden theory, especially garden aesthetics. As a general plant reference there were various editions of Miller’s Dictionary of Gardening, and Kew Gardens published its monumental listing of stock, Hortus Kewensis (1789).
At the more serious end were John Evelyn’s Sylva (1665) which encouraged tree planting to replenish the supplies of wood so depleted by the demands for shipping, Thomas Fairchild The City Gardener (1722), Horace Walpole’s Essay on Modern Gardening (1771), Thomas Whatelys Observations on Modern Gardening (1770), Humphrey Repton’s Observations on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening (1803) to which must be added Frenchman Andre Mollet’s Le Jardin de Plaisir (?1651), Battey Langley’s New Principles of Gardening (1728). Stephen witzer’s The Nobleman, Gentleman and Gardener’s Recreation (1715) outlines the style of ferme ornee also discussed in his Ichnographia Rustica (1718), William Cobbett The English Gardener (1829). Botanically there was John Ray’s Flora (1664) and there was, of course, influential literature touching on gardening that was widely consumed, especially the works of Jean-Jaques Rousseau with their advocacy of native wild plants,(Symes, p. 88) the garden themes of John Milton’s Paradise Lost which first appeared in 1667, Erasmus Darwin‘s works on plants including his speculation on evolution that no doubt influenced the young Charles Darwin’s thinking.
Plants from Australia first became available in 1770 but they were not so successful as those from the more temperate New Zealand and Tasmania
The Royal Society was formed and had its first meetings in John Hatchard’s bookshop in Piccadilly
Plant commentary & sustainability analysis
Gardens of the Georgian Enlightenment continued the tradition of the political statement of wealth, power, identity and patriotism combined with sensitivity to taste, social fashion, artistic appreciation and therefore a membership of polite and genteel society that was a necessary part of personal aggrandisement. In a long classical tradition these gardens were aristocratic, rural, and privately owned. Although rural, the owners were increasingly involved with the city, parliament and the court as such gardens became increasingly related to commerce and empire. To prosper, vast estates required vast wealth and though this once came from rural enterprise, much of it was now derived from industry and investment in the colonies. An uncharitable interpretation sees these gardens as built on the proceeds of a slave trade economy in cotton, rum and sugar as Britain’s rule over the waves and trade shifted from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic and North America.(Eyres, pp. 115-116, 120) Pursuits in these gardens included agriculture, walking, riding, forestry and hunting: rather different from what we would think of doing in a ‘garden’ today.(Eyres, p. 133) There was an expectation that estate owners, and indeed the rising middle classes, would exemplify the ideals of improvement, wealth production, and the exertion of benevolent political and moral influence.(Gisborne, T. 1794. An Enquiry into the Duties of Men in the Higher and Middle Classes of Society in Great Britain. London. p. 573 cited by A. Richardson in Leslie & Hunt p. 191)
This was a period in which empire, commerce, agriculture and botany were linked as never before in a tradition that had been inherited from the ancient past, a culture of gardens integrated with political and social power, plant accumulation for ornament and economic botany all as part of commerce, warfare, exploration., and subjugation.
There remains much to be learned of this exciting period of English horticultural ascendancy. We look to the country estates but there were now town houses, kitchen gardens, women in gardening and second-order country gardens whose stories remain to be told.
Though the use of flowers was not a feature of landscape gardening there was in the larger gardens the use of massed shrubberies while, at the same, time we see the dawning of gardens of the ‘commoner’ people, although this was also an age when tours of country houses and gardens became fashionable. The word ‘shrubbery’ was coined in 1748 when Lady Luxborough was writing about her garden at Barrels, Warwickshire to poet and practitioner of the landscape style William Shenstone.(Oxford English Dictionary) Shrubberies were often used as a border to meandering walks providing some sense of enclosure and local interest but without totally concealing what lay beyond.(Symes, pp. 81-84)
The beginnings of Neo-European horticultural acculturation of the west began with European imperial colonial expansion of which Australia was but one small part. The network of plant exchange between the mother country and its colonies occurred in both directions. Plants were beginning to be exchanged across continents in ever larger numbers and quantities. In America the old geometric style was retained and developed and social polarisation less marked.(S & W, p. 214) Within a few years of Australian settlement European crops were being established and common European weeds were being recorded as naturalised. One aspect of this process was the export of expertise from the mother country. The high profile placed on botany and horticulture in the new colony as aresult of the English social elite in general but people like Banks in particular, meant that botany was probably allocated a priority it did not really deserve.
Part of the process of cultural take-over was achieved through the export of the highly desirable plant expertise of various kinds: botanists to collect, describe and assess plants for their economic or ornamental value, gardeners to provide advice on plant cultivation, especially in hothouses, and the principles of landscape design. Such plant experts would go, first to the continent and later to colonial trading centres and settlements.
In hindsight it seems ironic that while some people clearly resented what appeared to be the reckless exercise of undue privilege, others queued up to get tickets for the first regular opening of the gardens on Britain’s greatest estates like Stourhead, Stowe, Chatsworth, Painshill, Blenheim and Longleat. It is a social paradox that we still find difficult to resolve as in making judgements as we wrestle with competing senses of social equity, aesthetic enjoyment, unconstrained creativity on a grand scale, social deference, and the allocation of large sums of public or private money to the arts.
Citations & notes
 Uglow, p. 126   Bending in Leslie & Hunt, vol. 4, p. 3  Cited in Hobhouse, p. 190  Uglow, pp.137-141  Le Rougetel, p. 9  Hobhouse, p. 209
Le Rougetel, H. 1990. The Chelsea Gardener Philip Miller 1691-1771. Natural History Museum: London Leslie, M. & Hunt, J.D. (eds) 2013. A Cultural History of Gardens. Volume 4. A Cultural History of Gardens in the Age of Enlightenment. Bloomsbury: New York Uglow, J. 2005. A Little History of British Gardening. Pimlico: London
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