Arcadian Gardens
from 1714 to 1830

After Queen Anne’s death in 1714, her cousin George I of Hanover became King. It became common for aristocrats to travel to France and Italy on their ‘Grand Tour’ and bring back souvenirs of their travels as well as an understanding of art and architecture.  With the increasing appeal of Nature, there was a move away from the regularity of design of earlier gardens to a more relaxed style. Gardens also included political and religious iconography and were influenced by writers such as Joseph Addison and Alexander Pope.

In 1699, Stephen Switzer was an apprentice at the Brompton  Nursery and worked on several projects including the design of Ray Wood at Castle Howard in 1706. An early exponent of the English landscape garden, Switzer was critical of ‘those crimping, Diminutive and wretched performances we every where meet with…the Top of these Designs being in Clipt Plants, Flowers, & other trifling Decorations.’ [1]

One of Switzer’s contemporaries was Charles Bridgeman who also began work at the Brompton Nursery. Bridgeman combined formality in his designs with a less structured approach and designed the layout of the garden at Stowe. He worked at Stowe from 1711 until 1730 and designed temples, summerhouses, an Egyptian pyramid and statues. Horace Walpole, a pivotal figure in eighteenth century society, wrote: ‘though he [Bridgeman] still adhered much to strait walks with high clipt hedges, they were only his great lines; the rest he diversified by wilderness, and with loose groves of oak, though still within surrounding hedges’ [2]

William Kent was a multi-talented artist who could design anything from dog kennels to silverware, to garden buildings to interiors but is best known as a landscape gardener. Kent developed Bridgeman’s naturalistic style further creating the Elysian Fields at Stowe from 1730 and remodelling the gardens at Rousham from 1733 to 1740. Walpole said Kent:

[was] painter enough to taste the charms of landscape… He leapt the fence, and saw that all nature was a garden. He felt the delicious contrast of hill and valley changing imperceptibly into each other, tasted the beauty of the gentle swell, or concave scoop, and remarked how loose groves crowned an easy eminence with happy ornament. [3]

Lancelot or ‘Capability’ Brown accepted a post as gardener at Stowe in 1742. Brown designed the Temple of Concord and the Temple of Victory at Stowe although it is unclear how much involvement he had on the layout of the garden. After Cobham’s death in 1749, Brown set up his own practice in London. His style became well-known and much imitated: lawns ran up to the house, separated from the park by a sunken fence or haha; trees were planted in clumps and individually often surrounded by a perimeter woodland belt; serpentine lakes were created along with ornamental buildings.

The formal layout of previous generations had gone along with straight avenues, geometric designs and walled enclosures. As Walpole said: ‘so closely did he [Brown] copy nature that his works will be mistaken for it’. [4] It is estimated that Brown designed over 170 gardens in Britain including Longleat, Blenheim Palace and Bowood but was probably involved with many more.

Humphry Repton is often regarded as the successor to Brown and is the last of the great eighteenth century landscape designers. Repton thought of landscaping as an art form and using his skills as an artist, created a ‘Red Book’ for prospective clients with explanatory text and watercolour overlays showing before and after views of the estate. He worked on numerous projects including Tatton Park, Woburn Abbey and Blaise Castle.

[1] Stephen Switzer, Ichnographia rustica; London, 1718 p.xviii

[2] Horace Walpole, On Modern Gardening, 1771, (1785,p51)

[3] Horace Walpole, On Modern Gardening, 1771, (1785  p55)

[4] Walpole, The Connoisseur, CXCII/773-4 (August 1976), p233 quoted in David Brown and Tom Williamson, Lancelot Brown and the Capability Men, London, 2016, p.73

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