The French are who immediately come to mind when thinking of the Baroque in garden design/everything. Even your average American tween has seen Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette.
Versailles in the time of Louis XIV is perhaps the most well known when it comes to Baroque style, and it served as the perfectly ornate backdrop for his forcibly uprooted Parisian court. The arabesque designs created a whole lot of green, but if important company was expected, the Sun King would have his gardeners unpack the on-site greenhouses to temporarily set up his massive collection of potted plants, for color and general flair purposes.
Sidenote: Think the garden pattern looks a lot like embroidery of the time? That’s no accident.
Versailles is a good example of utilizing Bosquets to create small spaces within the larger design. These mini gardens were used for ballets, plays, romantic trysts…If you were Louis however, instead of hiding in the trees you would just build an entirely porcelin covered palace on the property to house your mistress/secret wife. No big deal – I mean, who can resist a man in heels?
Vaux le Vicomte preceded Versailles, nudged 3 villages worth of people of their land, and was built for Louis’ shortly employed Finance Director. I say shortly employed because after throwing his housewarming party, Louis shortly had Finance dude thrown in jail, so he could not only repo Vaux le Vicomte, but the landscape architect as well – Andre Le Notre.
Besides being a natural at posing for portraiture, Le Notre became the king’s primary landscape architect, planner and gardener. He was one of the first designers to employ the use of perspective, making the geometric expanses of his gardens seem even larger. Taming the French landscape was no walk in the park either – on one hand the marshy land had to be emptied in order to create sturdy terraces, while on the other it was overfilled to build moats for fortification. All this while working for a brat who had been king since age 5.
We then quickly moved north to check out some Dutch gardens from the same time. The top photo is from Heemstede, which shows how masterful the Dutch were at reclaiming the land from water, controlling it to build structured canals for irrigation. The northern European gardens also had more of a medieval feel, utilizing walled inward looking spaces and placing more of an emphasis on plants.
The bottom two photos are from the garden of Het Loo, which was commissioned for William and Mary of England (and would later have a major influence on English gardens in general). The gorgeous parterres of knot gardens, and the subsequent hedge mazes that started to pop up around the 17th century, showed how nature inspired art, which then inspired nature right back. I actually preferred the looser designs of the Dutch over the rigidness of the French, but was drawn even more to the resulting wilder (and politically opinionated) English gardens…which I’ll recap next!