History of Landscape Design – Week 4: 18th Century Garden Forms

Whew! I’m a little behind here on the class recaps – but believe me, there’s good reason. A major, life-changing opportunity has been a’brewing, adding to the usual activities that cut into my blogging time. I will go into more details later this weekend. But for now, be satisfied with “consulting the genius of the place.”

Stowe Garden

The above quote is by the poet Alexander Pope (who also famously said “In all, let Nature never be forgot”), and what he was getting at in his flowery way was that when “taming” a landscape, we should respect the terrain. The 18th century English went nuts for this sentiment, seeing it as a way to distance themselves politically from the French by way of…landscape design. While the French gardens were structured and rigid, the English aspired for theirs as natural, drawing the visitor in through inviting simplicity.

Gothic Temple and swan at Stowe

The original Charles Bridgeman designed plan for the Stowe gardens in England was softened by the landscape architect (who at the time would have more likely referred to himself as a “gardener”)  William Kent, who’s naturalistic style made up for his lack of technical skill. He preferred to create “stories” with the landscape, by strategically placing garden follies as a way to direct the gaze, while still allowing the individual to travel through the garden on a path of their choosing. In his essays On Modern Gardening, Horace Walpole wrote of Kent that he was “painter enough to taste the landscape…[who] leaped the fence and saw that all nature was a garden.”

Palladian Bridge & Gothic Temple

Some popular techniques Kent employed included designing the layout like a Japanese stroll garden, so that a sequence of views is revealed only as the visitor moves along. He also utilized Ha Ha’s as a way of keeping the cows out of the flowerbeds while maintaining the illusion of a continuous landscape. Oh, and there was a River Styx.


Autumn in Stourhead

Stourhead garden from above

Stourhead is another 18th century English estate garden, although one with more emotional than political flair. The house itself is removed from the rest of the landscape, encouraging a stroll down into the valley to explore. Along the way there just happen to be many well-placed “site lines” (aka photo-ops), usually marked with a bench positioned for maximum viewing.

The architecture in these gardens runs the gamut from Greek to Italian to Gothic, allowing the visitor to travel to far off places during their short walk. Stourhead also includes a massive collection of trees and shrubs from around the world, bringing the worlds fair-esque appreciation back to a natural level.

Chateau Ermenonville

Ermenonville was built in France for the Marquis de Girardin, who was nobility of the Marxist kind – interested in political reform and therefore, English garden design. The Marquis had is own theories on landscape design, approaching the planning more as a poet/painter than a gardener/landscaper.

Ermenonville - Temple of Philosophy

Island of Poplars

Most, if not all, of his theories were inspired by Rousseau’s teachings on the nobility of nature. Rousseau heard he had a fan, came to visit, had a house built on the property, ordered everyone around and eventually died there. The starry-eyed Marquis had Rousseau’s body entombed on Ermenonville’s Island of Poplars, overlooked by the Temple of Philosophy. The Parisian government wasn’t amused and dug him up 16 years later to have him permanently entombed in the Pantheon.

Woerlitz Temple of Venus

Woerlitz canal

Woerlitz is an example of a German duke trying his hand at 18th century garden style, this time with a tip of the hat to the Dutch – the naturally swampy area was drained and rerouted to form ponds and canals. Gondolas were the preferred method of travel through the garden, but elevated paths were also formed along the circumference to create mounted views.

By the end of the design process, Woerlitz started to resemble a pre version of Epcot Center, not due to its Palladium style house, Venetian canals, Chinese bridges, Rousseau island (sans Rousseau), churches and synagogues….but to another garden feature:

Volcano at WoerlitzA “working” volcano, which reportedly made the most disagreeable sound when “erupting.” As my advertising teacher always said “Minimum effort, maximum effect!” Seems like the duke had the opposite approach. However, I do appreciate that he named parts of the garden after the unsung heroes – the gardeners behind the scenes!

We also briefly went over Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, but being American, I’ve had image of that Virginian slave-ship beat into my brain since grade school. Plus, Jefferson lost all his money buying books.

The 19th century saw the birth of industrialization, which, along with a boom in the population, saw a need for more public space – Hence, the first concept of “parks!” More on that next week…


2 thoughts on “History of Landscape Design – Week 4: 18th Century Garden Forms

  1. I would like to use the image of the Stowe garden in the documentary film I am making on Central Park, to illustrate the connection between the landscape design of Central Park and the estate gardens of England.
    I wood credit you in the film.
    Please let me know if this is possible. Thanks

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