Georgian Gardens

The Development of the English Landscape Garden 1714 -1820

Lecture 1 – ‘A Time for Change: the search for an English garden style, 1714 – 1735’
The gardening styles in Britain until 1714 had always been ’imported’, going right back to Roman times. The predominant influences had come from Italy, France and Holland. As Britain began to assert itself as a dominant world power, so the desire for a home grown style grew. This was re-enforced by the leading members of the Whig party. They disliked the formal French and Dutch garden styles, equating them with the absolute power of monarchs such as Louis XIV. The search was on for more ‘natural’ styles and they turned to the faded charms of Renaissance (and Classical) Italy. The poet, Alexander Pope, and Lord Burlington led the way, together with the designer, William Kent. They started to abandon straight lines and clipped hedges in favour of more natural vistas, adorned by new garden buildings.

Lecture 2 – ‘Gentleman and Players: defining the English landscape garden, 1735 – 1760’
Once the Prince of Wales had engaged William Kent to design his garden in 1732, it became fashionable to have a garden in the ‘new taste’. Although Kent worked on a number of these including Claremont, Rousham and Stowe, it was mainly the owners in this period who designed their gardens. Following the ‘Grand Tours’ as part of their education, it became de rigueur for a gentleman to ‘improve his seat’. The most famous of these were the landscapes at Stourhead and Painshill. Others made overt political statements with their new landscape gardens, such as Lord Cobham at Stowe. Many former head gardeners started to ‘sell’ their skills to landowners: the most successful being Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown.

Lecture 3 – ‘The Age of the Professional Improver: spreading the message at home and abroad, 1760 – 1790’
The shift of the English population from the rural to the urban areas, following the agricultural and the industrial revolutions, had a profound effect on the English estate. Labour was more expensive and land was being ‘enclosed’ (or put into defined ownership) which benefited the larger landowners. The English landscape style, ‘sold’ by Brown and others, suited this perfectly as it required less workers (sheep doing most of the work!) and the larger the land area, the better. However the owners rarely did the designs now: instead they relied on the ‘professional improver’: Brown alone worked on over 200 sites. The ideas were not confined to England, the jardin anglais proved popular on the Continent as well.

Lecture 4 – ‘The Picturesque, Revolution and Return to Formality: the search for recreating nature comes to an end, 1790 – 1820’
The upper echelons of British society became distinctly nervous following the French Revolution and the ‘Terror’. The grand statement of the landscape garden fell out of fashion, as such conspicuous consumption was reined in. An increasing appreciation of nature and natural beauty had led to the ‘picturesque’ movement that influenced garden design. Gardens such as Hackfall became part of the tourist circuit and its ideas began to be copied. However for some the ‘wild’ picturesque landscapes of Payne Knight were too radical and were likened to the chaos across the Channel. More order was required and over time, the gardens started to move back to formality that would ultimately end with the Victorian bedding schemes.