A Potted History

67023203_mVilla d’Este in Tivoli, near Rome

Ruth Martin of the Aldersbrook Horticultural Society has compiled a potted history of the garden. In the second of a series of articles, she guides us from Renaissance to Regency landscapes

The Renaissance was a ‘rebirth’ of the culture and art of the ancient civilisations of Greece and Rome; gardening during this period (15th and 16th centuries) saw a rediscovery of the classical approach to gardening, with designs uniting house and garden.

The Villa d’Este outside Rome is one of the gardens created in this period with its famous water gardens with fountains, spouts, waterjets, waterfalls and basins created by hydraulic engineers. In England, the garden of Hampton Court was developed by Henry VIII to rival the French Renaissance garden of Fontainebleu; he spent the equivalent of £18m improving the house and developing the garden. Features of Hampton Court and other Tudor gardens included a privy garden, or private garden, next to the house, topiary shapes made of hawthorn and rosemary and the knot garden made up of rectangular beds planted with evergreen, some complicated, some very simple. This was the time of the rise of the town garden; examples in London include the development of the gardens of the Inns of Court and gardens of mansions, such as Somerset House and palaces, St James, Whitehall and Lambeth.

The 16th and 17th centuries in England were relatively prosperous, with houses built outside town walls. Often, it was the wives who were responsible for the gardens; rearing livestock and growing vegetables and fruit. In the 17th century, the first botanical gardens were created: Oxford in 621 and Chelsea (the Physic Garden) in 1673. These were established by apothecaries to grow plants for medicines.

Nearer home, in 1714, Richard Child commissioned the leading garden designers of the time, George London and Henry Wise, to design the gardens at Wanstead House. They paid careful attention to planting plans and bought plants from the famous nursery at Brompton Park in Fulham, which they part owned. The formal gardens included parterres and mazes, with a pair of mounts arranged symmetrically on either side of a grass ride. After Wanstead House was rebuilt as the first Palladian mansion in the country, a vast new lake system was introduced. It is suggested that William Kent, another leading garden designer, was also involved at Wanstead.

Kent was one of the originators of the English landscape movement, a move from formal to more natural designs, but including lakes, classical buildings and bridges, influenced by landowners returning from the Grand Tour. Kent’s masterpiece was the garden at Rousham in Oxfordshire. A generation later, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown became a leading designer of the English landscape movement; his work depended on a simple formula of trees, water and terrain. Audley End and Chatsworth are two examples of his work.

Ruth will be giving a presentation on the history of the garden at Aldersbrook Bowls Club on 8 March from 7.30pm (visitors: £5). Visit wnstd.com/ahs