Beyond Brown: Picturesque Gardens of a Different Nature

19.01.2017 | category: General
The Leasowes, 1792, with Ruined Priory and Virgil’s Grove to left
The Leasowes, 1792, with Ruined Priory and Virgil’s Grove to left

Brown’s name will forever be associated with the English Landscape Garden, and it is only fitting that his 300th anniversary was celebrated on such a lavish scale.  However, there is sometimes a tendency to equate Brown with the landscape garden as if they were synonymous, and we therefore need to remind ourselves that, even though Brown was responsible for more commissions than anyone else and transformed the face of the English countryside, there were other contemporary styles and many gifted amateur designers, usually the owners.

More popular at the time than Brown’s parks, in terms of visitors from home and abroad, was the building-studded pictorial garden developed during the middle years of the eighteenth century, often pre-dating Brown.  William Kent pioneered the idea of a garden consisting of a series of set pieces or tableaux, usually linked by a circuit: the perfect example is Rousham, Oxon (Fig.3).  The pictorial garden became ever more naturalistic in appearance, and produced such masterpieces created from the 1740s as Stourhead, Wilts, Painshill, Surrey, Kew (the non-Brown section) and The Leasowes, West Midlands (Fig.1), which was also a literary garden, filled with inscriptions, mostly from Horace and Virgil, writers from Classical antiquity.

Contemporary with Brown and extending to the years after his death, the picturesque garden presented a different kind of alternative.  This genre focused on the wilder and sometimes dangerous aspects of landscape, such as rocks and precipices.  These dramatic gardens, such as Hawkstone in Shropshire, or Hackfall in North Yorkshire, relied more on natural features such as the Forty Foot Fall at the latter (Fig.2) than on buildings, though nature sometimes had to be given a helping hand to accentuate the spectacle, as here.

Fig. 2. Above left. Print of Forty Foot Fall, Hackfall
Fig.3. Above right. William Kent’s Pyramid at Rousham

About the author: Michael Symes is a lecturer in garden history at Birkbeck College, London. He is author of A Glossary of Garden History and has published several articles and books including Fresh Woods and Pastures New (2006) on Charles Hamilton's planting at Painshill and an Introduction and Commentary on Observations on Modern Gardening: An Eighteenth-Century Study of the English Landscape Garden by Thomas Whately.


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