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Alexander Pope and the American Garden

[left: The Shell Temple in Pope’s Garden at Twickenham. By William Kent c. 1725-30] 

Landscape designer Ian Robertson once gave a talk at the annual spring seminar that Colonial Williamsburg sponsors.

His theme was the English influence on gardens in America.

One of the English writers he mentioned as  important for gardeners during the colonial period was the English poet Alexander Pope.

I just read  Morris Brownell’s book on Pope Alexander Pope and the Arts of  Georgian England to get some background on him and the influence he had over the emerging 18th century English landscape garden.

Brownell writes that “The important innovations in landscape design in the early eighteenth century were the work of amateurs, of which Pope is the outstanding example.”

[left: Alexander Pope, English poet and landscape designer] 

It was Pope who encouraged the new natural landscape, distinguished from the older formal, clipped look borrowed from the French and Dutch..  Brownell writes: “The distinguishing mark of the design at Twickenham [Pope’s own property near London] from the outset was picturesque.”

So when the colonists arrived, the English gardenists, like Pope, helped define  how the garden should look.

I am discussing the origins of the 18th century English garden because it is that model the American seed companies and nurseries promote in the 19th century.

The  picturesque garden idea came from painters, poets, architects, some of whom were amateur gardeners as well.

Americans had no such history, and so we looked to the English for a view of the garden.

The picturesque, first championed by Pope,  had evolved by the 19th century to include flowerbeds and exotics in the landscape, to become what J. C. Loudon then called the gardenesque


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