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Combine Natural and Formal Garden Design

We learned by the late Victorian period in America that you can combine both the formal and the natural garden design.

Eighteenth century England initiated the natural or picturesque view of the landscape, with its  extensive lawn, curved walks, groups of shrubs, and carefully placed trees.

English landscape designer Edward Kemp (1817-1891) in his book of 1850 called  How to Lay out a Small Garden believed that the natural view, or the old landscape garden view, should also include straight lines and symmetrical patterns where needed.  He opted for a blending of the two design styles  at a time when flower beds on the lawn became popular, creating the Victorian garden design.

America’s gardens reflected the change.

The Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan in his magazine Gardener’s Monthly in 1866 wrote: “Even in England, the garden of the world, and particularly the parent of the ‘natural style’, this system of landscape gardening is falling into discredit..  Artificial work is now very popular in gardens; and the new gardens of the Royal Horticultural Society are almost as artificially arranged as the Dutch gardens of old.”

America also launched into a period of carpet bedding and ribbon design on the lawn, where plants were arranged by size and color and kept trimmed to a desired height.

Today in Woodstock, Connecticut you can see a nineteenth century garden, called Roseland Cottage, designed with both a formality about it and with a trace of the picturesque style. [left] The north  lawn, which was once used for croquet, extends behind the house.

Nineteenth century English and American garden writers and designers debated the question for decades.  At the end of the century there was a clear return to formality, both in England and America.

sarah - her story BOOKWife of New Hampshire’s Civil War Governor Sarah Goodwin (1805-1896) found great pleasure in her Portsmouth garden. In her book about Sarah called Sarah: Her Story author Margaret Whyte Kelly writes, “”Most people were somewhat influenced by naturalism, but only those with a great deal of money and property followed all its precepts.”

Americans responded to naturalism in landscape design, but more formality also crept in especially by the later part of the nineteenth century.

Victorian America taught us to combine both the formal and the natural garden design.

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