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England: “The Garden of the World”

[left: At Connecticut’s mid-19th century Roseland Cottage the V-shaped bed of annuals, bordered by boxwood shrubs, gives a bit of the popular Victorian garden style.] 

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

English landscape designer Edward Kemp (1817-1891) in his book of the mid 1800s 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 opts 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.”

And so 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 19th century garden, called Roseland Cottage,  designed with a formality about it but still with a trace of the picturesque style. The north  lawn, which was once used for croquet, extends behind the house.

Do you like both the natural and a more artful, or clearly designed,  expression in the landscape, or prefer one over the other? 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.

[left: The garden at Roseland Cottage, a combination of both natural and formal design, was laid out in 1850. The original boxwood shrubs survive.] 


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