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From Formal Garden Design to a more Natural View

Rousham in England, designed by William Kent in the 18th century in the new natural landscape style.

Rose Standish Nichols writes in her book of 1902 English Pleasure Gardens, just reissued,  about the tension between a formal garden design and the more natural look, “Finally [as if the Romans had had enough], in Italy during the third century, as in England at the close of the eighteenth century, formality and artificiality were carried to meaningless extremes of magnificence [like topiary, statutory, fountains,groves], and provoked much abuse and ridicule..The poets Horace and Martial, like Pope and Addison in more recent days [18th century], wearying of the restraint imposed upon nature and the over luxurious, pompous life established in the villa pseudo urbana, advocated return to the simplicities of the villa rustica.”

The extreme formal look in the garden, which then seemed so artificial, opened the door to a more natural, uncluttered view of the garden.  That view became important in England  in the eighteenth century.

The prior formality in the garden gave way in the late 18th century and into the 19th century to a more natural look to the landscape called, first picturesque and then gardenesque, where trees, shrubs, and lawn provided a less cluttered look, a look more like an artist’s painting of a natural landscape.  America also witnessed the natural view of landscape, especially expressed in the writing of New York nurseryman and landscape designer Andrew Jackson Downing.


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