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English Garden Writer William Robinson Disliked Formal Gardens

The design of the landscape falls into two broad categories, natural and formal.

The natural style allows for a landscape that looks like it was always there.  Its signature features include such elements as native plants, perennial borders, woodland planting of bulbs and, of course, a lawn.Whereas the formal look, which includes symmetry and straight lines, clearly shows the handiwork of the architect or designer with its rows and intricate patterns of plants, used more for their color, shape, and size than for any other reason.

William Robinson, author of The English Flower Garden (1883), disliked the formal garden.

Robinson’s popular book that appeared in several editions

Richard Bisgrove in his book William Robinson: The Wild Gardener wrote, “Formal gardening is not merely a matter of bad taste; it is an evil to be vanquished, and William Robinson is the chivalrous young knight who will vanquish it.”

At the end of the nineteenth century, when there was a renewed interest in the formal garden,  Robinson took up a battle of words with Sir Reginald  Bloomfield, the architect who wrote The Formal Garden in England (1892).

In his book Bisgrove describes the battle that Robinson undertook against formal garden design. Bisgrove said, “Throughout its fifteen editions, as it expanded and evolved to make his case ever more forcefully, The English Flower Garden served as one of Robinson’s most important weapons in his battle against formal bedding and architect’s gardens.”

Robinson wanted a plant lover to oversee the garden design, not an architect. He once wrote, “We want the spade of the forester and the eye of the artist.”



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