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Last year on my visit to England’s Stourhead, laid out between 1740 and 1764, I was amazed at the surprises awaiting me as I walked along the pathway from the house. Earlier the guard at the property’s entrance had said that if I wanted the full effect of the garden, I needed to begin up at the house. And so I did.
As I walked the path around the lake, which was a component of the picturesque landscape style of mid-18th century England, one surprise after another greeted me. You do not see the garden all at once, but gradually come to understand its design by engaging in its carefully structured parts. The element of surprise is essential in the design.
Morris Brownell, in his book on Alexander Pope Alexander Pope and the Arts of Georgian England, writes “Paintings of Claude [Lorraine] and his English imitators include architectural features reminiscent of Stourhead. This indicates that pictorial was an important as literary inspiration in the gardens of Stourhead.”
The Palladium Bridge, built in 1762, stands as an example of the 18th century picturesque movement in landscape design. The Bridge, designed in the style of Palladio, the Italian architect revered by Pope, stands over the water and links two sides of the property.
With a nod to the classics in its intricate design the Bridge has held up to form one of the garden surprises at Stourhead.
The 18th century English picturesque garden arose from architecture, painting, poetry, and gardening. It is that garden style that American nurseryman and landscape designer A. J. Downing recommended in the 19th century.
You can see that the English garden style, sold by 19th century American nurserymen like Downing, had a long history in which people wrote about it and designed with its principles.