The Art of Home and Garden Design: A Historical Perspective

The Walls and Roofs of the House and Garden

The walls of the house and garden are built of clean-cut Delph stone from the Idle quarries, and the dressings are in blue Morley stone. The roofs are covered with hand-made pantiles having a sanded texture.

The Terraces and Paths

The terraces and paths are paved with York stone and panels of slate. The ground falls sharply to the south, and the old beech hedges found on the site have been moved so as to enclose the gardens.

A Stream Runs Through the Garden

A stream runs through the garden from north to south and has a constant flow of water.

The Design of Gardens

The Misconception of Old Gardens

In old gardens, we are told, there is no arrangement at all. That is a mistake. Those old gardens had a plan, but Dame Nature has softened it and veiled it with the haphazardry of her wind-beaten growth. When all is said, a garden design is nothing more than a skeleton, to be clothed with beauty by which it is never entirely hidden.

The Temporary Defect of Garden Designs

However good the design may be, it will look cold and bare at first, perhaps; but that defect soon passes away, and the ground-plan, well-knit and thoughtful, holds together both Nature’s work and your own, year by year.

The Two Main Styles of Garden Design

It is a fact worth noting that of the two main styles of garden design, one is Italian and the other English-born. The first is quite Classic in spirit and belongs to the Palladian type of house built in England after the Renaissance dawned but particularly in the eighteenth century. Its aim was symmetry; its spirit was artificial. Nature was a slave to it, not a helper with some sweet freedom of action.

The Italian Classic Garden

But being in sympathy with a grandiose style of architecture, it achieved what was then desired: over-ordered pomp and majesty, often cold and repellent yet developing an acquired taste in students. Italian Classic gardens still have devoted admirers, even here in England, the land of devious compromise and stubborn individualism.

The Chief Traits of a Classic Garden

A good authority* sums up the chief and distinguishing traits of a Classic garden: “They all turn on the stateliness of symmetry. The central axis of the Mansion itself, for example, dividing the portico, entrance hall. Grand Hall or Cortile, saloon and garden-entrance in the severest symmetry is continued in one direction not only through the midst of a spacious symmetrical entrance-court but along the line of a vast avenue of symmetrical trees and in the other direction not less symmetrically through the midst of gardens terraces alleys fountains through the center of a geometrical basin and along some further vista perhaps to a distant summit crowned with a column or an obelisk.

The Monotony of Classic Garden Design

This description shows that a Classic garden-design is a kind of geometrical spider-webbing on a grand scale. Its formal intricacy becomes monotonous, wearisome; it can never be more than a fashion here in England, for a race of sportsmen has no instinctive feeling for hard-and-fast logic and for undeviating symmetry and grandeur.

The English Genius in Garden Design

As a Shakespeare could not write in the powdered artfulness of Racine, so our English genius in garden-design cannot express itself properly in a routine of stately affectation. It needs freedom out of doors. Indeed, the English genius has ever been Dame Nature’s ally, loving her State Lottery called Chance and her sameness varied infinitely.

The Mingling of Methods with Surprises

So we find in the English style of garden design, a mingling of thoughtful methods with picturesque surprises. A winding drive leads up to the front door, displacing the regimental, soldierly trees in a Classic avenue. There is no level, well-conducted forest but a fairyland of green dappled with spinneys, a glorious park dipping here and there with trees under which lovers have told their invariable tale generation after generation and yet believed in the newness of their monosyllables.

The Magic of England’s Historic Parks

Ah! What landscape in serene fair sweetness equals the magic of great England’s historic parks and home-made gardens? We roam there at leisure, not in a geometrical network of alleys and paths but across beautiful lawns and amid scattered groups of trees and in and out of rose gardens; among so many simple unaffected things of loveliness that Dame Nature seems to play at hide-and-seek with us. It is in effects that appear easily won and unpremeditated that we should make known the joy we feel for garden decoration.

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