Paradise gardens
From the beginning of the nineteenth century the ideal of the classical landscape composed from the three archetypal landscape elements of water, trees and stone (the latter fashioned into classical buildings, bridges and monuments) receded before a tide of enthusiasm for exotic plants.
Lancelot Brown died in 1783 and Humphry Rep ton in 1818. By then the insatiable quest for new garden plants had already begun, and with it a taste for botanizing, a hobby that was to become an almost compulsory accomplishment for every Victorian miss. As early as 1787 the first issue of the first gardening magazine was published: William Curtis's The Botanical Magazine, or, Flower Garden Displayed, in which the most ornamental foreign plants, cultivated in the open ground, the greenhouse and the stove, are accurately represented in their natural colours. It was a great success and encouraged various rival publications, including John Claudius London's influential The Gardener's Magazine, aimed at gardeners rather than land owners.
The plants described in these magazines and coveted by collectors were the hard-won booty of such brave and hardy explorers as David Douglas, whose expeditions to California were sponsored by the Royal Horticultural Society. He met his death in Hawaii in a pit dug to trap wild cattle, into which a bull had already fallen.
The Society "which sponsored Douglas was of great importance. In 1801 John Wedgwood, son of the potter Josiah and a keen amateur gardener, began a letter to William Forsyth (George Ill's gardener) with the words T have been turning my attention to the formation of a Horticultural Society.' From this beginning came the Royal Horticultural Society, still today the pre-eminent forum for the introduction of new plants at the Chelsea Flower Show and at its regular monthly shows.
Amateur patrons were able to play their part in the discovery of new plants through membership of the Society or, more directly, by arrangement with traders in the Amencas, in Asia and in China, or through friends and relations. Francis MoJesworth sent seeds from New Zealand to his brother Sir William who was forming a collection of conifers at Pencarrow in Cornwall and lined a mile-long drive with them. By 1854 he had specimens of all except ten of the conifers known to the Western world at that time.
The introduction of conifers, rhododendrons, azaleas, roses and the vast majority of the flowering shrubs that we grow today completely transformed the design of gardens. The display of plants was the first consideration, and separate plots began to be devoted to particular types of plants. In the 1840s Lord Somers planted a conifer collection at Eastnor Castle in Herefordshire, and pineta were planted at Scone Palace in Perthshire and at Bowood in Wiltshire. Collectors of Asiatic woodland shrubs had reason to be grateful to their tree-planting ancestors. For example, at Holker Hall in Cumbria, the oaks, beeches and sycamores planted by Sir Thomas Lowther in the eighteenth century provided the ideal environment for nineteenth-century plantings of azaleas, rhododendrons and magnolias.
The understanding that plants from abroad need an environment approaching that which they enjoy in their native habitat led to the construction of elaborate rockeries, water courses and, in some gardens, ferneries. In the eighteenth century rockwork, streams, cascades and grottoes had been constructed for their own sake, as examples of scenery that was 'picturesque', 'sublime' or 'horrid'. In the nineteenth century their purpose was to provide the right setting for newly introduced plants. At Pencarrow the massive granite rockery took three years to construct. Another early example of a rock garden can be seen at Lamport Hall in Northamptonshire, an almost vertical rock face imitating an alpine hillside. Sir Charles Isham, its creator, peopled it with what must have been the very first garden gnomes, the last of which is exhibited in the house.
Improvements in technology for building and heating glass-houses kept pace with the introduction of tender plants (which, until then, were housed in conservatories and orangeries), and provided for the nurture of the flowers and foliage that were used to make elaborate, often garishly colourful patterns of the carpet bedding so much loved by the Victorians. This is such a labour-intensive form of gardening that, although still much used by municipal parks departments, it is seldom seen in privately owned gardens.
The Victorian yearning for colourful flowers was matched by the return of a taste for formal pattern around the house, and a revival of terraces and parterres. A rash of 'Italian' gardens and 'Dutch' gardens sprang up to satisfy the taste, and architects and garden designers were employed to plan them. When one considers the numbers of staff required to maintain such elaborate gardens in immaculate condition, it is not surprising that those examples that remain have almost all been considerably simplified. At Ragley Hall, Warwickshire in 1870 sixteen gardeners were employed to look after the formal gardens that the present Lord Hertford's grandfather had restored. Today there are just three full time and one part time.
Prominent among the designers was William Nesfield (1793-1881), a former army officer, who specialized in patterns of box tracery on gravel beds.
From the middle of the nineteenth century onwards for six weeks in June and July the rose garden was the climax for scent and colour of many gardens. Forward leaps in hybridization coinciding with the vogue for formality led to the construction of symmetrically arranged patterns of rose beds, rose arbours, rose pergolas, pillars and swags. At Warwick Castle the rose garden designed by Robert Marnock in 1864 has been restored to Marnock's original plan, and gives a delightful impression of elegant structure and luxuriant planting. The fashion for giving roses a garden of their own has never died: of the gardens listed in this book, no less than seventy-nine have rose gardens.
Towards the turn of the century the nostalgia which married the Italian style of stone terraces and statuary to the Tudor style of knots and topiary was particularly well expressed by Robert Lonmer, the Scottish architect who laid out gardens at Earlshall Castle, Fife, at Lennoxlove, Lothian and at Torosay Castle on the Isle of Mull. Also to be seen in Scotland are the fine terraces devised in 1909 as a setting for Robert Adam's Mellerstain House in Berwickshire by Sir Reginald Blomfield. Advocating an architectural, formal approach to garden design, Blomfield's book The formal Garden in England(1892) was influential in upholding an alternative to the free 'natural' style championed by William Robinson. In England his design for Godinton Park in Kent survives.
Nostalgia for a bygone period of English history was expressed with a fervour that could perhaps only be felt by an American at Hever Castle in Kent. When Mr W W Astor fell in love with and bought the sixteenth-century home of the Boleyn family, his means fortunately matched his enthusiasm and, as well as restoring the castle and building a Tudor village alongside it, he created a series of gardens including a maze, topiary, a herb garden and Anne Boleyn's orchard. Set apart from these Tudor elements are gardens with other themes, including a spectacular Italian garden of statuary and Roman architectural fragments.
The vegetable garden and the flower garden represented two fundamentally opposed ways of using the soil. In the one, men used nature as a means of subsistence; its products were to be eaten. In the other, they sought to create order and aesthetic satisfaction and they showed a respect for the welfare of the species they cultivated. The contrast must not be overstated, for agriculture and vegetable-cultivation were not without their aesthetic dimensions.  But the new attitude to trees and flowers closely paralleled the more sentimental view of animals which was emerging during the same period.