Stuarts

Stuarts: Parks and Gardens

The influence of the great formal gardens of the Renaissance gradually gave way to the opulence of the Baroque during the Stuart period. Gardens increasingly displayed man’s dominance over nature and the fruits of scientific endeavour – both through their design and what was placed and grown in them.

The Archer Pavilion and Long Water at Wrest Park, Bedfordshire
The Archer Pavilion and Long Water at Wrest Park, Bedfordshire

RENAISSANCE GARDENS

Gardens reflected, to an extent, the political, religious and scientific turmoil of the first half of the 17th century, often displaying an intellectually complex iconography that was largely left to the viewer to interpret.

They were mostly geometric and rectangular in layout, and divided into squares or quarters called ‘compartments’ which were treated in various ways, as gardens or orchards for example. The patterns of interlacing knot gardens of the late Elizabethan era were gradually phased out in favour of geometric maze-like patterns or heraldic tracery, often inspired by Continental engravings.  

Elaborate water features and grottoes in the Italian style with classical references appeared, as at Bolsover, Derbyshire, where the Venus fountain was added to the garden of the Little Castle between about 1628 and 1634.

Meanwhile, the compartment-style garden found favour with plant collectors and in smaller town gardeners. There was a fashion for topiary and for carefully planned ‘wildernesses’ – quarters planted with woody plants, intended to bewilder the visitor. One is recorded at Ashby de la Zouch Castle, Leicestershire, by 1615.

The English came up with a much simpler and cheaper variant of the Continental Renaissance garden: close mown turf divided into quarters by gravel walks, as seen in the Mount Garden at Audley End, Essex, where a wall enclosed a raised walk overlooking geometric paths between grass plats.

The Venus Fountain at Bolsover Castle
The Venus Fountain at Bolsover Castle, Derbyshire, dates from some time after 1628. Combining the classical and elegant with the more personal and even bawdy (the original design had the fountain surrounded by naked figures squirting water), the fountain is a centrepiece of the gardens at Bolsover.

PARTERRES AND PROSPECTS

Such simplicity found little favour at the court of Charles I, whose wife, Henrietta Maria, employed the French designer André Mollet to inject flashes of French opulence into English gardens. Good examples include orangeries and elaborate parterres de broderie, as at Wimbledon Manor (c.1640).

In some gardens, prospect mounds crowned by an arbour or seat were built to afford views of the parterre beds and the surrounding countryside. In 1651, while in hiding at Boscobel House, Shropshire, the future King Charles II spent several hours reading in the arbour on the mount there.

The parterre gardens at Boscobel House in Shropshire
The parterre gardens at Boscobel House in Shropshire (restored in the 19th century), with the mount and arbour where Charles II is said to have sat reading. The 17th-century parterre beds would have been less elaborate, but of a similar design.

THE CIVIL WARS

During the Civil Wars and Commonwealth period (1642–60) exiled Royalists struggled to maintain their estates, and their properties were often confiscated or split.

When the Royalist John Evelyn returned in 1652, however, he created a garden which became a horticultural testing ground, and after the restoration of Charles II in 1660 he became a founder member of the Royal Society. His book Sylva (1662) set out to promote not only tree planting in woods and avenues, but also different types of gardening: vegetables, exotics and fruit trees.

THE RISE OF HORTICULTURE

Charles II had avenues planted and canals dug at Hampton Court. Grand ornamental canals were also created at places such as Wrest Park, Bedfordshire, where the Long Water was dug in the early 1680s.  

William and Mary made further improvements to the gardens at Hampton Court, adding the Fountain Garden, changing the Privy Garden and introducing florist, orangery and exotic plants. There was a craze for the latter, with the rapid development of stoves, hothouses and greenhouses to sustain them. Christopher Hatton, proudly designing ‘ye finest garden in England’ at Kirby Hall, Northamptonshire, in the 1690s, was keen to use rare imported plants such as ‘narcissus of Japan’, ‘seeds of ye soape tree from China’, and a ‘Hyacinth of Peru’.

The wave of new interest in planting and gardening was reflected in the creation in 1681 of the largest nursery to date, at Brompton, which provided ‘shaped’ trees (such as round-headed holly and pyramid yews), avenue trees, hedge plants, orangery and fruit trees. It also supplied trees and shrubs for the wildernesses and groves that were, by now, very fashionable.

An engraving of Wrest Park, Bedfordshire, in about 1705 by Johannes Kip and Leonard Knyff, showing the geometrical layout of the gardens.
An engraving of Wrest Park, Bedfordshire, in about 1705 by Johannes Kip and Leonard Knyff, showing the geometrical layout of the gardens. The Long Water, created in the 1680s, is clearly visible in the background.

PUBLIC GARDENS

After the Civil Wars, with normality returning, attention shifted to health and polluted air. This led to the creation of public gardens at the edge of a rapidly expanding London, such as New Spring Gardens (later Vauxhall). Public walks were also promoted near St James’s Park, with Pall Mall becoming a favourite destination.

PARKS AND COUNTRYSIDE

Parks continued to provide the country home not only with a supply of venison and sport, but also an appropriate setting for the house and garden. The most fashionable were embellished with avenues and small woodlands connected with the house. But if that was too expensive, or if the king had not licensed the owner to keep deer, the surrounding countryside could at least be ‘improved’ via enclosure, keeping commoners away from the house and its approach.

More about Stuart England

  • Stuarts: Architecture

    From the grand country houses of the early Stuart period to Christopher Wren's new churches that rose from the ashes of the Great Fire of London.

  • Stuarts: Commerce

    The economy of much of Stuart England was largely based on traditional industries. London, however, was at the centre of a growing international network of trade.

  • Stuarts: Parks and Gardens

    The influence of the great formal gardens of the Renaissance gradually gave way to the opulence of the Baroque during the Stuart period. 

  • Stuarts: War

    How the the reorganisation of the Parliamentary army follwing the devastating Civil Wars of 1642–51 was the beginning of the modern British Army tradition.

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