Book Review

Gardens of Court and Country 1630-1730

by David Jacques
Pub. Yale U.P. 2017, £45. ix + 406 pp., 299 illus.
Reviewed by Georgina Craufurd – April 2017

This book is the fruit of a lifetime’s research on the formal gardens of England and Wales which preceded the ‘natural’ landscape gardens of the Brownian era. Its reliance largely on black-and-white engravings of the period brings home the almost total loss of these gardens today, of which there were about 300. Only a tiny handful (such as William III’s Privy Garden at Hampton Court) has even been re-created, let alone survived. Even in their heyday, these gardens were rarities, owned largely by royalty or aristocrats (with a few men who had made serious money by commerce etc): a much narrower range of class and fortune than those who followed the later Brownian fashion. (One has to admit that the latter was a lot more practical to keep up.) The author has used modern archaeological studies and geophysical surveys to supplement information from engravings, estate maps, plans and the occasional oil painting.

The book can be read as a detailed overview of the subtle changes in fashion in gardens over the period from c.1630 down to 1730, when the fashion had already started to “turn against pallisades [tall hedges] because they confined the sight” (p. 293) and clients turned their interest to their parks and the wider landscape, instead of the previous “extravagant parterres”. In addition these 300 gardens went through a series of changes through the course of this period alone, amounting to 600 ‘overlays’ as the author calls these alterations. It also looks at a few Continental examples, often created by our own (borrowed) Royalty such as Het Loo (William III) and Herrenhausen (Electors of Hannover), and gardens in colonial America which were inspired by English examples, such as the Governor’s Palace at Williamsburg (p.349). It also charts the return of both the formal garden (in the Arts & Crafts period) and the ‘landform’ landscape style practised today by Kim Wilkie and Charles Jencks, with a wry comment about the wheel of fashion.

Alternatively, for those researchers of specific sites, it is an invaluable tool; one of the indices is devoted to places, with their pre-1974 counties. Only seven places are given in Hampshire. They do not include Northington Grange, but a lecture on the previous formal gardens there, heard by the reviewer, may never have been published. Sources for the illustrations are given at the end of the book; this is good, as the necessity for reducing enormous early-18th century engravings to the width of a (sizeable) book page results in a very small scale. For serious research, one would have to find a copy of the original print. The complete history of a site is not given: rather the individual features are treated in their historical context: hence the importance of the indices. My one cavil here is in the naming of perhaps the most important index as “General Index” which is actually the index of place-names and garden features. The other index is an index of people; but it would have helped to be more specific; and the chosen typeface causes the pages of bibliography, garden terms and indices all to run into each other.

The owners of the properties and their social context are also given – and also how they made the necessary fortune to commission these expensive projects; so often art history or garden history tended to be given without context. This book is a landmark in Garden History studies.