Friday, May 6, 2016

The English Landscape Garden - why is it my favorite?

Over the course of this semester, we have studied a large number of different styles and types of gardens throughout history. It’s now time to look back on all that we have learned, and consider what we have taken away from it. Out of all these different gardens which we have studied, which resonated most strongly with me personally? This is a difficult question, but ultimately, I think my answer must be the English Landscape Garden, our most recent study.

The English Landscape Garden is, essentially, perfected nature, but not at all in the way that the Baroque gardens perfected nature. Instead of having a formal style, evident that human hands had altered and designed the growth of the plants, the English Landscape Garden has no style at all, and appears to be almost entirely natural. There are no clear marks of human alterations, and instead is a kind of controlled natural wilderness.

The main style behind the English Landscape Garden was the concept of the Picturesque – a garden similar to a beautiful painting, an idealized version of nature. This meant that the Baroque features of topiary, boxed hedges, and parterres were replaced with lawns, serpentine waterways, clumps of trees, and paths that curved through them. Many times, models of old ruins were placed in hidden groves, designed to appear as though they had stood there since Ancient Roman times.

The paths in the English Landscape Garden were not straight as they were in the Baroque, and thus did not allow visitors to see the garden all at once. No, the English Landscape Garden was something to be explored over time, walking from one part to another, not knowing what was beyond the next turning or grove of trees. It was a garden that had to be actively participated in, not just a work of art to be observed.

Perhaps this is why this garden style appeals most to me personally. The English Landscape Garden requires an active enjoyment of it, not just a passive viewing, and as I mentioned in my first post, many of my own childhood experiences with gardens involved this direct participation, whether by helping my mother cultivate our bit of backyard, or by running down the paths of the Chicago Botanical Gardens. My perception of gardens is a very active one, and the English Landscape Garden follows that idea. Though I will always appreciate the beauty and art behind more formal gardens such as those of the Baroque or Italian Renaissance, the contained wildness and of the English Landscape Garden will always appeal to me most.

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