In Praise of Our Parks: Part One
Although we have a fairly large garden by today’s standards, with 2 growing children needing to burn off increasing energy levels, we often squash them and their bikes/skateboards/whatever into the car and head off to a park of their choice. It gives them more freedom, and they always end up with playmates, so they are happy. I, myself, love it, too, because I always get to indulge in a few of my favourite pastimes beyond the garden gate: looking at planting schemes/colour combos, standing under very old trees, imagining the history they have seen, and experiencing a part of gardening history.
The Formal garden, Holland Park, LondonIf we stayed at home all the time, I could not sit still and unwind, for I look around and see jobs needing done, and off I go! In fact,I wrote out this blog text in draft form this morning, in a park, surrounded by many of the things I’m going on to mention. We all had a great time, by the way, so, here goes…..
Many of our town/city/country parks were originally part of the private gardens/estates of the landed gentry or aristocracy of the 17th- and 18th centuries.
Camperdown House (now within Camperdown Country Park), Dundee, Scotland
They spent vast sums of money on creating the most fashionable designs, the designers, the “must-have” plants of the day, garden features and ornaments (and they didn’t even have Chelsea Flower Show!). To achieve this end meant employing architects, gardeners and Head Gardeners, who often influenced planting and made some new discoveries (but, more on this later), and the best landscape designers of their time, such as Lancelot “Capability” Brown (1716 – 1783). Brown designed and created, it is estimated, more than 170 large gardens we can see today, and was an integral figure in creating a more “natural” feel to large-scale gardening, with "forested"tree planting, designed to lead the eye to a distant feature, whether it be man-made or natural.
The old Arboretum, Camperdown, Dundee, Scotland.
Having mentioned garden features/ornaments, the landowners of the time were not happy with mere statues, water features, etc., as we know them; they wanted “antiquaries” in the form of follies, such as lakes, towers, romantic abbey ruins, etc. – all fake (but then, nowadays, we can easily create a fake “Oriental” or “Mediterranean” garden using relatively cheap cement-made ornaments from any garden centre).
I have a personal favourite gardening “triangle”, which I used to visit often in the past, when we had a relative residing in Cobham, Surrey: Claremont Landscape Garden, Esher (the house and grounds contain imput by “Capability” Brown and others); Painshill Park, Cobham, an 18th century landscaped garden (recreated), originally designed and created by the Hon. Charles Hamilton, incorporating an array of follies such as fake abbey ruins and a grassy open-air amphitheatre; and the RHS flagship garden/research centre at nearby Wisley.
By the mid 19th century, however, things had changed. Purpose-built municipal parks were becoming the “vogue”, as people realised the benefits of open spaces with regards to health. The paying public could by now see exotic plants in Botanic Gardens which, of course, were, and continue to be, very important for the introduction, conservation, and improvement of plants). Open spaces and gardens showing exotic plants and ornaments were no longer the preserve of the privileged………(to be continued).
An imaginary 1870s garden party in the garden of Holland House, now part of Holland park, London. Part of a series of murals in the arcade of the original garden, painted by artist Mao Wen Biao in the early 1990s. For me, they were a wonderful link between past and present, in a very popular modern public park/former private garden.
- 16 Aug, 2008
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