The Garden Community for Garden Lovers

In Praise of Our Parks: Part One


By david


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, London

If 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.

More blog posts by david

Previous post: Making an Early Start.

Next post: In Praise of Our Parks : Part Two



absolutely fantastic blog and photos david i want to visit holland park now. ive learned a lot since joining goy and have seen places that i might visit that i would never have thought about if it wasnt for this site. cheers and enjoy the rest of the weekend

16 Aug, 2008


Many thanx, Lyd! And |I'm still editing the mistakes on this as we speak, lol! Have a gr8 one yourself!

16 Aug, 2008


Very interesting, David
You are extremely lucky to have so many parks available to you in the UK. I remember going to so many as a teenager when we lived there. I loved it! In the US parks are a dime a dozen, but are built for sports and not to relax in. Most parks in US today have baseball fields and tennis courts and golf courses and very little ornamental plantings. There are some exceptions but they are few and far between!

17 Aug, 2008


I know what you mean, Wohli (having, in the past, crossed the USA coast-to-coast and down Mexico way on routine Greyhound bus services - Wow, was that an adventure!). I'll be touching on the USA briefly in Part Two but only really New York, due to geographical/ blog limitation reasons. I am sure, however, that much more could be done by the authorities where you are, to improve the wider environmental benefits of your parks, with better planting, educational projects, etc., if anyone thought to ask/campaign for them?

17 Aug, 2008


brilliant blog David, very interesting read.
i used to do the same when my kids where small, great freedom for them and a couple of hrs serenity for me lol.
my daughter loves going to parks now, shes 21 , always takes her camera with her on these visits

17 Aug, 2008


Thanks David - very informative! We should really get out more and visit the great gardens designed so many years ago by visionaries - that's the part that astounds me. They planned vistas for the future. Stourhead is one that is a perfect example. New views round every bend in the path! Plenty of strategically placed follies and ruins, too!

17 Aug, 2008


Many thanks for this very interesting and informative Blog David, and the photos are lovely. We spend a lot of time visiting historic houses, parks and gardens via The National Trust. It's fascinating to see how these fantastic gardens developed through the course of history. We are so lucky in Bristol as we have some huge estates nearby that are now open to the public, and we have the World Heritage city of Bath literally on our doorstep with its huge parks, estates and fabulous Georgian architecture- all only only twenty minutes drive from our house!
We are looking forward to reading your next Blog.
With best wishes.

17 Aug, 2008


Great blog David, like irish i was always taking my kids to parks, they are so interesting.

17 Aug, 2008


That blog deserves a golden merit i found it both enjoyable and informative to read it puts Parks into a category of their own,
The impression of Parks no longer give the ideas of swings and roundabouts when so much information can be penned at a scholarship level.
loved it David.

17 Aug, 2008


Many thanks, folks, for your kind replies. Bath is one place I've never seen, Grenville (don't know why). Actually, I've often thought of Bath when looking at some of your garden photos. It must be the statuary/urns/water combination. And Stourhead, another I've yet to see, Spritz.

17 Aug, 2008


Unfortunately most Americans want parks for sports, I will however say that lots of cities have horticultural societies and they usually have their own small parks and gardens, most universities also have some sort of botanical garden, so you can find them if you look but they are not the large sweeping areas of land like in UK. I have made an effort to relate to the local commission on parks about this kind of park but as I said most citizens would rather have someplace for the kids to play little league. Sorry if I sound down on organized sports but it is something that has gotten out of hand in the US. There are a few large originally private owned gardens now open to the public and 1 in Georgia is called Callaway Gardens, and another near here is in North Carolina called Biltmore Estate and Gardens. Of course there are the National Parks and forests which are wonderful but are natural areas, even my husband and I don't agree on this as he prefers more natural and I prefer the more "tailored" style of parks. Oh well enough gripeing, I will just have to seek out the few that are available. (It still won't be the same)

17 Aug, 2008


Do try to make a visit to Bath at some point David- I'm sure you would love it with some of the parklands designed by Capability Brown and his contemporaries, and the architecture designed by Nash.
You will also be most welcome to come to see our garden as well.

17 Aug, 2008


Very good david. You put a lot of effort into this blog and I'm sure it was appreciated by everyone.

17 Aug, 2008


Wohli, I definitely saw a pic of Biltimore Estates here on GOY but have looked and looked again for it, to no avail (I wonder where it's gone?) I will make an effort, Grenville (probably next year now). I'll give up a weekend at a major horticultural show in exchange for a trip to Bath and Bristol to see your amazing garden in vivo (is this a promise, or a threat, haha?) Buffriddler, your kind comment puts me under some pressure, haha!

17 Aug, 2008


A very interesting blog, with good photos.

I hope future new members of GOY will discover this and the following parts, so that they can enjoy the read.

Fingers crossed that special blogs like this don't get lost in the 'archives' !

23 Aug, 2008

Add a comment

Featured on

Recent posts by david

Members who like this blog

  • lyd

    Gardening with friends since
    3 Jul, 2008