The nineteenth century horticulture found in Europe is both vast and confusing. There was a significant leap in garden design and this created a long list of notable garden. This makes it difficult to select only a few to encompass all the developments in style, ideas and approaches that emerged during the era. Two particular styles comes to mind when I start to think about the High Victorian gardens of the nineteenth century:
At the end of the Napoleonic wars, a new social class had emerged, the middle class. These middle class property owners by no means had the land to generate elaborate gardens; as became the custom in previous years. They instead focused on owning private smaller suburban villas and adopted the “Gardenesque” style.
The style’s basic principle was to have a garden by which certain plants were showcased for their own merit, a preference of horticulture over design. It presented a sort of chaotic distribution of plants across a landscape. John Claudius Loudon introduced this approach in order to comply with his ‘Principles of Recognition’. He forged this idea after the criticism presented over the picturesque style (a garden style by which the landscape looks like a picture). The claims that the picturesque style garden did not have enough to distinguish it from natural growth lead Loudon to suggest alienating all other plants to achieve the perfect form of one plant, particularly the newer exotic plants entering the country.
In a Gardenesque plan, all the trees, shrubs and other plants are positioned and managed in such a way that the character of each plant can be displayed to its full potential. New plant material that would have seemed bizarre and alien in earlier gardening found settings: Pampas grass from Argentina and Monkey-puzzle trees. Winding paths linked scattered plantings. The Gardenesque approach involved the creation of small-scale landscapes, dotted with features and vignettes, to promote beauty of detail, variety and mystery, sometimes to the detriment of coherence.
For the more challenging and larger landscapes presented to garden designers during the nineteenth century, a different style came to fruition. A sort of opposing position to the Gardenesque style, the Italianate garden was adorned with terraces, steps and fountains with an underlining theme to showcase the wealth and lifestyle of the upper class.
Italianate does not simply pull from the inspiration of the Italian Renaissance gardens; it instead pulls from every type of garden in the past that the Victorian era deemed worthy of renewal. So many of nineteenth century Victorian gardens are said to be “makeovers” of the most memorable gardens from the past combined with the developing technological advances. Because of the numerous book and magazines dedicated to gardening’s past and present designs and technologies, it was fairly simple for designers to pull inspiration from the past.
Italianate was a style inspired by Italian architecture and garden design from the Renaissance period. It may incorporate elaborate roofing tiles, intricate stonework, classical statuary, lavish urns, or formal plantings of shrubbery clipped into geometrical shapes, archways, or window like openings framing a particular vista.