This section is from the book "A History Of Gardening In England", by Alicia Amherst. Also available from Amazon: A History Of Gardening In England.
' Like a banquetting house built in a garden. On which the spring's chaste flowers take delight To cast their modest odours".
THE reign of Elizabeth was a golden era in English history, and abounded in men of genius. Among the many branches of art, science, and industry, to which they turned their attention, none profited more from the power of their great minds, than did the Art of Gardening. Bacon's Essay on Gardens is familiar to everyone. Lord Burghley was the patron of Gerard, one of the greatest of English herbalists, and to Sir Walter Raleigh we owe the introduction of our most useful vegetable, the pot4to.
About this time the persecution of the Protestants on the Continent drove many of them to find a safe refuge in England. They brought with them some of the foreign ideas about gardening, and thus helped to improve the condition of Horticulture.
The Elizabethan garden was the outcome of the older fashions in English gardens, combined with the new ideas imported from France, Italy, and Holland. The result was a purely national style, better suited to this country than a slavish imitation of the terraced gardens of Italy, or of those of Holland, with their canals and fish-ponds. There was no breaking-away from old forms and customs, no sudden change. The primitive mediaeval garden grew into the pleasure garden of the early Tudors, which, by a process of slow and gradual development, eventually became the more elaborate garden of the Elizabethan era. What is meant now by a " formal " or " old-fashioned " garden, is one of this type; but, as genuine and unaltered Elizabethan gardens are rare, it is generally the further development of the same style a hundred years later, which is known as a " formal old English garden".
The garden of this period was laid out strictly in connexion with the house. The architect who designed the house, designed the garden also. There are some drawings extant by John Thorpe, one of the most celebrated architects of the time, of both houses and the gardens attached to them. The garden was held to be no mere adjunct to a house, or a confusion of green swards, paths, and flower-beds, but the designing of a garden was supposed to require even more skill than the planning of a house; "men come to build stately sooner than to garden finely;as if gardening were the greater perfection."* Sir Hugh Platt's opinion seems to have been the exception that proves the rule, as most other writers were particular in describing the correct form for a garden, but he writes:"I shall not trouble the reader with any curious rules for shaping and fashioning of a garden or orchardhow long, broad or high, the Beds, Hedges, or Borders should be contrived. . . . Every Drawer or Embroiderer, nay (almost) each Dancing Master, may pretend to such niceties; in regard they call for very small invention, and lesse learning".
In front of the house there was usually a terrace, from which the plan of the garden could be surveyed. Flights of steps and broad, straight walks, called " forthrights," connected the parts of the garden, as well as the garden with the house. Smaller walks ran parallel with the terrace, and the spaces between were filled with grass plots, mazes, or knotted beds. The "forthrights" corresponded to the plan of the building, while the patterns in the beds and mazes harmonized with the details of the architecture. The peculiar geometric tracery which surmounted so many Elizabethan houses, found its counterpart in the designs of the flower-beds. "The form that men like in general is a square,"* and this shape was chosen in preference to "an orbicular, a triangle, or an oblong, because it doth best agree with a man's dwelling." This square garden was usually enclosed by a high brick or stone wall. "He hath a garden circummured with brick." The picture which does duty both in Thomas Hill's Gardener's Labyrinth, and in his Art of Gardening, shows a square garden with a paling round it. Another illustration, which appears three times in the Gardener's Labyrinth, gives a brick wall; while, in a third, the garden is enclosed by a hedge. The custom of covering the walls with rosemary was " exceedingly common in England." § At Hampton Court rosemary was "so planted and nailed to the walls as to cover them entirely." Gerard || and Parkinson both refer to the custom of planting against brick walls. In the North of England, according to Lawson, the garden-walls were made of " drie earthe," and it was usual to plant "thereon wallflowers and divers sweet-smelling plants".
* Bacon, Essay on Gardens.
Floraes Paradise, or Garden of Eden, 1st ed., 1608. ... " here's a maze trod indeed, Through forthrights and meanders . ..
Tempest, act iii. scene 8.
Bacon has a more magnificent plan :" The garden is best to be square, encompassed on all four sides with a stately arched hedge. The arches to be upon pillars of carpenter's work, of some ten foot high, and six foot broad, and the spaces between of the same dimension with the breadth of the arch." This "fair hedge" of Bacon's ideal garden was to be raised upon a bank, set with flowers, and little turrets above the arches, with a space to receive "a cage of birds";"and over every space between the arches, some other little figure, with broad plates of round coloured glass, gilt, for the sun to play upon." It is not likely that such fantastical ornaments to a hedge were usual, though it reminds one of the arched arcades, already referred to, and does not seem to be at all a new idea of Bacon's. Thomas Hill* discusses the various modes of fencing round a garden. A paling of " drie thorne " and willow he calls a " dead or rough inclosure." He refers to the Romans for examples of the alternative of digging a ditch to surround the garden, but " the general way" is a "natural inclosure," a hedge of "white thorne artely laide: in a few years with diligence it waxeth so thicke and strong, that hardly any person can enter into the ground, sauing by the garden-door; yet in sundrie garden groundes, the hedges [are] framed with the privet tree, although far weaker in resistance, which at this day are made the stronger through yearly cutting, both aboue and by the sides." He gives a quaint method for planting a hedge. The gardener is to collect the berries of briar, brambles, white-thorne, gooseberries and barberries, steep the seeds in a mixture of meal, and set them to keep until the spring, in an old rope, "a long worn roape . . . being in a manner starke rotten." "Then, in the spring, to plant the rope in two furrows, a foot and a half deep, and three feet apart. . . . The seedes thus covered with diligence shall appeare within a month, either more or less"" which in a few years will grow to a most strong defence of the garden or field." These old gardeners had great faith in all their operations, and but rarely in their works do we find any allusion to possible failure !
* Lawson, New Orchard, 1618. Parkinson.
Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, act iv. scene 1. § Hentzners Travels. 1598.
|| Gerard is spelt Gerarde on the engraved title of his herbal, but he signs the Preface without the e.