THE ARCADIAN FRIENDS: Inventing the English Landscape Garden

by Tim Richardson

Publisher:  Bantam Press (2007)
ISBN 9780593052730

Hardback £20


Tim Richardson claims that the English landscape garden is perhaps the greatest British Art form ever devised – a bold claim indeed! When many people, myself included, think about English landscape gardens, they have in their mind’s eye the landscapes of Capability Brown and of Repton, dating from the latter part of the 18th century; however, the subject matter of this book is the ideas that changed landscapes from the 1680s until the middle of the 18th century.

It was a time of considerable turmoil, both politically, with changes to the monarchy and structures of government, and in the intellectual sphere, with greater freedom of ideas. These were the driving force in changing the formality of previous gardens to something more individualistic and more ‘natural’; competing influences from poets such as Dryden and Pope, and philosophers such as Locke soon took over, with an emphasis on naturalism, particularly in the management of woodlands. A key event was the publication in 1712 of an essay by Addison who suggested ‘that the whole estate be turned into a garden…’

Soon, landscape gardening became a national obsession; landowners turned from the straight lines and formality of allées and parterres, to clumps of trees and sinuous paths or ‘wiggles’; they allowed their imagination free reign in adding temples, busts and grottoes.  Garden tours to admire these various effects became a popular pastime much as they are today.

Tim Richardson charts these developments with reference to many different gardens, most of them well known, such as Stowe, Chiswick House, Stourhead, Rousham and Studeley Royal, but deals in particular with Castle Howard, which he regards as the supreme example of this art form.  He goes into considerable and fascinating detail in these accounts and he is well qualified to do so; he is on the council of the Garden History Society, and has a background of garden writing for several different publications.  However, it is fairly well trodden ground, and a book by Jane Brown*, published less than a year before, covers a considerable amount of the same material.

*My Darling Herriot

Alison A. Newton