right Victorian-style bedding out in Wales. opposite Sculptural curves at Château de La Ballue, Brittany.
With the Grand Tour, interest in classical antiquity and the romantic, idealized landscapes of Poussin and Claude put paid to topiary, certainly in England and also widely on the Continent. Horace Walpole, Whig politician and man of letters, aptly said of William Kent, the earliest English landscaper, ‘He leapt the fence, and saw that all nature was a garden.’ The fashion for the Palladian landscapes of the English landscape movement resulted in many beautiful landscape gardens. The irreplaceable cost was the demise of the venerable formal gardens and their topiary.
Revival did not come until Victorian times, when bedding out in parks and gardens was invented to display the plants introduced by the great plant hunters scouting untrodden corners of the globe.
The devotees of the Arts and Crafts movement in England at the turn of the twentieth century enjoyed using topiary as furnishings for their gardens. After a lapse through and after the war years, topiary (always irrepressible) surfaced again. The Japanese influence, expressing venerable age in ‘cloud’ topiary, is a strong theme among modern designers today, as is a freehand sculptural style.
Until the nineteenth century, this history necessarily follows the major trends set by the privileged few – the emperors, kings and queens, cardinals and great landowners who were in a position to employ the most skilled architects, artists and artisans of their day. Only these gardens have records and plans, the written accounts of the garden architects as well as of horticultural and agricultural authors.
While the chapters pick up the main trends from the Roman patrician garden to the French baroque and the landscape movement, lines of influence twist and overlap throughout the history of garden design. The Romans were influenced by the gardens of ancient Greece. Later, both Greeks and Romans were impressed by the Islamic Paradise gardens. Into the obscurity of the European Dark Ages the Crusaders carried back from the East the words of Aristotle and Vitruvius (and hitherto unknown seeds) to be grown in the monasteries. Medieval Christian gardens bore a strong resemblance to Islamic Paradise gardens. Renaissance gardens harked back to ancient Rome. And, although the eighteenth-century landscapers deplored topiary, they were as much inspired by the
topiary, knots and parterres