Formal Garden vs. Landscape Design school

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Sir Reginald Theodore Blomfield discusses the main differences between formal and landscape schools of design in his 1901 book "The formal garden in England".


The question at issue is a very simple one. Is the garden to be considered in relation to the house, and as an integral part of a design which depends for its success on the combined effect of house and garden; or is the house to be ignored in dealing with the garden ? The latter is the position of the landscape gardener in real fact. There is some affectation in his treatises of recognizing the relationship between the two, but his actual practice shows that this admission is only borrowed from the formal school to save appearances, and is out of court in a method which systematically dispenses with any kind of system whatever.


The formal treatment of gardens ought, perhaps, to be called the architectural treatment of gardens, for it consists in the extension of the principles of design which govern the house to the grounds which surround it. Architects are often abused for ignoring the surroundings of their buildings in towns, and under conditions which make it impossible for them to do otherwise; but if the reproach has force, and it certainly has, it applies with greater justice to those who control both the house and its surroundings, and yet deliberately set the two at variance. The object of formal gardening is to bring the two into harmony, to make the house grow out of its surroundings, and to prevent its being an excrescence on the face of nature. The building cannot resemble anything in nature, unless you are content with a mud-hut and cover it with grass. Architecture in any shape has certain definite characteristics which it cannot get rid of; but, on the other hand, you can lay out the grounds, and alter the levels, and plant hedges and trees exactly as you please; in a word, you can so control and modify the grounds as to bring nature into harmony with the house, if you cannot bring the house into harmony with nature. The harmony arrived at is not any trick of imitation, but an affair of a dominant idea which stamps its impress on house and grounds alike.


The formal school insists upon design ; the house and the grounds should be designed together and in relation to each other ; no attempt should be made to conceal the design of the garden, there being no reason for doing so, but the bounding lines, whether it is the garden wall or the lines of paths and parterres, should be shown frankly and unreservedly, and the garden will be treated specifically as an enclosed space to be laid out exactly as the designer pleases. The landscape gardener, on the other hand, turns his back upon architecture at the earliest opportunity and devotes his energies to making the garden suggest natural scenery, to giving a false impression as to its size by sedulously concealing all boundary lines, and to modifying the scenery beyond the garden itself, by planting or cutting down trees, as may be necessary to what he calls his picture. In matters of taste there is no arguing with a man. Probably people with a feeling for design and order will prefer the formal garden, while the landscape system, as 1t requires no knowledge of design, appeals to the average person who " knows what he likes," if he does not know anything else.


The word " garden " itself means an enclosed space, a garth or yard surrounded by walls, as opposed to unenclosed fields and woods. The formal garden, with its insistence on strong bounding lines, is, strictly speaking, the only "garden " possible ; and it was not till the decay of architecture, which began in the middle of the eighteenth century, that any other method of dealing with a garden was entertained.


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This page contains a single entry by gardenadministrator published on August 26, 2009 8:36 PM.

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