English Nature – Parley’s, Parks & Promenades, Rus in Urbe!

King Charles II being presented with the symbol of hospitality, the pineapple that had just been grown in his hothouse, the first in England. In the background is a formal garden ...c1675-80 Oil on Canvas, artist unknown
King Charles II being presented with the symbol of hospitality, the pineapple that had just been grown in his hothouse, the first in England. In the background is a formal garden ...c1675-80 Oil on Canvas, artist unknown

Queen’s Garden at Hampton Court inspired by Italianate influences

Today English gardens are in the main, thought of almost entirely in terms of flowers. What many still consider as the highpoint of English garden evolution was when it went from following its Italian formalized architectural phase and principles, to becoming a simply superb landscaped park, just perfect for promenades.

During his reign King Henry VIII (1491-1547) imported Italian workers into England to work on the royal residences and with them came the ideas of the Italian Renaissance. At this time the joys of the chase were an exhilarating activity, enjoyed by all the nobility.

Held in the great outdoors, a place of recreation providing for the well being of oneself and the nurturing of the soul ‘…it was about the purest of human pleasures and the greatest refreshment to the spirits of man’.

King Charles II being presented with the symbol of hospitality, the pineapple that had just been grown in his hothouse, the first in England. In the background is a formal garden c1675-80 – Oil on Canvas, artist unknown courtesy Royal Collection © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Sir Francis Bacon’s treatise Of Gardens published in 1625 offered a plan or pattern for a princely garden. Bacon it seems did not like aviaries or pools…‘For aviaries, I like them not, except they be of that largeness as they may be turfed and have living plants and bushes set in them’ For fountains, they are a great beauty and refreshment; but pools mar all and make the garden unwholesome and full of flies and frogs…’,

Designing and extending the formality of the garden out into the wide open spaces became an expression of a desire to control nature, while adding dignity to a landowner’s seat.

King Charles II (1630 – 1685) particularly admired the gardens designed by France’s King Louis XIV’s favourite gardener Andre Le Notre (1613-1700).

Charles had spent a great deal of his time in exile after his father was beheaded, at the French court. As he was young and impressionable, it would have a lasting impression on his life’s journey.

The glorious glowing light of autumn near the Bridge at Stourhead Garden

Le Notre’s formalised gardens in the Tuilleries Palace at Parim, with their planned avenues and walks radiating to the outer edge of the city were fresh in Charles II’s mind when he was finally restored to the English throne in 1660.

During his reign the formal garden, where the aim was to subdue nature by art, was brought to its apotheosis in England. Set on an axis with elaborate fountains and waterworks it was created to dazzle, divert and amuse.

Imagined Garden fest, Buzzer Hill at the time of Charles II by James Digman Wingfield (1832-1872)

As part of his contribution to town planning Charles II set aside a large tract of country in the middle of the city and invited Le Notre to redesign it.

Le Notre declined the offer saying that the ‘parks’ native beauty, country air and deserts, had something greater in them than anything he could contrive.

Andre Mullet, son of the head Gardener at the Tuileries and a pupil of Le Notre, came to England to work at St. James’s Park with his nephew Gabriel.

The contrast between the pastoral, unimproved parts of the park with meadows and milkmaids and the improved part with its formally attired strollers, corresponded with the enjoyment of looking out of a highly ordered garden onto a rough hunting park where the wilds of nature would go unchecked until the early eighteenth century.

Joseph Nickols – St James’s Park and The Mall, after 1745

St. James’s Park at London was opened to the public, the first time the term ‘park’ was used, by Charles II in 1661.

It became ‘the park’ for the next hundred years or more and a new denomination of time came into being, ‘park time

What o’clock does your Lordship think it is? Park time?

It became a wonderful place for the idle rich to play and so Charles II initiated a new social ritual that of the promenade.

Strolling up and down The Mall had earlier become a routine whereby polite society took the air and exchanged gossip from midday until the time to change for dinner.

Now you could do that in the ‘park’, and be ‘in nature’, which became a fashionable and pleasurable state to be.

Levens Hall, an aspect of its spectacular topiary garden

During Charles’s reign diarist John Evelyn (1620-1706) acquainted English readers with Italian and French contemporary garden design philosophy, influencing the taste of the whole nation.

He recorded fashionable house parties where you could watch a river being made more navigable or, a fen being drained, because at this time most of the countryside of England was still relatively wild.

He also recorded an after dinner walk with the Duke of Lauderdale in August 1678.

The house and garden is indeed inferior to few of the best villas in Italy itself…the parterres, gardens, orangeries, groves, avenues, courts, statues, perspectives, fountains, aviaries, and all this at the banks of the sweetest river in the world must needs be surprising

Evelyn is also attributed with introducing the word avenue into the English language.

He also encouraged the use of yew trees for woods, hedging and for clipping into topiary shapes in the garden.

King Charles II made the promenade exceedingly fashionable, ensuring that the trend would grow for more parks and gardens to be established in cities all over England.

The nature of England was so gradually scontrived from his Restoration to the throne in 1660 until the early nineteenth century, it would trick many people into believing that the countryside of Britain was how a natural landscape was intended to be. It is this very aspect, in the world of garden design, that is surely England’s foremost contribution to the development of horticulture and that of all gardens designed for pleasure and leisure.

Within a decade  of Charles’s Restoration few self-respecting towns in Britain were without a park, laid out for perfect parleys, parades and promenades.  – Rus in urbe

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2013 – 2017

Description of Painting of Charles II being presented with a pineapple… Royal Collection Trust

Charles II, wearing star of the Garter, stands on a terrace, his left hand on hip. To the left, a man, possibly John Rose, the royal gardener, kneels before him and presents him with what is said to have been the first pineapple grown in England. Pineapples at this date were rare and highly valued exotic items. In the background is a formal garden and large house, often identified as Dorney House though not in fact like it. Several versions of the composition exist – that at Houghton Hall is attributed to Hendrick Danckerts. The painting may have been painted to comemorate the death of Rose in 1677. To add credence to this date Charles II is depicted without a moustache and it was in 1677 that he shaved it off.

This painting is unusual in that it depicts Charles II wearing typical fashionable clothing of the 1670s, rather than the ceremonial robes or armour in which he was usually painted. The knee-length brown coat is of a style said to have been initiated by the monarch himself in October 1666 and which replaced the short doublet. Both Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn report the introduction of the new style. With this coat, which has large cuffs turned back to reveal the linen shirt beneath, Charles II wears knee-length petticoat breeches trimmed with bunches of black ribbons at the waist and knee. His shoes have fashionably square toes and red heels. At his neck is a rabat of expensive needlepoint lace and he wears a black hat probably of beaver fur.

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