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History of Early American Landscape Design


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Fig. 1, Robert Mills, Alternative plan for the grounds of the National Institution, Washington, D.C., 1841.

Two different uses of the term gardenesque have appeared in American garden writing. First, it was used as an adjective to describe architecture or ornament that seemed particularly suited for the garden. The pseudonymous critic, Horticola, provided a telling example of the term’s early usage when in 1852 he derided the appearance of a house and its grounds as being “ungardenesque,” meaning it lacked the refinement of garden improvement. J. C. Loudon, when describing Lemon Hill in Philadelphia, characterized a gardenesque structure simply as one that enhances a garden scene. Later in an 1850 essay on the waterworks at the gardens of Versailles and Château de Saint-Cloud in France, the term was still used generally to describe decorative garden fountains.

Fig. 2, J.C. Loudon, Trees arranged in the gardenesque manner, in The Suburban Gardener, (1838).
Fig. 3, J.C. Loudon, "View at Hendon Rectory," in The Suburban Gardener, (1838).

Second, gardenesque was the name of a specific design style. In an 1832 issue of his Gardener’s Magazine, Loudon used the term initially to refer to the new style that arose purely from the art of landscape gardening.[1] In his Encyclopaedia of Gardening (1834) he provided a definition that initially appeared vague but, in fact, was quite profound and charted a new theoretical course for the art of landscape design. He wrote that “the aim of the Gardenesque is to add, to the acknowledged claims of the Repton school, all those which the science of gardening and botany, in their present advanced state, are capable of producing.”[2] This seemingly simple statement represented a radical break from the predominant aesthetic preference for the natural style or picturesque beauty that had been defined in terms of the imitation of nature. The new style, in contrast, was measured in terms of its difference from the natural, unimproved appearance of the environment. Its goal was the display of the art of the garden.

Loudon defined the gardenesque as a style or mode of laying out a garden, whether in a regular or irregular design, with the intent of producing a “distinctive . . .character.” It was a style that was contrasted with the picturesque, in which clumps of trees and grouping of shrubs as found in nature had been the principle planting types. Also, it was distinct from the geometric or ancient style that often was highly architectonic and repetitious. The ultimate expression of the primary characteristic of the gardenesque was achieved by its emphasis on the unique quality of each plant specimen. Trees and shrubs were planted so that each stood alone in order to promote the fullest display of each individual specimen, as illustrated in Loudon’s Suburban Gardener, and Villa Companion (1838). Because Loudon recommended the use of colorful exotic plants, the new style was linked to horticultural knowledge and skill of the gardener-designer. The term “gardenesque,” however, was immediately misconstrued to mean a style of laying out gardens with an overly horticultural emphasis that became associated with the extreme artifice of bedding-out.[3]

A. J. Downing introduced Loudon’s theory of the gardenesque style in America in his first edition of A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening (1841), in which he reprinted two pages from Loudon’s Suburban Gardener, and Villa Companion.[4] He continued to promote the use of exotic plants in order to achieve the distinction of art for landscape design and so that gardening would not simply be seen as an imitation of nature. Downing did not, however, consider the gardenesque style superior to the picturesque or to the beautiful styles (see Picturesque). The gardenesque was most appropriate, according to both Loudon and Downing, for the design of botanic gardens and arboreta. Although he did not use the term “gardenesque” in his report, Downing employed the gardenesque style when he planned a “public museum of trees,” for the national Mall. Trees were to be “planted singly or in open groups, to allow full expansion” and viewing of specimen trees. Downing’s plan to introduce to the capital a variety of new plants that were drawn from across the newly transcontinental United States could be most effectively designed using the gardenesque mode. Although Downing’s gardenesque was based upon the highest standard of botanical expertise, he never carried it to the extreme of bedding-out and artifice that some did.

-- Therese O'Malley





Common Usage

“The cottage stands near the road, and is entered from the west front; on the south end is a piazza; the drawing-room opens into this, and thence into the garden to an open space, answering somewhat the purpose of a terrace, neatly gravelled; a walk from thence conducts directly, in a straight line, nearly to the edge of the river, where it terminates in a rustic arch and vase on the lawn; on each side of the walk there is turf, with circles of flowers at the distance of ten or twelve feet; these are each backed by a line of buckthorn hedges, with a view to screen both the fruit garden on the east, and the vegetable garden on the west, from sight. As much as we dislike criticism in such a case as this, we must admit that this has too set an appearance for a garden in the modern style; our ideas, in regard to picturesque gardening, or, rather, what may be called the gardenesque style, are, perhaps, somewhat known, and some of our readers might think it singular for us not at once to disapprove of such taste. We have suggested to Mr. Dodge what we consider a great improvement, and have advised the removal of at least one of the hedges, and other alterations, which we think would add greatly to the beauty of the grounds.”

  • Hovey, C. M., April 1842, describing the White House, Washington, D.C. (Magazine of Horticulture 8: 129)
“We can conceive of no worse taste than the execution of the work as it now is: the object of these mounds seems to have been to hide one part of the garden from another; but this could have been done much better by a picturesque or gardenesque plantation of trees, without a resort to the artificial means which have been used. We trust, for the credit of a national taste, that some alterations may be made, when there shall be means at command to do it, and that the grounds may be re-arranged, and laid out in a style corresponding to the architecture of the building and the character of the place.”

“The masses of trees and shrubs are chiefly on the mount near the lake, and along the margin which shuts out the kitchen-garden; and in these places they are planted in the gardenesque manner, so as to produce irregular groups of trees, with masses of evergreen and deciduous shrubs as undergrowth, intersected by glades of turf. They are scattered over the general surface of the lawn, so as to produce a continually varying effect, as viewed from the walks; and so as to disguise the boundary, and prevent the eye from seeing from one extremity of the grounds to the other, and thus ascertain their extent.”

  • Loudon, J. C., 1850, describing Lemon Hill, estate of Henry Pratt, Philadelphia, Pa. (p. 331)
“850. Lemon Hill, near Philadelphia. . . .[Downing observes:] ‘. . . An extensive range of hothouses, curious grottoes and spring-houses, as well as every other gardenesque structure, gave variety and interest to this celebrated spot, which we regret the rapidly extending trees, and the mania for improvement there, as in some of our other cities, have now nearly destroyed and obliterated.’ (Downing’s Landscape Gardening adapted to North America.)”

  • Horticola [pseud.], March 1852, “Notes on Gardens and Country Seats Near Boston,” describing Oakley Place, seat of William Pratt, Boston, Mass. (Horticulturist 7: 127)
“OAKLEY PLACE, the residence of Mrs. PRATT, is near Mr. CUSHING’S, and presents a fine specimen of a small country place, combining the picturesque and the natural—the gardenesque and the wild, in beautiful harmony together.”

  • Horticola [pseud.], March 1852, “Further Notes on Country Seats Near Boston,” describing Rose Hill, residence of George Leland, Waltham, Mass. (Horticulturist 7: 168):
“Considering all the bearings of this place, we think the hot-houses and green-house, most unfortunately situated. Built on the side of a deep bank, with the back running within a few rods of, and parallel to, the main front of the mansion, the back walls and chimneys present a very ungardenesque appearance from the piazza of the house.”


  • Loudon, J. C., 1832, “Practical Hints on Landscape Gardening” (Gardener’s Magazine 8: 701–2)
“In our opinion, a landscape-gardener knows but a part of his profession, who is not conversant with the numerous families of American and other trees which will thrive in the open air in Britain. Mere picturesque improvement is not enough in these enlightened times: it is necessary to understand that there is such a character of art as the gardenesque, as well as the picturesque. The very term gardenesque, perhaps, will startle some readers; but we are convinced, nevertheless, that it is a term which will soon find a place in the language of rural art. Landscape-gardening, it will be allowed, is, to a certain extent, an art of imitation. Now, an imitative art is not one which produces fac similes of the things to be imitated; but one which produces imitations, or resemblances, according to the manner of that art. Thus, sculpture does not attempt colour, nor painting to raise surfaces in relief; and neither attempt to deceive. In the like manner, the imitator, in a park or pleasure-ground, of a landscape composed of ground, wood, and water, does not produce fac similes of the grounds, wood, and water, which he sees around him on every side; but, of ground, wood and water, arranged in imitation of nature, according to the principles of his particular art. The character of this art has varied from the earliest times to the present day; but profoundly examined, the principle which guided the artist remains the same; and the successive fashions that have prevailed will be found to confirm our views of the subject, viz., that all imitations of nature worthy of being characterized as belonging to the fine arts art not fac-simile imitations, but imitations of manner. To apply this principle to the planting of trees in park or pleasure-ground scenery nature, in any given locality, makes use of a certain number of trees found indigenous there; but the garden imitator of natural woods introduces either other forms and dispositions of the same kinds of trees, as in the geometric style; or the same disposition of other species of trees, as in the most improved practice of the modern style. In neither case does the artist produce a correct fac simile of nature; for, if he did, however beautiful the scene copied, the beauty produced would be merely that of repetition. But we have neither room nor time at present fully to illustrate this theory. Let it suffice for us to state, for the consideration of those of our readers who have reflected on the subject, that there is as certainly, in gardening, as an art of imitation, the gardenesque, as there is, in painting and sculpture, the picturesque and sculpturesque.”

  • Loudon, J. C., 1834, An Encyclopaedia of Gardening (p. 1167)
“6710. By gardenesque beauty is to be understood a kind of scenery, the creation of which is peculiar to gardening. For example, the disposition of the trees of a residence in lines, in geometrical forms, in a country where all the trees around are as nature has disposed them in natural forest scenery, produces that distinctive character of art, which we have called the gardenesque. In like manner, when all the trees of the general face of the country, not laid out in parks or pleasure-grounds, are in geometrical forms or straight lines, then, by planting the trees of a residence in that irregular manner which is characteristic of natural scenery, as distinctive a character is produced as in the former case, and this also we call gardenesque. Suppose a third case, in which, it was desired to produce the gardenesque and yet to preserve the same disposition of the trees that prevailed in the surrounding scenery; in that case, trees not in use in the surrounding scenery are to be employed, by which as distinctive a character is produced as in the two former instances, and this also we call gardenesque.”

  • Anonymous, 1 April 1837, “Landscape Gardening” (Horticultural Register 3: 124–25)
“Confining ourselves to the modern or natural style, we shall proceed to offer some remarks on its characteristics. Landscape gardens in this style generally present either picturesque, or what is termed gardenesque scenery. . . . In gardenesque scenery, not only the general effect is studied, but the separate beauty of the different trees and shrubs, and herbaceous flowering plants, are also displayed; art is not concealed, and although the effect of the individual parts at a near view is sought, yet at a distance the whole appears to group so as to form a pleasing whole, as in picturesque scenery. . . . The picturesque is calculated to please particularly the admirers of landscape scenery in nature; the gardenesque not only these, but the florist and botanist also. When herbaceous flowers are introduced into picturesque scenes, they are allowed to run wild, and the soil is left uncultivated about them; but when they are made to form a part of gardenesque scenery, they should receive the highest cultivation, so as to exhibit them individually to the best advantage. In picturesque scenery, the trees may be allowed to grow thick or irregular, provided they form an agreeable collective effect; but in the gardenesque, every thing irregular or rough should be removed, which would prevent a neat and finished appearance.”

  • Loudon, J. C., 1838, The Suburban Gardener (pp. 164–66, 482–83)
Gardenesque Imitation. Where the gardenesque style of imitating nature is to be employed,the trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants must be separated; and, instead of being grouped together as in forest scenery (where two trees, or a tree and a shrub, often appear to spring from the same root, and this root is accompanied by large rampant herbs), every gardenesque group must consist of trees which do not touch each other, and which only become groups by being as near together as is practicable without touching, and by being apart from larger masses, or from single trees or rows of trees. It is not meant by this, that in the gardenesque style the trees composing a group should all be equally distant from one another; for in that case they would not form a whole, which the word group always implies. On the contrary, though all the trees in a gardenesque group ought to be so far separated from each other as not to touch, yet the degrees of separation may be as different as the designer chooses, provided the idea of a group is not lost sight of.
“In fig. 47, the trees are arranged in the gardenesque manner. . . . The same character is also communicated to the walks; that in the gardenesque style having the margins definite and smooth, while the picturesque walk has the edge indefinite and rough. Utility requires that the gravel, in both styles of walk, should be smooth, firm, and dry; for it must always be borne in mind, that, as landscape-gardening is a useful as well as an agreeable art, no beauty must ever be allowed to interfere with the former quality. [Fig. 2]
“In laying out grounds, or in criticising such as are already formed by eminent artists, it is necessary always to bear in mind the difference between the gardenesque and the picturesque; that is, between a plantation made merely for picturesque effect, and another made for gardenesque effect. Gardenesque effect in plantations is far too little attended to for the beauty of the trees and shrubs, whether individually or collectively; and picturesque effect is not generally understood by gardeners: so that the scenery of suburban residences is often neutralised in character by the ignorance of professional landscape-gardeners of the gardenesque, and of professional horticulturists and nurserymen of the picturesque. To make the most of any place however small, all the styles of art ought to be familiar to the artist; because there are few places in which, though one style prevails, some traits of other styles may not be advantageously introduced.
“In planting, thinning, and pruning, in order to produce gardenesque effect, the beauty of every individual tree and shrub, as a single object, is to be taken into consideration, as well as the beauty of the mass: while in planting, thinning, and pruning for picturesque effect, the beauty of individual trees and shrubs is of little consequence; because no tree or shrub, in a picturesque plantation or scene, should stand isolated, and each should be considered as merely forming part of a group or mass. In a picturesque imitation of nature, the trees and shrubs, when planted, should be scattered over the ground in the most irregular manner; both in their disposition with reference to their immediate effect as plants, and with reference to their future effect as trees and shrubs. In some places trees should prevail, in others shrubs; in some parts the plantation should be thick, in others it should be thin; two or three trees, or a tree and shrub, ought often to be planted in one hole, and this more especially on lawns. Where, on the contrary, trees and shrubs are to be scattered in the gardenesque manner, every one should stand singly; as in the geometrical manner they should stand in regular lines, or in some regular figure. In the gardenesque, there may be single trees and single shrubs; but there can be no such thing as a single tree in the picturesque. Every tree, in the picturesque style of laying out grounds, must always be grouped with something else, if it should be merely a shrub, a twiner, or a tuft of grass or other plants at its root. In the gardenesque, the beauty of the tree consists in its own individual perfections, which are fully developed in consequence of the isolated manner in which it has been grown; in the picturesque, the beauty of a tree or shrub, as of every other object in the landscape, consists in its fitness to group with other objects. Now, the fitness of one object to group with another evidently does not consist in the perfection of the form of that object, but rather in that imperfection which requires another object to render it complete. . . .
“Mr. Williams, considering that, in all works of art, and in all natural objects which are to be examined singly, one of the greatest beauties is symmetry, has those trees and shrubs which he manages in a gardenesque manner brought into the most perfectly symmetrical forms, by tying the branches up or down, inwards or outwards, as may be necessary, with small almost invisible copper wire; by which means, no only every plant in a tub or a pot is perfectly symmetrical, whatsoever be its form but those trees and shrubs which stand singly on the lawn, or compose gardenesque masses, are individually so treated; and, standing as they do a few inches apart from each other, the separate shape of each plant is seen by the spectator. The same care is bestowed on the dahlias, which are here grown in large quantities, and of sorts most of which were raised under the direction of Mr. Williams, from seeds saved in his own garden. . . .
“A point, where the spectator, having his back to the house, sees before him a narrow strip of lawn, with a handsome symmetrical plants of the following kinds:—Next [to the] entrance door, Taxòdium dístichum nùtnas, Dáhlia, Pìnus rígida, Taxòdium dístichum pàtens. Beyond this, there is a row of dwarf hybrid rhododendrons, as a margin to a bank of common laurel, cut smooth above, with standard roses, and other trees, all cut into symmetrical roundish forms, rising through it . . . which forms a very singular phalanx of objects, and serves to occupy the minds of the spectator, and prevent his recollecting that he is so very near the boundary and the public road.” [Fig. 3]

  • W., M. A., February 1840, “On Flower Beds” (Magazine of Horticulture 6: 52)
“A living margin, therefore, becomes the next and last expedient [in making a flower knot or bed]; and indeed it may be regarded as one of the last steps in the march of horticultural refinement. To adapt such a line of vegetation to the size and form of the bed, and make it harmonize in every point of reference with the group of plants within, requires a cultivated delicacy of perception, a sound judgement, and an accurate knowledge of all the principles of natural and gardenesque beauty, as well as of the characters of the plants or materials which are necessary, with a due arrangement, to produce it.”

  • Loudon, Jane, 1845, Gardening for Ladies (pp. 373–74)
“The style of planting and thinning so as to keep each plant distinct, and always about to touch but never actually touching those around it, is what Mr. Loudon calls the gardenesque treatment of shrubberies and plantations; and the style of grouping is called the picturesque mode of planting and management.”

  • Humphreys, Henry Noel, November 1850, “Notes on Decorative Gardening—Fountains”(Horticulturist 5: 208–9)
“The most highly wrought effects produced in garden architecture have been those effected by means of fountains; of this, the well-known gardenesque water-works of Versailles and St. Cloud are sufficient evidence. . . .
“Therefore, while still water finds its more appropriate locality in the lower portion of the grounds, fountains may be more properly placed in the higher levels of a garden, as their evidently artificial character seems to find its appropriate

situation in a position where water would be highly desirable and ornamental, but where it could only be brought by scientific and artistic means. Here, then, the display of art, even to a degree of ostentation, becomes legitimate; and fountains, of elaborate character and complicated architectural design, find their most imposing station at the extremities, or centres, of elevated terraces, and places of similar character, where the gardenesque, and semi-architectural character of the surrounding scene, is all in artistic harmony with them.”


  1. See also A. A. Tait, “Loudon and the Return to Formality,” in John Claudius Loudon and the Early Nineteenth Century in Great Britain, ed. Elisabeth Blair MacDougall (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, 1980), 61–76.
  2. Ibid., 62.
  3. T.H.D. Turner, “Loudon’s Stylistic Development,” Journal of Garden History 2 (April–June 1982): 184. Robert Mills’s 1841 design for botanic gardens on the national Mall in Washington, D.C., exemplifies this approach [Fig. 1].
  4. Judith Major, To Live in a New World: A. J. Downing and American Landscape Gardening (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1997), 58, 61.

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