The 18th-century landscape garden is the only art form to have originated wholly in Britain which then went on to influence the rest of the world. Tim Richardson here tells the extraordinary story of the gang of eccentrics who created these gardens, a small group of politicians and poets, farmers and businessmen, heiresses and landowners whose obsession with their gardens went on to change the course of artistic history.
The cast of characters includes: Henrietta Howard, later Countess of Sussex, official mistress of George II, who had eminent men falling over themselves to help design her new house and garden in 1724. Jonathan Tyers, the entrepreneur who founded Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, who was also a religious fanatic whose private Surrey garden was designed as a symbolic biblical fantasy land. Stephen Duck, poet and antiquary, who was chosen by Queen Caroline to be her 'librarian' in Merlin's Grotto, a subterranean structure with bookshelves and sofas designed for the gardens at Richmond Lodge. Thomas Wright, the astronomer who discovered the Milky Way, who also designed elaborately rusticated arbours, grottoes and swimming pools.
These pioneers of the landscape garden were part of an extraordinary flowering of horticultual talent. They visited each other's gardens, wrote learned papers on the subject and discussed the principles involved earnestly and vehemently. It was an extraordinarily creative and innovative period - Newton published his Optics, Defoe wrote Robinson Crusoe and Hume's Treatise of Human Nature came out around the same time. The landscape garden similarly reflected important debates about man's place in the world and his relationship with nature.
Tim Richardson's book is a wonderfully engaging account of a period bursting with creativity and an artform which is today both enormously popular and hugely undervalued. He seeks to redress this balance and bring to the hundreds of thousands of visitors to the great gardens of Britain every year a new appreciation of the glories they see there.