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English Cottage Gardens

English Garden Design Revolt - From Peasants to Monet

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But one could argue that, in its own way, the landscape garden movement, too had a certain rigidity about it. That's why, in the minds of some, the defining moment of the English revolt against formal garden design is the evolution of English cottage gardens. The beginnings of the English revolt against formal garden design in the time of Pope (mentioned on Page 2) received an additional impetus later from the Romantic movement in literature and art -- a movement against Classicism and its appreciation for order, discipline and moderation. In garden design the influence of Romanticism translated into an emphasis on using plants to inspire us emotionally rather than intellectually. With its mystical charm and romantic aura, this style reflects its historical roots.

Romanticism not only focused on the emotional, but also placed the hitherto despised peasantry up on a pedestal. And it was originally the peasantry that had planted and maintained English cottage gardens. They had done so before it became trendy with more affluent groups. The true English cottage garden of the peasantry was practical, as well as aesthetically pleasing. Thus herbs were common components, used both for medicinal and culinary purposes; and fruit trees, too, were often included.

But after English cottage gardens caught on outside of peasant circles (and outside of England, too), their aesthetic properties received most of the attention. One of the most famous English cottage gardens was designed by none other than the French Impressionist painter, Claude Monet (1840-1926). As already mentioned above, art and literature influenced the historical course of garden design in Europe. No discipline exerted a stronger influence on garden design than did landscape painting. It was a case of "life imitating art," if you will. Monet is a particularly interesting case, being not only an artist who painted landscapes but also someone who was active in garden design. With Monet, the influence went both ways.

English cottage gardens, with their wild abundance of rose bushes, perennial flowers, vine-covered arbors, and plants tumbling over walkways, are widely emulated in the U.S. This is an informal style meant to evoke a mood of light-hearted gaiety. The eye feasts on a diverse jumble of flowering plants, distributed in a seemingly haphazard manner, evoking thoughts of a "natural landscape." The plants themselves are just as important as their use in the overall composition, and the wildness of the arrangement is meant to suggest a closer communing with nature.

But while English cottage gardens are popular in some American circles, there can be no doubt that the lawn is the dominant element in American landscaping -- the subject of Page 4....

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