Magazine article The Spectator

We Are a Garden Walled Around

Magazine article The Spectator

We Are a Garden Walled Around

Article excerpt

THE LONDON TOWN GARDEN, 1740-1840 by Todd Longstaffe-Gowan Yale, 30, pp. 289, ISBN 0300085389

This is a fascinating, important and scholarly book, the first on its subject: the evolution of the town garden and of attitudes towards gardens and gardening in the planning of the city and the life of its citizens. The numbers and variety of urban gardens and garden squares have made London unique as a capital city since 1748 when the Swedish travel writer and botanist, Peter Kalm, remarked:

At nearly every house and town there was either in front towards the street, or inside the house and building ... a little yard. They had commonly planted in these years, partly in the earth itself, partly in pots and boxes, several of the trees, plants and flowers which could stand the coal smoke in London. They thus sought to have some of the pleasant enjoyments of a country life in the midst and hubbub of the town.

Despite the continuing struggle against air pollution and poor soil, from the early 18th-century gardens had a symbolic value in the life of the city, as the providers of a new spaciousness, of air, sunshine and the goodness of the natural world. The first treatise on the maintenance and culture of `little town gardens in London' dated from 1722; eminent designers such as Capability Brown and later Nash were involved in their layout and Improvement Acts contributed to their development. By the end of the century a garden was regarded as the requisite for substantial town houses; but even more modest terraces, such as the Officers' Buildings at Chatham, were designed with garden layouts. Voltaire's prescription of gardening as an antidote to boredom was much quoted, and in 1791 the Gentleman's Magazine ran a rare series of gardening articles which included repeated instructions on 'syringing' leaves to remove the soot of sea coal, even to an annual soap-and-watering of trees and shrubs, and lists of plants hardy enough to withstand the London air. …

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