The walled gardens of Brigantia

The development of walled gardens

The origins of walled gardens can be traced back to the ancient Paradise Gardens of Persia, known as ‘Pairidaeza’, which translates to ‘enclosed place’. This notion of an enclosed paradise was adopted by the Romans and later by monastic orders for contemplation, medicinal use, and sustenance.

The concept of walled gardens was adopted by the Romans’, their cloisters serving as early examples, created through a synthesis of foreign influences, including that of the Persians, and their own innovations in horticulture.

When the Romans adopted the concept, they integrated it with their architectural style, leading to the development of the peristyle garden, which was an open courtyard surrounded by columns. Roman gardens were not just for leisure; they also served practical purposes such as growing fruits and vegetables and were seen as a symbol of wealth and status.

The walled garden is not just a physical space but also a metaphor for spiritual refuge. The concept of paradise as a walled garden has deep historical roots, influencing garden design in various cultures, including in Britain.

Walled gardens in Britain

In Britain, the earliest known walled gardens are Roman, and include The Chester Roman Gardens and the remains at Weir Gardens Temple serving as lasting examples. These gardens were part of a broader Roman approach to landscaping and were integral to their villas and settlements throughout Britain.

Later, the monastic gardens of the Middle Ages were also early forms of walled gardens, created for both contemplation and practical purposes such as growing food and medicinal plants.

As the Renaissance era brought a surge in horticultural interest, the ‘hortus conclusus’ became a symbol of status among the nobility. The 16th century saw gardens evolving into structured spaces with geometric beds and protective wattle fences, as depicted in Thomas Hill’s “The Profitable Art of Gardening.” The walls served a dual purpose: safeguarding the plants from inclement weather and preventing animals from causing damage.

The 17th century introduced exotic plants to Britain, necessitating the construction of greenhouses within walled gardens to shield these ‘exoticks’ from the harsher climate. This period marked the beginning of a symbiotic relationship between the country house and its garden, with the latter providing a constant supply of produce and a canvas for horticultural experimentation.

The 18th century’s Georgian period witnessed the golden age of walled gardens, as they became integral to the grandeur of country estates. The walls, often heated, supported espaliered fruit trees and created microclimates that allowed a wider variety of plants to flourish. This era also saw the social segregation of gardens, with kitchen gardens typically walled off from the ‘pleasure gardens’ frequented by the estate’s guests.

Victorian times saw an explosion in the construction of walled gardens, driven by the era’s fascination with botany and the need for large country houses to sustain their lavish house parties with fresh produce. However, the two World Wars brought about a decline in these grand estates, leading to many walled gardens falling into neglect or being demolished due to the dwindling workforce and the rise of commercial fruit and vegetable availability.

Despite this, a number of walled gardens have survived, some restored to their former glory, serving as historical landmarks and continuing to captivate visitors with their enduring elegance and function. These gardens remain a testament to Britain’s rich horticultural heritage and the timeless appeal of the walled garden as a sanctuary for both plants and people. They encapsulate centuries of gardening tradition, reflecting the changing tastes and technologies of the times, and continue to be cherished parts of Britain’s cultural landscape.

The walled gardens of Britain, often found in grand estates, served as microcosms of control and cultivation, where gardeners could manipulate the environment to grow a variety of plants, including exotic species not native to the British climate. The walls provided protection from the elements and created a warmer microclimate within, enabling the cultivation of fruits and vegetables that would otherwise struggle to thrive. This practical aspect of walled gardens was complemented by their symbolic representation of paradise—a secluded, controlled, and bountiful space.

The walled garden, in its seclusion, continued to evoke the geometry and fecundity of a paradise garden, even as it moved away from the main house to become more of a vegetable potager.

Walled Gardens in Brigantia

In our region of interest, Brigantia, there are a number of excellent examples of walled gardens from various periods.

The walled garden at Scampston in North Yorkshire presents a contemporary twist on the traditional, featuring modern perennial meadow planting alongside more classical areas.

Other notable examples include the walled gardens at Alnwick Castle, which offer insights into the gardening traditions of the past, as well as the evolving styles of garden design.

Bolton Hall walled garden

The walled garden at Bolton Hall in Wensleydale is a testament to the enduring legacy of English garden design. Its origins date back to the late 17th century, during the period of William & Mary and Queen Anne, reflecting the formal and geometric design preferences of the era. Characterized by walled enclosures, parterres, avenues, and trained fruit trees, the garden was a structured space, embodying the ideals of order and beauty. Clipped hedges and topiary, along with extended vistas, wilderness areas, groves, waterworks, and terraces, were integral to its composition, creating a diverse and rich landscape.

The history of Bolton Hall’s garden is deeply intertwined with the Scrope family, who first settled in Wensleydale in 1149. The estate’s gardens remained largely untouched by the dramatic landscape changes of the 18th century, likely due to the family’s absence during much of that time. It wasn’t until Thomas Orde and his wife Mary Powlett took charge of the estate in the late 18th century that changes were implemented, albeit in a limited fashion and much later than the prevailing English Landscape Style of the time.

Despite the fire in 1902 that led to the rebuilding of Bolton Hall, the gardens have retained much of their original 17th-century design. This continuity provides a unique window into the past, allowing visitors to experience a piece of living history. The current Lord Bolton and his son are direct descendants of the Scrope family, maintaining the legacy of the estate and its gardens.

The walled garden’s design concepts are not just historical artifacts; they continue to influence modern garden design, reminding us of the importance of structure, form, and the relationship between the built and natural environments. The garden at Bolton Hall stands as a beautiful example of the harmony that can be achieved when human creativity works in concert with nature’s beauty.

Notable features include the walled enclosures that provide a microclimate for nurturing a variety of plants and the parterres, which are ornamental arrangements of flower beds in intricate patterns. Avenues lined with trees lead the eye and create extended vistas, enhancing the sense of grandeur and scale.

Trained fruit trees demonstrate the horticultural practices of the time, while clipped hedges and topiary add to the garden’s architectural quality. Wilderness areas and groves offer a contrast with their naturalistic planting, and waterworks and terraces introduce water features and level changes, adding to the sensory experience of the garden. These elements combine to create a garden that is not only historically significant but also aesthetically pleasing and functionally diverse.

Other walled gardens

Another example is the Helmsley Walled Garden, nestled beneath the ruins of Helmsley Castle, which dates back to 1759 and is maintained by a dedicated team of volunteers.

Another notable example is the Duncombe Park, which boasts an 18th-century mansion and landscaped gardens with terraces and temples.

The Sledmere Estate’s gardens are a part of a grand country house setting, offering a glimpse into the aristocratic lifestyle of the past.

Wynyard Hall, with its 120-acre private countryside estate, provides a luxurious experience with its exclusive wedding and event venues.

Lastly, the Hutton Wandesley Walled Garden, redesigned in 2022, showcases a quadrant design that emphasizes the original 1874 layout, featuring a perennial meadow, parterre garden, and a cutting garden with a stunning display of dahlias.

The concept of paradise as a walled garden

The concept of the walled garden as a representation of paradise has deep historical roots, tracing back to ancient civilizations where such enclosures were seen as divine. The term ‘paradise’ itself originates from the Old Persian word ‘pairidaeza’, meaning an enclosed park or garden, which reflects the intrinsic human desire to create a secluded, tranquil space that embodies perfection and bliss. This idea was further developed in early Sumerian civilization, where gods were believed to reside in lush gardens, separate from the mortal world, as depicted in the Epic of Gilgamesh.

Over time, the walled garden evolved into a symbol of paradise across various cultures and religions. In the Middle Ages, the hortus conclusus, or enclosed garden, became a powerful metaphor for purity and the divine, often associated with the Virgin Mary in Christian iconography. The physical structure of the walled garden provided a controlled environment that protected delicate plants and symbolized a haven from the outside world. This notion of a protected, idyllic space was not only a religious and cultural symbol but also influenced practical architectural developments, particularly in temple designs where gardens were incorporated within sacred walls.

In England, the walled garden became a prominent feature during the 18th and 19th centuries, especially within large estates where they were used for cultivating fruits and vegetables. The walls served a practical purpose by creating microclimates conducive to the growth of both native and exotic plant species, and they also symbolized status and control over nature. The walled garden’s ability to foster growth of rare and valuable plants made it a site of botanical experimentation and a reflection of the owner’s wealth and sophistication.

The walled garden’s representation of paradise has thus been a multifaceted one, intertwining notions of divine sanctuary, cultural symbolism, and practical horticulture. It has been a place of contemplation and beauty, a sacred space that mirrors the human longing for an idealized, harmonious existence. From the ancient gardens of Mesopotamia to the enclosed green spaces of medieval monasteries and the grandiose estates of England, the walled garden remains a powerful emblem of paradise, a secluded utopia that continues to capture the imagination and inspire a sense of wonder and tranquillity.

Viewing 1 post (of 1 total)
  • Author
  • #4075

    This report introduces walled gardens and the concept that they are an attempt to create a paradise on earth, in accordance with a long history of religious and spiritual thought that played a significant role in shaping our relationship with nature, and the design of high status estates.

    [See the full post at: The walled gardens of Brigantia]

Viewing 1 post (of 1 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.
Contact Us
close slider

    What is 9 + 9 ?