When Andre Le Notre, creator of the jardin a la francaise, was in his late seventies, the man who would supplant him in the pantheon of great gardeners was entering the world on the other side of the English channel.
His name was William Kent and after studying painting and architecture in England, he went to Rome to learn more. There, he became an admirer of Palladio and a fan of the Italian landscape. At the same time, he was meeting English gentry traveling abroad – happily, his acquaintance with Richard Boyle, Earl of Burlington, got him the job of designing the gardens of Kensington Palace.
Kent went from success to success, softening and naturalizing the landscape in keeping with the romantic landscape painters of the time (cf. Poussin), but still providing a transition from Le Notre’s rigid geometry by incorporating a certain amount of symmetry.
It was his successor, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown who brought the ‘jardin anglais’ to its culmination, getting rid of geometry altogether and creating copses, dells, sweeping lawns and rustic bridges for the perfect romantic English garden. The style became popular in Europe, particularly Germany, and even Catherine the Great had an English garden.
Then came a third major phase of garden history, also dominated by English design – it is the cottage garden, the perfect middle-class style, mixing edible and decorative plants, relying on design and color rather than vast acreage. Hard to tell if we’re in the middle of phase three, or nearing the end of it.