Painshill Park: is a landscape a garden? (Surrey)

What would lead a man to create an entire landscape as a garden? In the tricentenary year of Capability Brown’s birth, that is a question on many a person’s mind.  Perhaps the idea that in 100 years, when their ideas come to fruition, they will have left their mark on this earth.  Even if it bankrupted them.

Stowe, Stourhead, Painshill: they are all examples of this type of gardening.  And at Painshill the cost of the garden was ultimately bankruptcy for its owner-creator and it was sold off.

This garden was created by Charles Hamilton between 1738 and 1773 and is currently undergoing (and has been undergoing) restoration.  Don’t let the uninspiring car park at the entrance fool you: once you walk down the hill and over the bridge, many delights and a good visitor centre await you.

However, I’m undecided as to whether a “landscape garden” is really a garden.

On the simplest level, if a garden is “a planned space, usually outdoors, set aside for the display, cultivation, and enjoyment of plants and other forms of nature”, then an unnatural landscape (even if designed to look somewhat naturalistic) is a garden.  However, I am not a fan of the house floating in parkland, such as Harewood House used to be before Charles Barry added a terrace at the rear.  I think Petworth was spoiled when the parterres were removed.

Why?  For me the garden anchors a house into the landscape and the two should not be separated, even if close bedfellows.

I prefer even the smallest amount of formality around a house, even if it is then led via a gate in a yew hedge to vistas beyond in the landscape, such as at Godinton Garden.  For this reason, I prefer the concepts of Humphrey Repton (as seen a Woburn) over Lancelot “Capability” Brown, whereby a garden doesn’t have to have a hidden ha-ha and there can be a beautiful connection between a single piece of art that comprises house, garden, vistas and landscape.  This was the trend in garden design towards to end of the 18th century, so I’ve learned of myself that while I prefer the interiors of the early 18th century, I want the gardens of the late 17th or late 18th century.

The grotto was closed.

On our way home from West Sussex, we called into Waitrose in Cobham, Surrey (we had to stay out of Central London until the Congestion Charge ends at 6pm) and just down the road is the landscape garden that is Painshill Park.  It was about 4pm on a dreary weekday afternoon, so we spent an hour walking around (mostly the only other visitors were mums with their children) before popping into the supermarket.

I think this is one to return to on a sunny day.  I might even make it a daytrip on my bicycle.

When visited: August 2015


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