The Picturesque Garden

Continuing with my research into the history of Bentley Priory, which feeds into the development of mural designs for the Botanical Bentley project, this week I've been looking at the 'Picturesque' garden and instructions for illustrating flowers.

Bowles's Florist Containing Sixty Plates of Beautiful Flowers, 1774, Frontispiece

Bowles's Florist Containing Sixty Plates of Beautiful Flowers, 1774, Frontispiece

In 1788, Bentley Priory was bought by the 9th Earl of Abercorn, who enlisted the help of architect Sir John Soane and landscape gardener Sir Uvedale Price to develop the site. At that time, Picturesque gardens were in vogue. They were intended to appeal to the soul as well as to the eyes of visitors. Anything too ordered or neat was rejected, and optical illusions were employed to create a sense of theatre. Planting was often irregular, almost random, with a wide variety of natural materials, textures and colours introduced to reflect the composition of landscape paintings. Hence Picturesque. As part of my research into this style of gardening I visited Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, to consult their special collections. William Gilpin's Essays on Picturesque Beauty was a great source of inspiration. Likewise, instructions for drawing and painting flowers 'according to nature' as laid out in Bowles's Florist provided a unique insight into the manner in which botanists examined plants in the 18th Century.  Very kindly, Kew has allowed me to share some of the images I took during my visit:


Images reproduced with kind permission of the Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.