The Sartorial Garden

The Georgian Landscape: All Nature is a Garden

The Georgian era spans the reign of the Hanoverian Kings, from the accession of George I in 1714 to the death of George IV in 1830. This period was one of major change and artistic flourish as the Georgians set about seismic shifts in British culture, garden design being no exception.

This charming pair of George II garden urns are a rare surviving example of the English landscape tradition, in beautiful original condition, hand carved in limestone. Each urn features a circular overhanging rim carved with rosettes, from which drape elegant decorative swags. The bases of the urns are supported by a fluted scalloped design which sits on a circular spreading foot, and supported by a solid square base. Dated around 1740, they belong to the Georgian period of English architecture and design.

The Georgian era spans the reign of the Hanoverian Kings, from the accession of George I in 1714 to the death of George IV in 1830, though it often stretches to 1837 to include the short reign of William IV. This period was one of major change and artistic flourish as the Georgians set about seismic shifts in British culture, garden design being no exception. Taste of the late seventeenth century was dominated by the French proclivity for formal order and strict symmetry, as seen most notably in the gardens of Louis XIV’s Palace of Versailles. However, the dawn of the eighteenth century and the changes it brought with it soon found their way into garden design. This new taste, termed the Landscape Style, or as the French christened it the jardin anglaise, quickly spread across Europe, as far as west as America and as far east as Russia.

The late 17th century French penchant for order and symmetry in full glory in the gardens of the Palace of Versailles. Credit: Chateau Versailles

Made wealthy by trade and empire, the members of the British upper class across the country built and remodeled their estates in accordance with this new home-grown style. Shifting tastes in architecture went hand in hand with the shifting tastes in their surrounding gardens. Where once grand Baroque architecture was accompanied by clipped hedges and linear compositions, soon tastes favored the more pared back Palladian architecture inspired by classical antiquity, sat amongst naturalistic landscapes of wide vistas, soft lawns, and surrounding woods. Charles Bridgeman, royal gardener to Queen Anne, first began the tentative transition towards a more organic landscape with snaking serpentines and ha-ha’s*. Later, painter turned decorator and designer William Kent continued in this vein and established wide vistas as the norm. As Horace Walpole famously wrote, he ‘leapt the fence and saw all nature is a garden.’

Georgian Palladianism as seen ‘The Palladian Bridge’ and Prior Park house in distance, Bath, Somerset. Credit: National Trust

Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown became the premier landscape designer of the Georgian era and was responsible for over 200 gardens across Britain. Humphry Repton, often seen as Brown’s successor, took on the mantle of the Landscape Style, and popularized the use of additive elements such as classical buildings and decorative objects. Punctuating the landscape with ‘agreeable retreats’ and objects of beauty, these classical temples, viewing towers, grottos, sculptures and urns all served as “eye-catchers”, or what painter Thomas Gainsborough called ‘a little business for the Eye’.

Capability’ Brown’s grand vistas at Chatsworth, the seat of the Dukes of Devonshire. Credit: Architectural Digest

The urns presented here are just such objects of beauty, mainstays of the Georgian landscape and gardens of country houses across Britain. Stylistically consistent with the architecture and landscape design of their period, these urns draw from classical antiquity. Elements of classical architecture and design were pervasive in Georgian Britain, as they were the basis of inspiration for the dominant architectural style of the period, Palladianism, named after the Renaissance Italian architect Andrea Palladio. The swags which drape from the rosettes that decorate the body of both urns can be found in the bucranium of the Doric order frieze from classical antiquity.

Bucranium with rosettes and draping swags in relief at the Ara Pacis in Rome

The scalloped fluted design which forms the base of the urn evokes the shell motif, and the fluting is also reminiscent of the Doric order of classical architecture. These urns belong to a rich period of design, architecture, and art history, from classical antiquity and its renaissance in modern Palladianism to the revolution of landscape and garden design in Georgian Britain. Both fascinating in their history as well as beautiful in their execution, they are indeed an exquisite ‘little business for the Eye’, and a lovely addition to any garden.

* ‘Ha -ha’ is the Georgian term for a sunken fence which allowed for a barrier to be established between the formal garden and the landscape beyond, without disrupting the illusion of a limitless wider vista. The term originally appears in French gardening enthusiast Dezallier d’Argenville’s La Theorie et la Practique du jardinage (The Theory and Practice of Gardening) dated 1709. D’Argenville terms the invention for the effect it has on its viewers; the concealed ditch would ‘surprise the eye coming near it, and make one cry, “Ah! Ah!”’.
National Trust


Felus, Kate, The Secret Life of the Georgian Garden: Beautiful Objects and Agreeable Retreats (London and New York: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, 2016).

O’Malley, Therese, Keywords in American Landscape Design (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010).

Spooner, Sarah, Regions and Designed Landscapes in Georgian England (United Kingdom: Taylor & Francis, 2015).

Phibbs, John, Capability Brown: Designing the English Landscape (New York: Rizzoli, 2016).

Walpole, Horace, The History of the Modern Taste in Gardening (Ursus Press, 1995).

Whately, Thomas, Observations on Modern Gardening, 1793.

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