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Garden books in the Special Collections of the Barr Smith Library


An increasing interest in botany and gardening during the 17th century was accompanied by a kindred study of the art of husbandry, covering the tillage, cultivation and care of gardens, orchards and woods and the rearing of livestock. One example isFrom William Halfpenny's "Rural Architecture in the Chinese Taste" The Whole Art of Husbandry or, The Way of Managing and Improving of Land (London, 1721) by John Mortimer, who experimented with new techniques at his Toppings Hall estate in Essex. First printed in 1701, this work appeared during the decline of the formal garden and the beginning of the era of landscape gardening. This work proved popular due to its practical advice on planting and propagating despite the 'old-fashioned' formal garden depicted in the frontispiece.

Landscape architecture

Popular fashion for landscape gardening in the 18th century demanded new designs in landscape architecture. A recent donation, William Halfpenny's Rural Architecture in the Chinese Taste, Being Designs Entirely New for the Decoration of Gardens, Parks, Forrests, Insides of Houses &c. 3rd ed. (London, 1755) demonstrates the fashion for Chinoiserie or Western imitation of Chinese designs. Woodside House Chinese kioskThe inventive and non-conforming Halfpenny aimed to reduce fashion to practical terms for the general public and disseminate designs to workmen in the provinces. Unlike William Chambers, the architect of the Kew Pagoda, William Halfpenny produced his plans without ever visiting China.

Examples of such Chinese follies can be found in the paintings of  Thomas Robbins (ca. 1745-1750) whose landscape settings glow with colour from his use of gouache on wood and vellum, applied with 'the skill of a miniaturist'. Surprisingly, Robbins' work remained largely unknown until 1967 when a set of his pictures was put up for auction by Sotheby's.

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