Thursday, August 13, 2009


click photo to enlarge
The "parterre", a formal garden device employing low hedges, often of box (Buxus sempervirens), in elaborate patterns enclosing contrasting shrubs and flowers, originated in France. It was developed from the "compartimens" where herbs were grown in patterns that enclosed other plants. Claude Mollet (c.1564-c.1649), a gardener to three French kings, was influential in popularising parterres proper through the royal gardens at St Germain-en-Laye and Fontainbleau in the years around 1600. Andre Le Notre (1613-1700), gardener to Louis XIV developed them still further at Versailles, Fontainbleau and Saint Cloud. The French examples were on a grand scale, and often formed part of a much larger formal, ordered, symmetrical scheme.

In England parterres became very popular after the Restoration, though they were usually employed on a smaller scale than across the Channel. Influential gardeners such as George London (1681-1714) and Henry Wise (1653-1738) promoted them amongst their clientele. With the accession of William and Mary in 1688 the formalities of Dutch gardens were introduced, and parterres were produced that were ever more elaborate. However, by the 1720s the informal English landscape garden had begun to establish itself and the ideas of France and Holland came to be seen as old-fashioned.

But, parterres never completely disappeared from English gardens, and remained in use in the gardens nearest stately homes of the aristocracy, even when the landscape garden was taking over further away from the house. Today, when gardeners strive to re-create the schemes of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, parterres often make a come back. Today's photograph shows a corner of an elaborate group of box parterres at Grimsthorpe Castle, Lincolnshire. The radial shape is replicated in each of the four corners of one section, with "S" shapes and more angular lines filling the centre. Small trees, shrubs and a statue enliven the composition. The lavender planting in these compartments looks relatively recent, and will doubtless be encouraged to almost fill the shapes. My idea with this photograph was to extract an element of abstraction from the parterre, and also use this interesting part of the planting to summarize the whole.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 14mm (28mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/40
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On