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‘Embellished nature’: William Shenstone’s Contribution to English Landscape Gardening in the Mid-Eighteenth Century by Alison Mayne

The eighteenth century was a period of transition in English Landscape Gardening from a European- and classically-influenced formality to a simpler, more picturesque and natural style. In comparison with other well-known participants in this transition, William Shenstone is often overlooked in gardening histories and, where mentioned, generally described as a ‘failed poet’ who turned to gardening to realise his aspirations as a ‘man of taste’. But, in the 1740s and 1750s, Shenstone spent twenty years creating an ‘embellished’ garden in the English Midlands: The Leasowes was, briefly, one of the best-known gardens in England, at the forefront of the transition in gardening styles. It was widely viewed, talked, and written about, not just as a new style of garden but as a tourist destination where the artistic ornamentation and natural improvements – the ‘embellishments’ – also stimulated the minds of visitors. However, as an ever-changing landscape affected over time by natural growth, weather, and different owners, only the outlines of Shenstone’s garden design remain today. In contrast, the text in which he recorded the theories behind his practice, and where the term ‘landscape gardening’ was first used, survives unchanged. This article explores Shenstone’s contribution to the ‘embellished nature’ development in English Landscape Gardening in the mid-eighteenth century by considering two artefacts: one physical and practical, but now much changed and reduced – his garden, The Leasowes; and one textual and theoretical, but still accessible – his essay, ‘Unconnected Thoughts on Gardening’.

Date created: 
Wednesday, April 12, 2023
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‘Embellished nature’: William Shenstone’s Contribution to English Landscape Gardening in the Mid-Eighteenth Century by Alison Mayne, All rights reserved.
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