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Stephen Switzer - pioneer of the English landscape garden

Article Index

  1. Stephen Switzer - pioneer of the English landscape garden
  2. Early career
  3. Influential projects
  4. Publications
  5. Later career
  6. Sources
  7. All Pages
 

 

Publications

A short while after these early projects, Switzer published The Nobleman Gentleman and Gardener's Recreation (1715) a treatise that brought together his early experiences in garden design and his accumulated knowledge of horticulture. This would later become the first volume of Iconographia Rustica.

In these volumes Switzer pioneered what he called ‘Rural and Extensive Gardening', which integrated the economics of kitchen gardening and animal husbandry with the aesthetics of landscape design (Dixon Hunt & Willis 1975, 150).  

One element that was integral to this philosophy was the idea of the ferme ornée or ‘ornamental farm'. This symbolised the marriage of beauty and utility, where gardens combined the useful, profitable and pleasurable. In essence this translated as long, uninterrupted views from the main house, populated by farm, field and boundary. The functional use of agricultural land was viewed both as an economic tool and an aesthetic device.

‘Where-ever Liberty will allow, would throw my Garden open to all view to the unbounded Felicities of distant Prospect, and the expansive Volumes of Nature herself'

Coupled with Switzer's functional concerns were his political views, moulded by the turbulent period in British politics during the late 17th century. Switzer viewed gardening as a reflection of the social structure and as a material base for high culture (Turner 1978, 491).

His political views and standpoint as a constitutional monarchist permeate his writing. In the Recreation he tells us, when referring to the decline of gardening during the reign of James II: ‘this unhappy Prince pursuing Measures of another nature and having quite other Designs in his Head, no less that that of Arbitrary and Despotick Power' (1718, I, 55 quoted in Turner 1978). 

The reign of William III, however, saw the rise of gardening at home while the ‘Defense of Liberties of Europe' were fought for through a succession of wars on foreign soil - most importantly for Switzer, against the absolutism of the French (Turner 1978, 494). Throughout the volumes of Ichnographia Rustica Switzer criticises the formal geometric layout of French and Dutch gardens and contrasts their form with his own idea of landscape:

‘Where-ever Liberty will allow, would throw my Garden open to all view to the unbounded Felicities of distant Prospect, and the expansive Volumes of Nature herself' (1718, I, 35).

In 1729 Switzer published the Introduction to a General System of Hydraulicks and Hydrostaticks, in two illustrated volumes. This proved to be the most scientific work of his career and was of great importance. It was a milestone in the development of the use of hydraulics and - most importantly - in the creation of canals from the mid-18th century on (Brogden 2004).