The Picturesque was an aesthetic concept that aroused enormous interest, and created not a little controversy, towards the end of the eighteenth century and at the beginning of the nineteenth. It was a way of viewing landscape and gardens, and judging them as if they were paintings. Furthermore, the type of scenery to be sought out and admired tended towards the wild and natural-looking. It bears a close relationship to the Sublime, another category of the time (though established earlier), which suggested ideas of dread, awe, vastness or infinity. In its appeal to the feelings and the imagination the Picturesque has been taken to anticipate in some respects the Romantic Movement which followed it, and indeed the adjective ‘romantic' was frequently used in description.
The Picturesque is far from being a mere historical curiosity. Its impact on the taste for wild scenery was huge and lasting. It coincided with, and encouraged, a growth in tourism that has continued ever since and rendered areas such as the Lake District, previously rarely visited, steadily more popular.
Picturesque gardens have a history of their own, developing from designers and writers earlier in the eighteenth century who drew parallels between garden layout and painting. The pictorial, circuit gardens of the mid-century looked forward to parks where the scenery was of a rugged, more spectacular kind and which form the heart of this book. Many such gardens can still be visited and will not fail to inspire excitement and wonder.