The 18th Century Scottish Garden
With the Act of Union at the beginning of the 18th Century, a great deal of Scotland’s land, castles and great houses were at the financial mercy of the English nobility. Although outright war ceased, unrest continued on in to the middle of the 18th Century, when it was finally quashed with the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie. With peace came tourism, and Boswell and Johnson noted in their 1773 Tour that the country was displaying signs of great prosperity.
This influx of English taste and money had a profound influence on the gardens of Scotland. Most were still in the formal Renaissance styles of Europe, with the more playful Baroque pretty much passing the country by in the more urgent political and military turmoil. The advent of peace brought the concepts of the picturesque and romantic landscapes championed by English painters, poets and architects.
As the Century reached its end, the work of writers such as Sir Walter Scott enforced the idea of Scotland as a place of wild romance, abounding in ancient ruins and great vistas – the building blocks of the natural landscape gardens of William Kent, and later the romantic ‘prospect’ designs of Capability Brown in England.
These revolutionary new ideas of the garden as a microcosm of the natural landscape blended with neo-classicism were taken up enthusiastically by Scottish designers such as Thomas Blaikie, and the great Scottish houses and castles became surrounded by the parkland and naturalistic planting schemes that typify the period.
Although Adam is primarily identified as an architect of public and domestic buildings, the rage for ruins, temples and follies in these new garden designs led him to produce a number of structures to enhance them. Some examples being the Montagu Bridge at Dalkeith Palace, Oswald’s Temple at Auchincruive, and the ‘ruined’ arch and viaduct at Culzean Castle.
As the Scottish Enlightenment gathered pace during this century, thus the interest in all things scientific spawned horticulturalists and botanists who used their own private incomes to finance tours, often exotic, to bring back specimens to swell the ranks of the native garden stock. Blaikie himself was one of their number, along with William Grant Milne amongst others who often combined botany with architectural and cultural research.
Although not venturing so far afield, the century also brought many Scottish botanists who specialized in plant classification and identification, such as Charles Alston and James Brodie of Brodie, and horticulturalists like Phillip Miller who became chief gardener at the Chelsea Physic Garden in London.
Sir James Naesmyth took over Dawyck House in the Borders during the early 18th Century, and having trained as a botanist under the great Carl Linnaeus, turned much of the large existing garden into an arboretum, which is now under the care of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh.