In the course of the seventeenth century, English and Dutch townscapes and landscapes were transformed by an unprecedented surge of activity in house-building and garden design on the part of the newly prosperous business and merchant classes, eager to show themselves au fait with the very latest in styles and fashions. And just as consumer goods and luxury items were traded with growing enthusiasm in both directions across the English Channel or Narrow Sea, so specialist services in architecture and horticulture were freely interchanged, threading styles in building and garden design to and fro, weaving reciprocal influence increasingly tightly into the fabric of both territories.1
In architecture, in the early decades of the century, the families of de Keyser and Stone serve as characteristic examples of the easy social and professional exchange between the two countries. In 1607 the Amsterdam master mason Hendrick de Keyser arrived in London to study Thomas Gresham’s Royal Exchange in preparation for designing and building a similar centre for commercial activity in Amsterdam. While there he met Nicholas Stone, a mason and sculptor, who returned with him to Amsterdam, where he completed his training (he had just finished his apprenticeship when he and de Keyser first met). Stone spent six years or so in Holland, and married de Keyser’s only daughter. He and his wife then returned to England, where he established himself as a leading sculptor and architect.
The de Keysers became a dynasty of master masons – three sons and a grandson of Hendrick’s subsequently held the position. As well as being responsible for a large number of important buildings, both private and public, in Amsterdam, Hendrick de Keyser designed the tomb of William the Silent at Delft, for which the young Sir Constantijn Huygens provided the Latin inscription in the 1620s. Hendrick’s son Thomas painted the portrait of Sir Constantijn and his clerk, associated with his marriage to Susanna van Baerle in 1627. This means that all three of the best-known surviving portraits of Huygens were painted by artists with experience of patrons and studios on both sides of the Narrow Sea – we might argue that Huygens chose them on purpose, as part of his agenda of taste-formation in common to the English and Dutch art-appreciating communities.2
The Stones and the de Keysers moved regularly and easily between England and the Dutch Republic, placing their considerable talents in art and design at the service of the cities of London and Amsterdam. Willem de Keyser, Hendrick’s eldest son, was in England in the 1620s, probably shortly after his father’s death, and married an Englishwoman. By 1640 he was back in Amsterdam, and became a member of the Stonemason’s Guild there.3 The de Keysers and the Stones maintained close family contacts, corresponded regularly, and acted as agents for each other in the shipment of building materials between the two countries. They also provided training for each other’s children: Nicholas Stone’s son Henry studied paintings for several years in Amsterdam under his uncle, Thomas de Keyser. In return, two of Hendrik de Keyser’s sons appear to have been apprenticed to Stone in London.
Willem’s younger brother Hendrick joined Nicholas Stone’s workshop around 1634, and a few years later was carrying out alterations on behalf of Stone at Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire. There he married a local girl in 1639, remaining in Nottingham until at least 1643. He was in Holland in 1646–47, and as far as we know, never returned to England. However, Willem was back in 1658, and lived and worked there with his family for the next twenty years. When Charles II returned to London, and embarked on rebuilding his palace at Greenwich in 1661, he was keen to emulate the Dutch neoclassical architecture that he had encountered during his years of exile. It was Willem de Keyser who drew elevations of a proposed new scheme for the new King. In January 1661 Charles discussed de Keyser’s ideas with John Evelyn, although the scheme was never built. Members of the de Keyser family were active in England and in Ireland until as late as the 1680s.
This kind of migration of artists and skilled craftsmen from one side of the Narrow Sea to the other was clearly market-led. Architects and masons went where the clients were. The ostentatious expenditure of the English nobility under Charles I contrasted with the well-documented ‘embarrassment’ at too obvious a show of wealth in the Dutch Republic. The fact that members of skilled dynasties like the de Keysers married local women during their visits to England meant that they raised bilingual families of children who could work easily in either country. So the interchange in masons and architects became amplified in each successive generation. Whether we should call the buildings and carvings the de Keysers were responsible for ‘Dutch’ or ‘Anglo–Dutch’ is perhaps a moot point: local styles and guild skills had become intertwined to the point at which it is probably unhelpful to try to separate them.
Huygens’s negotiations with Rubens for the acquisition of works of art for Frederik Hendrik and Amalia van Solms during the 1630s meant frequent exchanges on behalf of the Stadholder with the artist, by letter and via trusted intermediaries. They most likely involved one or more visits in person to the studio on the first floor of the new wing of the Rubens House in Antwerp, though a late letter suggests that Huygens and Rubens had never actually met face to face. Huygens certainly knew the house from its magnificent exterior, since he was in Antwerp regularly, and he was aware of Rubens’s scrupulously antique-influenced plans for a neoclassical house befitting his status as Antwerp’s most successful painter. An enthusiast for architecture, Huygens was evidently almost as impressed by Rubens’s Antwerp house, and by the artist’s expertise in ancient and modern architectural theory, as he was by his talent as a painter.
In 1633 Frederik Hendrik presented two lots of land he had recently acquired, in a prime location in The Hague, to Constantijn Huygens.4When Huygens set about building a substantial family home there under the direction of Jacob van Campen, next door to his uncle’s much-admired Mauritshuis, he wrote to Rubens requesting his opinion on the design:
Sir, I am building a house at The Hague, and it would give me great pleasure to hear your advice on my plans, even though they are almost completed – there remaining just two small galleries to be completed, which are intended to enclose a courtyard [bassecour] 70 feet in length, and to be attached to a main façade [front de logis] of approximately 90 feet. You would not be disappointed to learn that in my building I intend to revive in some part the architecture of antiquity, for which I nourish a passion.
This was to be no palace, Huygens hastened to add:
It will only be on a small scale, and to the extent that the climate and my coffers will allow. But the fact remains that, in the heat of these considerations, I hardly need tell you how eager I am to steer you in my direction here, since you excel in the knowledge of this illustrious field of study, as you do in everything else, and could give me many lessons in it. But the fates intend otherwise … If I manage to realise my plans successfully, I will in any case inform you further, on paper or in person.5
Huygens was true to his word. On 2 July 1639 (a year before the artist’s death), he sent Rubens a set of engravings of his completed house: ‘Here as I promised is the bit of brick that I have built at The Hague.’6 His pride in the gracious home he has created is palpable, as is his respect for Rubens as a connoisseur of antique and modern buildings. At the end of the letter, almost as an afterthought, Huygens added the real business of his communication – a commission from Frederik Hendrik for a painting to be placed above the hearth in his palace, the subject to be of Rubens’s choosing, but with three, ‘at most four’, figures, ‘the beauty of whom should be elaborated con amore, studio e diligenza’.7
So when, in the 1650s, on his frequent visits to Antwerp, Sir Constantijn Huygens attended musical soirées at the home of William and Margaret Cavendish, or spent the afternoon with Margaret in her chemistry laboratory, he was able to take a particularly keen pleasure in frequenting the very house about which he and Rubens had corresponded – the home created by a kindred architectural spirit in his heyday. And the Cavendishes and Sir Constantijn undoubtedly carried back with them, upon their return to England and the United Provinces, an enhanced and deepened understanding of Rubens’s carefully reconstructed architectural neoclassicism, to feed into future projects of their own.
Huygens took a connoisseur’s interest in architecture throughout his life. The country house he designed for himself at Hofwijk, completed in 1642, was his pride and joy, and he loved to invite close friends there to enjoy the beauty of the location, and to savour the elegance and congeniality of the building.8 He worked tirelessly advising Frederik Hendrik and Amalia van Solms on their extensive and ambitious building works at the Dutch royal palaces – Frederik Hendrik had a reputation as a knowledgeable amateur of architecture himself, and involved himself closely in the design process.9 It was Huygens, too, who, in consultation with van Campen, completed the careful integrated programme of architecture and painting for the Oranjezaal of the Huis ten Bosch on the outskirts of The Hague (designed by Pieter Post), where an elaborate cycle of paintings and decoration commemorated and glorified the achievements of Frederik Hendrik for his widow Amalia van Solms, following Frederik Hendrik’s death in 1647 (the project was completed in 1652).10 The Cavendishes, once back in England after the Restoration, retired from public life and devoted themselves almost entirely to architectural projects for William’s hereditary seats at his main Nottinghamshire home, Welbeck Abbey, and at Bolsover.11
The story of the interchange of talent and expertise in architecture between England and the Dutch Republic has been told a number of times. That of the close relationship between horticulture and garden design in the two countries, less often. In the case of Dutch and English gardens it is also possible to see that the similarities in practice are overlaid on a subtly different set of assumptions about the meaning and function of a pleasure garden. For the élites in the two countries with time and money to indulge their passion for plants and parterres, gardens represent different kinds of attitudes towards the labour needed to create a garden, and the leisure required to enjoy it.
Early in February 1642, Sir Constantijn Huygens invited a select company of close family and friends to a small celebratory gathering at his country house, Hofwijk, at Voorburg, just outside The Hague. His career was at its peak. He was secretary and chief adviser on all types of cultural and artistic matters to the Dutch Stadholder, Frederik Hendrik, consulted and deferred to whenever a matter of taste or aesthetic judgement was required.
The occasion was the completion of the garden design project that had comforted and consoled him in his leisure hours since the sudden death of his beloved wife Susanna less than two months after the birth, on 13 March 1637, of their only daughter (also named Susanna). That was the very year in which Huygens completed the imposing neoclassical house to whose detailed design he had given so much personal attention, alongside his architect van Campen, and he and his family moved in next door to the Mauritshuis on Het Plein. The loss of his wife had spoiled his pleasure at the completion of this ambitious architectural project, which had been intended to crown his glittering career at court.
Constantijn’s beloved partner was gone, and for more than a year his poems – in Latin and Dutch – reveal him as mentally tormented by his loss, and virtually inconsolable. Instead of enjoying the family home he and Susanna had planned together, he had turned his mind to a country retreat – a place where he could recover, reflect upon his loss and begin to rebuild his personal life.12 The small gathering in early 1642 marked the end of this painful phase in his life, and the celebration was a muted and reflective one.
The party of visitors consisted of his older brother Maurits, his sisters Gertruyd and Constantia, their husbands, Philips Doublet (or Doubleth) and David de Wilhem, and an unnamed ‘friend from The Hague’. There was a tour of the modest, classically inspired country house (whose designer, Pieter Post, was to become the Stadholder’s official court architect in 1645, on Huygens’s recommendation), and a much more extensive exploration of the garden, with its tree-lined avenues and canal-side walks, freshly planted ornamental flowerbeds and geometrically laid-out areas of what would one day be shady groves of trees. Over a generous meal, Huygens extolled the virtues of his garden as a source of emotional solace and a refuge from the cares of office.
Huygens’s little garden launch-party was a small event in the studied programme of activities he had begun to orchestrate for Frederik Hendrik and his circle since 1625 – the year Frederik Henrik became Stadholder of the seven provinces, and the year of his marriage to Amalia van Solms. Huygens’s efforts were designed to set the tone for a Dutch courtly culture which would earn the respect and attention of the royal houses of Europe.
In the summer of that same year, ten-year-old Princess Mary Stuart arrived in The Hague with her mother, Queen Henrietta Maria.13 Mary’s father, Charles I, had given Huygens a warm welcome when as a youth he had visited Charles’s father, James I’s court in the 1620s. Huygens – passionate anglophile, personally acquainted with the Stuart royals, fluent in English and French – had played a major part in brokering the Anglo–Dutch marriage, as a member of van Aerssen’s embassy to London in 1639. As the fortunes of the English royal family declined and the international standing of the house of Orange improved, he continued to proclaim his absolute loyalty and commitment to the Stuarts – ‘an utterly committed and extremely passionate servant of the Royal House of Great Britain’ (’tres-acquis et tres-passionné serviteur de la Maison Royale de la Grande Bretaigne’), as he described himself to Princess Mary’s governess Lady Stanhope.14
Now Huygens found himself, as secretary to the Dutch ‘royals’, in charge of providing suitable entertainment for the refugee royals and their large train of followers. The royal palaces at The Hague and nearby Honselaarsdijk provided accommodation and recreation. Excursions to nearby Hofwijk for a select few were part of the programme on offer.
Although we have no explicit account of Princess Mary or her mother being among the earliest visitors to Hofwijk, we do learn from Huygens’s correspondence that on at least one occasion during her several subsequent visits to the northern Netherlands in the course of the 1640s, trying to raise money for her husband King Charles I’s doomed military offensive against his people, Henrietta Maria spent an enjoyable afternoon there. She joined her host in an entertaining game of quilles – an ancient cross between skittles and bowls – on the beautifully manicured bowling green, and consumed a bowl of freshly picked, home-grown cherries in a spontaneous déjeuner sur l’herbe – a high-class picnic. According to Huygens, she pronounced the garden a delight.15
Charming though the records make royal visits like Henrietta Maria’s to Hofwijk appear, there were social niceties to be observed which hampered the easy, informal atmosphere for which Huygens yearned. The house of Orange, although the most prominent family in the Northern Provinces, with claims to royal status, nevertheless ranked below the English royal Stuarts, as both Henrietta Maria and Mary were always quick to point out on Dutch formal occasions.
Still, away from the court, in the rural idyll of Hofwijk, studied informality prevailed, and mitigated courtly anxieties concerning rank, status and the ostentatious expenditure involved in fine living. The presence in Huygens’s garden of royal Princesses and other English ladies of quality, enjoying its rustic pleasures, placed the seal of aristocratic approval on his scrupulously conceived and executed, yet comparatively modest, country retreat. Hofwijk came to stand, for him, for the difficult balancing act of remaining a person of modest aspirations and high ethical principles, a true Dutchman of integrity, while nevertheless striving to emulate and match the lifestyle of the increasingly ‘royal’ Stadholder he served. In Simon Schama’s memorable terms, it allayed his characteristically mid- century Dutch ‘embarrassment’ at his own material good fortune.16
By a deliberate and self-conscious play on words that is entirely typical of the linguistically sharp-eared Huygens, ‘Hofwijk’, whose simplest meaning is ‘a house with a garden’, also means a place where one can ‘avoid’ (wijck) the ‘court’ (hof) of the Prince of Orange that Huygens served. The country seat’s Latin name, ‘Vitaulium’, likewise means both ‘vitae aula’ – the garden of life, or Garden of Eden – and also ‘Vitruvii aula’, the garden of Vitruvius, the ultimate classically designed garden. For the rest of Huygens’s long life, Hofwijk was where he went to recover from the buffetings of life in the political spotlight. It was where his family gathered and spent time at leisure together, to escape the summer heat of The Hague. It was also where his son Christiaan, the distinguished scientist, who had a tendency to periods of depressive collapse, found refuge in retirement, when his fragile health finally broke and he was obliged to give up his salaried place at the head of the French King Louis XIV’s Académie des sciences. Christiaan died at Hofwijk in 1695.
We know a good deal about how intensely Sir Constantijn Huygens senior felt about his garden, because around 1650 he completed a three- thousand-line Latin poem celebrating it in loving topographical detail. When he published this in 1653, Hofwijk was still a project in process, a ten- year-old planted paradise of shrubs and young trees whose glory lay in the future, an as-yet unrealised promise of mature, shaded avenues, secluded walks walled by espaliered shrubs, parterres patterned in box, and a densely wooded wilderness landscape stretching away before the gaze of the visitor. (The delightful pen and wash drawings of the Huygens family in Hofwijk’s shady groves, by Constantijn junior and others, date from the late 1660s, by which time the trees were well-established, as Huygens senior had hoped.)
In his poem, it is Hofwijk’s promise of future luxuriance that Huygens imagines with satisfaction and pride:
I want to show you Hofwijk, as if it sprang by night,
Grown sudden, like a mushroom, to maturity.
And more than this, I want to make us walk it round
As if our yesterday a century were past.17
A century on (in Huygens’s poetic imagination), the trees which in 1650 have not yet fully developed into their mature splendour have become the glory of Hofwijk – a medley of varieties, framing views, providing elegant markers along the walks and avenues, and bestowing their welcome shade on the summer visitor. Huygens’s poetic emphasis is one of pleasurable investment – storing up family emotional and commercial capital for the future. No man-made work of art will stand the test of time, according to Huygens: even a garden will eventually perish. His poem, though, will preserve the memory of its prime:
So frail are human works, paper outlasts them all,
Time wears the shrub and stone: in time it will be said,
‘Here once his Hofwijk stood, now rubble, weeds and spoil.’18
Still, insofar as the garden will outlast its creator, standing, it is to be hoped, for several generations thereafter, the trees in particular represent an enviable durability:
So the desire for tameness is answered by four rides
Of serviceable oaks, my avenues complete
In thickness at their root, in eminence in air,
For spread of branches round, for cool green murmuring.
Perhaps I called them timber: but let nobody dare
To break my faithful refuge, fell my avenues.
Think of invested gold, this planted capital
Matures in centuries; grandchildren, let them stand
And never burn the trees I planted for you here.19
Here, according to Huygens, is art and artistry that outdoes the creations of the painter or the tapestry-maker. He describes taking his ease among the splendid trees which have grown tall and proud, sheltered from sun and sharp winds alike, surrounded by family and friends, reflecting on the important issues in life and revelling in the time for thought afforded, away from his office:
Here I may laugh secure at sweat the mower sheds,
Here with my canopy of elmcloth over me.
My roof of leaves protects me from full moons
And from the scorching sun, and from the tears of heaven.
Here do I flee for refuge, sheltered here and cool,
I suffer without harm the rages of the skies.
Here is my pleasure, knowing how close my joy.20
As in Andrew Marvell’s ‘The Garden’ and ‘On Appleton House’ (written at roughly the same time as Huygens’s ‘Hofwijk’), the out-of-town garden estate is a refuge from care, a pastoral idyll. A gentleman’s garden is a paradise of calm and tranquillity, a place of consolidation and stability. There a man can reflect, can engage in reposeful conversation and reverie, alone or with friends. There too, urban pride, pomp and ceremony are transmuted into areas for modest recreation – shaded canals, limpid pools, green arbours – and simple foods are gathered from the kitchen garden (in his poem at least, Huygens shows comparatively little interest in ornamental flower gardens).
Hospitality is a recurrent theme in Huygens’s Hofwijk poem, as also throughout his prolific correspondence. He retains a particular place in his affection for garden-lovers like himself who have shared his enjoyment of his woods and walks: in 1680, when Huygens was an octogenarian, in a letter to the former English Ambassador to the Northern Netherlands and fellow gardener Sir William Temple, he refers to his old friend as ‘an ancient Hofwijkist’, a kindred spirit who has shared his garden pleasures over many years.21
Accordingly, making provision for the owner’s table, and for his guests, was one of the duties made explicit in the contracts of the gardeners who kept the entire project going. A mid-seventeenth-century contract for the gardener at one of the Dutch Royal Palaces specifies:
The gardener shall take care that sections pointed out to him in the gardens will be sowed and planted with all kinds of vegetables and Aertvruchten [fruits of the earth, perhaps the newly fashionable potato] in such a way that, depending on the season and time of year, they will daily provide the kitchen with fresh produce. The gardener is allowed to take his own share of all the Aertvruchten which the gardens and orchards will yield above the quantity necessary for the Table and Kitchen of Her Highness. But when it comes to the Artichokes, Melons, Strawberries and Asparagus, these will entirely be at the disposal of Her Highness and the gardener will not be able to enjoy them, except for what is allowed by Her Highness.22
Huygens’s ‘Hofwijk’ includes all the familiar tropes of garden poetry, as they developed in England and Holland in the seventeenth century. But although the poem gives the illusion that the garden’s walks and groves largely maintain themselves, in fact armies of labourers were required to create the illusion of rural simplicity.
A nice detail about the house itself at Hofwijk is to be gleaned from a letter Huygens wrote to his musical friend Utricia Ogle in 1653. He has, he writes, added two glass extensions to the original house, in which he spends most of his days. These allow him to spend even his time indoors in full sight of the garden (these ‘glass-windowed cabinets’ no longer survive):
In this my little solitude … since your ladyship hath seene it, I have built two lovely glass-windowed cabinets at the waterside, making now more use of them than the whole castle of Hofwijck, which by this meanes is growen to a mighty and stately building, as everything in this world is great or small onely by comparison.23
So far we have focused attention on the Dutch garden as it responded to Europe-wide initiatives in garden design in its own specific terms. But as we have already seen, the garden designers employed in the United Provinces, and particularly by the aspirational house of Orange, had already worked for similarly élite patrons in England, where the formative cultural currents influencing garden design were significantly different.
At the very same time Constantijn Huygens was celebrating the healing effects of time spent in a well-ordered garden, lovingly salvaged from a waterlogged landscape, across the water the fame of an English garden on a far grander scale was being broadcast in a series of dramatic engraved views. First published around 1645, Thomas Rowlett’s elegant volume consisted of a series of twenty-six etchings showing the glories of the garden at Wilton, laid out between 1632 and 1635 by Philip Herbert, 4th Earl of Pembroke. In 1630 Pembroke had married the notable heiress Anne Clifford (a Baroness in her own right), thereby coming into possession of her vast estates in the north of England. Although the marriage had broken down by the time work began on the house at Wilton in 1636, and its plan was much reduced in scale, the magnificent gardens went ahead as planned.24
There are obvious affinities between the coffee-table-book version of Pembroke’s Wilton and Huygens’s literary version of Hofwijk. For one thing, we should notice that both are trying to stabilise the image and memory of what are, on the authors’ and garden-owners’ own admission, evanescent phenomena. Neither Hofwijk nor Wilton ever looked as depicted in its engraved or textual versions. As Huygens allows himself poetic licence to imagine his garden mature and fully grown, so de Caus’s Wilton is an ideal snapshot, with everything orderly and neat, and simultaneously at its optimal state of growth and flowering. In fact, it is quite possible that the Wilton garden engravings include versions of garden features that were never actually completed.
The Wilton volume was reissued in 1654, by Peter Stent, during the English Commonwealth, with a new title page. By this time ostentatious expenditure on private ‘pleasure gardens’ was entirely out of fashion, and we may suppose that one of the points of the publication was nostalgically to recall for Royalists the ‘good old days’, when the nobility’s political and economic power was mirrored symbolically in the visible way in which they exerted control over vast tracts of the English countryside.
The engravings of the garden at Wilton certainly recall an era of calm, leisurely pursuits and élite diversions that was by that time (as far as anyone could know in the 1650s) permanently a thing of the past. The 4th Earl of Pembroke died in 1649, and even by the time of the first issue of the Wilton garden engravings, Charles I and his close courtiers no longer visited to divert themselves, away from the pressures of London court life. (The 4th Earl had in fact taken the Parliamentary side in the Civil Wars, but like Lord Fairfax, the owner of Nunappleton House and garden in Yorkshire – celebrated in Marvell’s poem – he had retired to his country estate during the Commonwealth Period.)
A still closer publishing parallel than Huygens’s ‘Hofwijk’ is Salomon de Caus’s book of engravings of the Palatinate gardens at Heidelberg, which came out in that same year under the title Hortus Palatinus. In the very year in which Frederick and Elizabeth forfeited their claim to the Crown of Bohemia and were driven from the Palatinate, a lavish volume of engravings of that garden was published, which circulated widely across the Continent. By the time these popular engravings were on the market in northern Europe, the gardens they depicted had been devastated and the castle plundered. The engravings were permanent memorials to the lost hope of Protestants in the region, and were purchased as such by those loyal to the memory of the Winter King and Queen.
By the date of the second issue of the Wilton engravings, Wilton too was no longer a stately home, controlled by its noble owner. Lacking much of its former glory, it was now one stop on the circuit of visitors around England, who could visit it for a not insignificant sum.
In 1651, while Sir Constantijn Huygens’s third son, Lodewijk, was in England as part of the diplomatic initiative led by Jacob Cats to negotiate with the new Parliamentary government, he made the horticultural pilgrimage to Wilton. On 11 May, on his way home from a visit to Stonehenge, he paid 2s.3d to visit the house and tour its gardens, now open to the public (1s.3d for the house, 1s for the garden):
We entered the garden, which was indeed very beautiful and symmetrical, except for the fact that it did not correspond well with the house. Near the house it was all flower garden with beautiful fountains, which, however, did not work all the time. There were cypress trees some 18 or 20 feet high in all the avenues and stone statues everywhere. On the other side of the house were groves on either side with a lovely wide stream running through them, besides ponds with fountains. At the end of all this, however, there was a little house. On its roof reached by outside steps, was a pond with fish in it filled with fresh water running in through a pipe and running out through another continually. In this house was one of the finest and most charming grottos I recall ever seeing.25
At Wilton, once again, then, the emphasis is on a genteel struggle for stability and control of the land. But in the English case the battle is with political forces rather than with sea and sand. Driven into retirement on their country estates, deprived of office, and taxed severely for their Royalist involvement, old Royalists focused their energies into ambitious plans for their gardens. On their country estates, at least, they could continue to be masters of all they surveyed – though, fallen on hard times, they now charged the public for entrance to view their horticultural delights.
There are, nevertheless, significant differences in emphasis between the Dutch tradition and developing garden styles in England. It is striking how much attention is paid, both in Dutch garden poems and in gardening handbooks, to trees and shrubs as the most significant and admired features of any well-planned garden, taking precedence over gorgeous displays of flowers in ingeniously intricate arrangements of beds, or even exotic fruits and unfamiliar vegetables. Avenues of elms or limes (fast-growing, and producing a desirably strong, erect tree, with the foliage high and spreading) were pronounced by visitors to be the glory of many a European garden, and particularly of Dutch ones. André Mollet – gardener to Charles I and Charles II in England, Frederik Hendrik in Holland, and Queen Christina of Sweden – makes it a first requirement of any royal garden that the associated house ‘be situated in an advantageous location, so that it can be adorned with all those things necessary for its beautification’, of which the foremost is
a grand double or triple avenue of trees, either elms, or limes (which are the two types of tree we consider suitable for this purpose), which avenue should be aligned at right angles to the front of the house, with a large semi-circle [bordered by trees] where it begins.
In the 1651 edition of Mollet’s little book The Pleasure Garden, based on his most recent designs, for the gardens of the Queen of Sweden in Stockholm, there is a single chapter on ‘the flower garden’. In it, Mollet proclaims tulips ‘greatly to surpass even anemones in beauty and rarity, by reason of their being so admirably variegated and multi-coloured, in an infinity of colour-combinations – white, purple and blue, deep red and white, red and yellow, and many other diverse colours, up to five or six on the same flower – which makes them esteemed by the discerning above all other flowers’.26 The rest of the book consists of discussions of trees and shrubs, including exotica like orange trees, lemon trees, myrtles and jasmines, which Mollet considers a worthy challenge for the skilled gardener to endeavour to grow successfully in cold northern climates.
Here is another reminder of the ease of to-and-fro flow of artistic talent and creativity, backwards and forwards across national boundaries, in this case in the field of garden design. André Mollet, whose father had been a royal gardener in France, first came to England in the 1620s, possibly as a member of Henrietta Maria’s household. From there he went to the United Provinces, on the recommendation of Charles I (and most likely Constantijn Huygens), where he was responsible for garden designs at several royal palaces for Frederik Hendrik and Amalia van Solms as part of their self-conscious efforts to match other European royal houses in their ostentatious style of living. After five years designing gardens for the Queen of Sweden (another aspiring style-setter among European heads of state), he returned to London in 1660, and took on an ambitious remodelling of the gardens at St James’s Palace for Charles II.27
Garden historians have expended a good deal of energy in struggling to define the characteristically ‘French’, ‘English’ and ‘Dutch’ garden as it emerges in this period. In fact, decisions about what and how to emulate are in the hands of gardeners who shuttle between the great houses of various nations, and who adapt to the demands and tastes of their employers. By the time Mollet arrived back in England in 1660, Charles II expected a rectilinear expanse of water, or ‘canal’ (a channel, as opposed to a pond or fountain), as a focal point of any garden of modern design, thereby emulating the Dutch. Garden taste required it; Charles’s peregrinations around northern Europe during his exile had tutored his eye to Dutch garden fashion. At the same time, we might argue that his endorsement of the Dutch style committed him to a version of gardening that pitted the enthusiast against an uncooperative nature and inhospitable surroundings (particularly the encroachment of water). The Dutch garden mentality, in other words, seeped into the English consciousness, shaping an English ideal of landscape beauty compatible with a Dutch one.
So, under Mollet’s new English designs, St James’s Palace and Hampton Court both got ornamental canals, where their Dutch counterparts had functional boundary drainage ditches, and raised walks and flowerbeds corresponding to the functional Dutch dykes. Trees are also used to give a highly visible geometry to both gardens, just as they had been used to line dykes and ditches at Honselaarsdijk. Nor was the flat, low-lying terrain at St James’s a drawback, since in this respect it resembled a Dutch landscape. The canal Mollet introduced provided drainage for the boggy ground, exactly as in the gardens around The Hague.
Constantijn Huygens’s correspondence reveals that while Frederik Hendrik employed André Mollet to design the ornamental beds and flower gardens at Honselaarsdijk in the 1630s, the Stadholder personally undertook the planting of trees himself – or rather, he assigned the tree-planting to a senior court official directly answerable to him.28 Trees were the essential framework for a Dutch garden, stabilising the soil and at the same time, by marking corners and edges of dykes and canals, giving visual meaning to its necessary network of drainage channels.
The emphasis on trees as defining features in a Dutch garden lasted throughout the century. In the 1690s, a visitor to Hans Willem Bentinck’s country estate (Jacob Cat’s old estate), located between The Hague and Scheveningen, wrote of it:
The Gardens consist of Many fine Rows of Sycamores, Ewes [Yews] and other Trees cut very handsomely … very fine Ewe Trees and Hedges, with fine Orange and Bay Trees &ca finely sett out.29
Tree-lined walks bordering canals and framing avenue approaches also featured prominently in the landscaping of Dutch towns. Visitors to the Northern Provinces regularly commented on the way that Dutch towns resembled gardens – in the 1640s, John Evelyn found them ‘frequently planted and shaded with beautiful lime trees, which are set in rows before every man’s house’, and exclaimed: ‘Is there a more ravishing, or delightful object then to behold some intire streets, and whole Towns planted with these Trees, in even lines before their doors, so as they seem like Cities in a wood?’ Twenty years later in England, shortly after the Restoration, it was precisely such shady avenues of lime trees which met with Evelyn’s admiration at Charles II’s newly renovated and refurbished palace at Hampton Court, where he described the park as ‘formerly a flat, naked piece of Ground, now planted with sweete rows of lime-trees, and the Canale for water now neere perfected’.
Another seventeenth-century visitor reported that the streets of Leiden were ‘so many Alleys of a well-adorn’d garden’, while yet another was so struck by the numbers of trees that he was quite ready to believe that people might ask ‘whether Leyden was in a wood, or a wood in Leyden’.30One of Constantijn Huygens’s public projects, of which he was immensely proud, was the design and execution of a paved road linking The Hague directly to the town’s port at Scheveningen – ‘our illustrious new way digged and paved through the sanddownes from hence to Schevering’, as he described it in a letter to Utricia Swann.31 An engraving of this project shows it too to have been bordered on either side with double avenues of trees for the whole of its length.
Expenditure on trees was a sensible long-term option – a way of making an investment with good prospects for future growth in value. As John Evelyn explains in his popular book on tree cultivation, Sylva, printed in London ten years after Huygens published his poem in praise of Hofwijk, when there was an acute timber shortage in England following the depletion of forests and gardens during the Civil Wars, the gracious avenues and groves of trees on a country estate were ‘dulce et utile’ (pleasant and useful). Trees planted ornamentally could eventually serve ‘for Timber and Fuel, as well as for shade and ornament to our dwellings’.32
Or they could be sold on to provide avenue trees for another man’s ambitious garden plan. Evelyn describes the transplanting of full-grown oaks in this way, with considerable verve and brio:
Chuse a Tree as big as your thigh, remove the earth from about him; cut through all the collateral Roots, till with a competent strength you can enforce him down upon one side, so as to come with your Axe at the taproot; cut that off, redress your Tree, and so let it stand cover’d about with the mould you loosen’d from it, till the next year, or longer if you think good; then take it up at a fit season; it will likely have drawn new tender Roots apt to take, and sufficient for the Tree, wheresoever you shall transplant him.
[…] A little before the hardest Frosts surprize you, make a square Trench about your Tree, at such distance from the Stem as you judge sufficient for the Root; dig this of competent depth, so as almost quite to undermine it; by placing blocks, and quarters of wood, to sustain the Earth; this done, cast in as much Water as may fill the Trench, or at least sufficiently wet it, unless the ground were very moist before. Thus let it stand, till some very hard Frost do bind it firmly to the Roots, and then convey it to the pit prepar’d for its new station; but in case the mould about it be so ponderous as not to be remov’d by an ordinary force; you may then raise it with a Crane or Pully hanging between a Triangle, which is made of three strong and tall Limbs united at the top, where a Pully is fastned, as the Cables are to be under the quarters which bear the earth about the Roots.33
In 1662 Sir Constantijn Huygens’s son Christiaan wrote to the newly established Royal Society in London, requesting a pre-publication copy of Evelyn’s Sylva for his father.34 By this time some of those precious saplings, lovingly planted in the 1630s, would have needed to be moved, to preserve the symmetry and perfect matching of trees which was an essential part of the garden’s original conception.
In ‘Hofwijk’, Constantijn Huygens urges his children and grandchildren to refrain from felling the trees that were his pride and joy, but still he refers to them as ‘invested gold’ and ‘planted capital’. Felling and transplantation were recognised advantages of extensive wooded estates – substantial trees might be dug up (with a large clod of earth attached) and moved to furnish more avenues, while trees thinned to keep coppices airy and suitable to walk in could be sold for commercial use.
I close this exploration of Constantijn Huygens’s beloved Hofwijk with a charming letter, written by the ageing diplomat to his friend Sir William Temple in 1676:
Be apprised of the fact that since some time ago the Hofwijck forest has been enlarged and beautified with four new shady avenues, and extended to impressive length, the result has been judged so beautiful and surprising, that those with most taste have concluded that it would be well worthwhile if the plenipotentiaries – both men and women – from Nijmeghen, instead of amusing themselves with trifles at Cleves, would abandon all matters of state there to come and admire Hofwijk’s magnificence … This forest has been decorated with numerous bowling balls, of such an exceptional size that they roll as if by themselve the length of these grand avenues, till they are lost from view, and quite otherwise than happens on the ‘bowling alleys’ and ‘bowling greens’ by the sea at Scheveling.35
Temple and his diplomatic colleagues should therefore rush to Hofwijk, concludes Huygens. And he signs himself off: ‘the Marquis of Hofwijk, gobbler up of British ducats [won] at the game of quilles, “penny wise and pound foolish”’.
The topographically demanding conditions for Low Countries gardening coloured, consciously or unconsciously, Dutch appreciation of gardens. Dutch travellers’ admiration was especially reserved for gardens that showed visible signs of a struggle between the aspirational owner and an unpromising location. We have a telling example of this during one of Constantijn Huygens senior’s early trips abroad, in spring 1620, when he was travelling as part of a diplomatic mission to Venice in the train of François van Aerssen, Heer van Sommelsdijck.36 Huygens’s diary of the mission reveals that they visited a number of gardens on their journey, among them the celebrated ones designed by Salomon de Caus at Heidelberg, home of Frederick, Elector Palatine, and his wife Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of the English King James I.
The visit took place at a tense moment in the history of the Palatinate. In 1619, the Protestant Frederick had been persuaded to accept the Crown of Bohemia, rather than allow it to go to a Catholic claimant, and that autumn he and Elizabeth had left Heidelberg for Prague to take possession of their kingdom. Hardly had they arrived in triumph, when it became clear that the Catholic Hapsburg powers would not sanction Frederick and Elizabeth’s claim, and declared war against them. In November 1620 Frederick and his allies received a crushing defeat at the battle of the White Mountain, and the couple were forced to flee for their lives. Denied refuge by one northern state after another, they eventually arrived in The Hague, and the welcoming shelter extended by the Stadholder Frederick Hendrik to his nephew (his eldest sister’s son) and his wife. There they settled for the remainder of both of their lives, Elizabeth outliving her husband by thirty years, and becoming an increasing financial burden on and embarrassment to the house of Orange.37 Thus spring 1620 was the ominous calm before the storm, when it was all too clear how precarious was the hold of Frederick and Elizabeth upon power of any kind in the region.
When the Dutch mission reached Heidelberg, they were received in style as allies and supporters of the ‘Winter King and Queen’, as they would become known, by Frederick’s mother, Louise-Juliana of Orange-Nassau, daughter of William I of Orange (William the Silent) by his first wife, Charlotte de Bourbon-Montpensier, and sister of the Dutch Stadholder. The Orange delegation was welcomed effusively by the Dowager Electress herself, and Huygens records with pride in his journal how he was singled out for special attention:
I presented her with a letter from Madame the Princess of Orange [Louise de Coligny, third wife and widow of William the Silent], which she read, and, knowing who I was, welcomed me most warmly: asking cordially after my father, his health, his household, his children; thanking him for the affection and good will which he continued to show towards the descendants of his Excellency Monsieur the Prince her Father [i.e. the house of Orange], with all kinds of other assurances of benevolence and good will towards our family.38
Taken on a tour of the castle grounds while the Ambassador was in closed conference, Huygens expressed special admiration for the way in which its renowned gardens had been created from ‘bare rock’ – evidence of a triumphant struggle against the natural limitations of the mountainous terrain:
We were taken to see the beautiful Palace gardens, which are the more admirable for the fact that just four years ago there was nothing here but bare rock, like the rest of the mountain, which they had had to excavate to construct a fertile area of land. Which it presently is – bearing flowers, fig trees, orange trees, etc. in abundance. At the end of the garden are the grottos and fountains designed by Salomon de Caus, which are absolutely outstanding, outclassing all those in France in scale.39
So at this moment of acute political precariousness for the Palatinate ruling family in Heidelberg, Huygens turns to the similarly precariously sustained palace gardens as a kind of emotional surrogate. His admiration for the visible struggle in these dramatic gardens between art and nature substitutes for the intensity of feeling circulating in the group waiting anxiously for the outcome of events taking place in Prague – perhaps, indeed, the Dutch-born Dowager Electress and the visiting Dutch Ambassador made some kind of reference to the parallel themselves. Not long after this visit, the palace and its grounds were laid waste by enemy invading forces, the remainder of the Elector’s family driven out, and the glorious gardens destroyed.
Jacob Cats – Holland’s favourite poet and prominent politician during the coming-of-age of the Dutch Republic in the first half of the seventeenth century – claimed that it was his own clear understanding of the symbolic meaning of gardening for a nation constantly at war with the elements which led him to persuade the Orange Stadholder to make gardening his chief (and very public) recreation. When, in his poetry, he characterised Frederik Hendrik as ‘a sovereign much inclined to gardening’ (’een vorst tot planten seer genegen’), he meant intentionally to consolidate the propaganda image of this symbolic struggle to retain Holland as a fruitful land against the invasive forces of sea and sand. In his poetic work on ‘Age, Country Life, and Garden Thoughts’, Cats claimed that he had encouraged the Stadholder to take an interest in gardens each time he visited Cats’s own estate at Sorgvliet (also among the sand dunes close to The Hague, and like Huygens’s rural retreat, self-consciously named: ‘Flight from worldly care’). The Stadholder, Cats felt, should design great pleasure gardens, both for his own delight, and symbolically, to represent his role as guiding spirit of a nation dedicated to creating affluence and productivity out of unpromising packets of land rescued from the sea:
Prince Henry being a sovereign to gardening much inclined
Often came to see God’s great blessings here [at Sorgvliet] to find.
His Highness was amazed when he would then discover
That rich and sumptuous woods once empty grounds did cover.
I told him, mighty Sovereign, you’re buying various lands
And that at a high cost, but getting barren sands.
Do turn them into woods, and from this dust despised
Create a handsome arbour, let pleasure gardens rise.
This is true Princely work, with Holland’s good in mind,
And leads you to be praised for what you left behind.40
As one historian of Dutch gardens puts it:
The fight for land, the constant effort to keep it safe from the sea and foreign intruders, whether perceived as a real or an abstract threat, is one of the general themes and thoughts which have permeated not only Dutch culture in general but the art of Dutch gardening in particular. Land reclamation and cultivation and the creation of a peculiarly Dutch geometrical landscape interspersed with canals lay at the foundation of the art of gardening in Holland, so much so that the country itself became identified with a garden and its people with gardeners.41
In a poem less well-known and anthologised than his garden poems, Andrew Marvell, who had travelled extensively in the Low Countries during the Civil War years, characterised Holland as a hapless piece of land created by its dogged people out of the detritus and leftovers of England:
Holland, that scarce deserves the name of Land,
As but th’Off-scouring of the Brittish Sand;
And so much Earth as was contributed
By English Pilots when they heav’d the Lead;
Or what by th’ Oceans slow alluvion fell,
Of shipwrackt Cockle and the Muscle-shell;
This indigested vomit of the Sea
Fell to the Dutch by just Propriety.
Less negative commonplaces concerning the Dutch and their land suggested that with the help of ‘Hollanders’ land could be secured against the sea almost anywhere.
The Dutch garden was a triumph of endeavour and ingenuity over a fundamentally unpromising environment. As transposed to England after the Restoration, the emphasis on tree-lined avenues and walks, and the regular expanses of water (as, for instance, at Hampton Court and St James’s) were a kind of homage to Dutch resilience and persistence. In combination with engineering-based drainage works at Hatfield Chase in Yorkshire, and in the East Anglian Fens, these features of the Anglo–Dutch landscape contributed a quality to the English countryside which has lasted down to the present day.