Elizabethan devices

Garden plan, Twickenham

Smythson - garden plan of Twickenham_530x373

Garden plan, Twickenham
Drawing: R. Smythson (c. 1590)
Source: RIBA British Architectural Library Drawings & Archives Collection

Even more than buildings, gardens allowed the Elizabethans to indulge in their passion for patterns. This plan of Lord Bedford’s house and garden at Twickenham, drawn by Robert Smythson, expresses this especially well.

The house itself seems unremarkable. Not especially large, its ground plan is unsymmetrical, suggesting that the house has been added to in a haphazard fashion, as and when needed. Behind this is a kitchen garden, again relatively modest. However, beside these, entered through small side gates, is the large formal garden.

Made up of a series of concentric circles placed within squares, this garden resembles embroidery design more than architecture. Looking closely, one realises that this is not fully symmetrical, and has many different levels. We can even find out the planting scheme: lime and birch trees making up the inner circles; the outer square borders composed of rosemary, thorns and trees cut into beasts. What, though, would have been in the tower-like round gardens in the corners? 

This is a survey drawing, not a design. Smythson here has mapped out the house and garden plan, most probably for his own interest, but perhaps for a patron. Certainly there were many other geometrically-obsessed gardens created like this in the period, but few were equal.


About the online exhibition

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Images in the exhibition are from RIBApix, a growing database dedicated to providing you with exceptional and unique images from the RIBA British Architectural Library's collections.

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