As in other eighteenth-century descriptions of the wilderness, Nourse seems to let his imagination run riot, listing all manner of species that would get quickly out of control and create insuperable maintenance problems.
Robert Clark (email: [email protected]) is Founding Editor of The Literary Encyclopedia.
He has published on Austen and agricultural matters, and he is currently working on Austen and the rise of political economy and editing a collection entitled Austen’s Geographies.
This layout is derived from one used by Le Nôtre at Marly in France, and later echoed by one of his followers at Killruddery in Ireland. [and are] bordered with Hedges and Lattice-work, and their Alleys are handsomely kept and well gravel’d, which renders them very neat and curious” (64, 65).
In other gardens, while the avenues remain regular, the planting in the quarters between them is mixed and naturalistic, and in these cases garden books of the period often recommend that such planting be graduated in height. The inspiration for these wilderness gardens originated from the Italian bosco, often mediated by the French bosquet or boscage, notably at Versailles.
At Chevening, for example, we find, on either side of a long central basin or miroir d’eau, two elaborate wildernesses within which the planting is still highly regularized.
Chevening, by Thomas Badeslade, History of Kent (1719).As can be seen clearly from contemporary illustrations, these bosquets were usually arranged as blocks within a regular pattern of allées, but, as formal gardening evolved, the strict linearity of the major allées was sometimes supplemented by serpentine paths (notably promoted by Batty Langley, Stephen Switzer, and William Kent, famously with his rill at Rousham) leading to various garden rooms (cabinets, salles vertes, salles de verdures) in which statuary, basins, fountains, and seats would encourage pleasure, meditation, or conversation, and of course appreciation for the taste and discernment of the garden owner. The usual Method of contriving Wildernesses is, to divide the whole Compass of Ground, either into Squares, Angles, Circles, or other Figures . These should now and then lead into an open circular Piece of Grass; in the Center of which may be placed either an Obelisk, Statue, or Fountain; and if in the Middle Part of the Wilderness there be contrived a large Opening, in the Center of which may be erected a Dome or Banqueting House, surrounded with a green Plot of Grass, it will be a considerable Addition to the Beauty of the Place.Within such increasingly complex layouts, visitors might become “bewildered” as to where they were, as happens to Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park. (n.p.) That the first edition of Miller’s Dictionary in 1724 makes no mention of wildernesses, but the 1734 edition, now much expanded into three volumes, offers two descriptions, one in volume 2 and another in volume 3 (from which this description comes), shows how the importance of wildernesses had increased very much in a decade.As my own interest in this topic has developed across the last thirty years, I have become aware that even the owners of onetime wilderness gardens have little knowledge of the history of the genre.In this essay I therefore seek to provide an overview of the history of the wilderness garden (sections 1-3), some suggestions about two gardens that Austen may have used as models for the Sotherton episode in Mansfield Park (section 4), and finally some suggestions about how we should read that episode once we have begun to understand what a “wilderness garden” implied in Austen’s time (section 6).In 2014 he published “Mansfield Park and the Moral Empire” in Persuasions 36.