Monthly Archives: May 2020

Trellis work from The Netherlands

Illustration from Den Nederlandtsen Hovenier, or, The Dutch Gardener (1669) by gardener Jan van der Groen.  The reader is invited into the garden to learn the secrets of Dutch horticulture – including some fabulous trellis work. The Getty Research Institute via

If you look closely, images of 17th century gardens often reveal glimpses of elaborate trellis and lattice work.  Styled to echo architectural features, they provide shaded walkways and privacy for visitors, as well as year round structure in the garden.  Openings in the trellis work frame views of the garden, softened by the foliage and flowers supported by their frameworks.

Frequently, however, it’s hard to see from illustrations exactly how the trellis work was constructed – the plant cover might be too dense, or the structure is too far in the background to be able to see much detail.  While many gardening books from this period contain patterns for knot gardens it’s more unusual to see designs for trellis structures, so I was delighted to find some contained in Het Vermakelijck Landt-leven (1669) which translated from the Dutch means The Pleasurable Country Life.

This book brings together several texts – two about gardening and others about household medicine, bee-keeping and cooking.  A gardener’s calendar explains about plants and seasonal tasks while Den Nederlandtsen Hovenier, or, The Dutch Gardener by Jan van der Groen, a gardener to the Dutch royal family, contains illustrations of some of the country’s finest gardens together with dozens of designs for parterres – and trellis.

According to Lenneke Berkhout at the University of Groningen, Jan van der Groen married into a family of stadholder gardeners, who managed gardens belonging to wealthy households, and by way of this connection he was able to build his career.  Berkhout notes that Van der Groen’s father grew and supplied plants to stadholder gardens alongside his main profession as a broom maker, which might have sparked his son’s early interest in horticulture.

In Dutch society, a stadholder gardener had the status of an overseer, and was part of the middle class, probably owning their own property.  In the mid-17th century there would have been many such stadholder gardeners employed in the Netherlands, but Van der Groen was remarkable in that he wrote a book about his experiences.  Berkhout says, ‘Ultimately, it was the publication of his book that set Van der Groen apart from his peers.  No other court gardener ever penned such a work.’

As you’d expect from a gardener to royalty, many of the trellis structures featured in Van der Groen’s book are extremely complex.  Some of the porticos are crowned with globes and pyramids, and have alcoves for statuary – others have trees incorporated into the structure, their tightly clipped canopies emerging from a trellis vase at the summit.

However, in the last two pages of illustrations the designs are less complicated and smaller in scale.  Constructed out of lateral lengths of wood, these include a charming arbour with a seat, some gateways and a simple colonnade.  As with some of the patterns for knot gardens, these trellis designs could be scaled according to space and budget.

When re-constructing period gardens today the choice of appropriate plants is important, of course, but these striking images show that features like trellis also play a crucial part in creating a space that possesses an atmosphere of the past.

Links to Het Vermakelijck Landt-leven below:

Lattice work in the shape of pyramids, a pillar and a vase designed to incorporate a standard tree growing through it. One of the structures reveals wooden spikes at the bottom to fix it into the ground.

Rosa x alba ‘Alba Maxima’ (A) or the white rose of York grown on an arbour constructed of hazel poles in the 17th century garden at the Geffrye Museum (2016)

Further reading:

Het Vermakelijck Landt-leven

As ever, David Marsh at the Gardens Trust has explored this subject comprehensively – link to his blog : Treillage

Lenneke Berkhout’s article about royal gardener Jan van der Groen

Humphry Repton at Hare Street

The view at Hare Street after improvements were made to the garden. Images from Fragments of the theory and practice of landscape gardening (Getty Research Institute via

Written towards the end of his life, Humphry Repton’s Fragments on the theory and practice of landscape gardening (1816) is a personal reflection on his career, recalling dozens of the garden projects that he undertook, both great and small, some completed and others unfinished.

Liberated, perhaps, by a sense that he had not much longer to live, Repton is candid about garden styles – and clients – providing us with some interesting insights:

‘Twenty years have now passed away and it is possible that life may be extended twenty years longer, but from my feelings more probable that it will not reach as many weeks; and therefore I may now perhaps be writing the last Fragment of my Labours.  I have lived to see many of my plans beautifully realized, but many more, cruelly marred; sometimes by false economy; sometimes  by injudicious extravagance.  I have also lived to reach that period, when the improvement of Houses and Gardens is more delightful to me, than that of Parks or Forests, Landscapes or distant prospects.’

In the concluding chapter Repton returns to his cottage and garden at Hare Street, his home in Essex for thirty years and his retreat from ‘the pomp of palaces, the elegancies of fashion, or the allurements of dissipation’.

Two illustrations of his garden are provided – one as it was when he acquired the property and another after improvements.  By extending the garden at the front of the house, he is able to frame the view of the village which he finds more pleasing than extensive parkland.  Repton explains:

‘.. it stood originally within five yards of a broad part of the high road: this area was often covered with droves of cattle, of pigs, or geese.  I obtained leave to remove the paling twenty yards farther from the windows; and by this Appropriation of twenty-five yards of Garden, I have obtained a frame to my Landscape; the frame is composed of flowering shrubs and evergreens; beyond which are seen the cheerful village, the high road, and that constant moving scene, which I would not exchange for any of the lonely parks, that I have improved for others;’

A closer inspection of the improved garden reveals the detail of the planting.  Repton has retained two mature trees which he has set within a semi-circular lawn, helping to frame the outlook.  The view of the butcher’s shop is obscured with an iron structure supporting climbing roses and a low rose hedge hides ‘the dirt of the road, without concealing the moving objects which animate the Landscape.’  The practical watering can and simple kitchen chair reinforce the humility of this country residence.

Repton concludes:

‘The most valuable lesson now left me to communicate is this: I am convinced that the delight I have always taken in Landscapes and Gardens, without any reference to their Quantity or Appropriation, or without caring whether they were Forests or Rosaries, or whether they were Palaces, Villas, or Cottages, while I had leave to admire their beauties, and even to direct their improvement has been the chief source of that large proportion of happiness which I have enjoyed through life,’

As we currently spend more time at home than usual – and in our gardens if we are fortunate enough to have them – Hare Street is a reminder of the importance of gardens as a refuge from the world outside whatever their size, and that constructing them is a source of great contentment in our lives.

Humphry Repton 1752 – 1818

The view from the cottage at Hare Street before improvements were made.  The site is located near to Gidea Park in east London.

Detail of the shop front Repton wished to obscure from view

Repton does not say as much, but perhaps another reason to extend his garden was to keep certain people at a distance.

Detail of climbing roses on a structure placed to obscure the view of the butcher’s shop

Detail showing a flowerbed and a hedge of roses and sweet-briar which obscured the dirt of the village road, but allowed Repton to see the movement of people

Repton believed his clients might derive pleasure not so much from the beauty of the their rural view but from calculating how much their livestock might be worth

A vignette showing surveying and drawing implements, plants and practical gardening tools – all necessary to the trade of the landscape architect

Further reading:

Fragments on the theory and practice of landscape gardening

Humphry Repton on Wikipedia