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:
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