Restored parterre de broderie – Witley Court

Earlier this week I posted about my visit to Witley Court, an English Heritage property and I mentioned that the gardens had been recently restored.  As promised here they are.

The original parterres were designed by landscape architect

William Nesfield between 1854 and 1860.   The parterre is designed to be seen from above, for example from the ballroom window, and is called ‘de broderie’ is because it is reminiscent of embroidery patterns.  Parterres were very popular during the 18th century and Nesfield was often considered controversial due to his approach which often included a redirection of the Victorian approach and use of old ideas; such as the parterre.

The parterre de broderie is made up of clipped low edges with the areas filled with bedding plants and also coloured stones or gravel.  As I have said parterres had become very popular in England in the 17th century due to the fashionable gardens in France  such as Versailles which were seen as the epitome of good gardens.

Nesfield, like many landscape architects and garden designers of the past, has suffered from relative obscurity.  However, just as Lancelot Capability Brown has become a household name, well amongst the visitors to National Trust properties, due to the restoration of his gardens, Nesfield is slowly beginning to become better known. The restoration of his Avenue Gardens in Regent Street in the 1990s prompted press interest and now that English Heritage has restored the gardens at Witley, completed in 2011, hopefully Nesfield’s cannon of work will start to get more acclaim.

Interestingly there is now some evidence that Nesfield was responsible for coining the expression ‘landscape architect’ as far back as 1849, long before the American Olmstead who the phrase is widely attributed to.  If you are interesting in reading more on this then there is a fascinating article in Landscape History.

I have to say that parterres aren’t really my thing, they leave me a little cold but I find the historical side of the garden fascinating and it has led me to learn more about a landscape architect from the past.  This is particularly interesting given my dabbling in landscape history earlier in the year which dealt with, at length, the 17th century parterres and landscape gardens and to my mind skipped far to quickly through the Victorian period, overlooking the likes of Nesfield.

My only criticism of the garden is that, as you can see, it is very hard to get a good view of and I wonder if there is any way English Heritage could supply some sort of viewing platform – just a thought.

9 Comments on “Restored parterre de broderie – Witley Court

  1. Parterrres de broderie are definitely best viewed from a high window or even a tower; if you want to make a successful one to be viewed from the ground you’d have to do a Holbein-esque distortion of the perspective to get any kind of effect, and I suspect this has never been attempted… (Would be kind of cool, though!)

    I, too, find parterres a bit cold, but then again they are part of the Baroque which was all about effect and showmanship – and indeed specific views. Today I suspect many of us prefer the slightly less rigid styles of cottage gardens or the English borders.

  2. A viewing platform is a good idea for any garden with large parterres! They’re too formal for my liking but appreciate the art and patience of maintaining them.

  3. Parterrres de broderie aren’t my favourite style of gardening, I prefer the early Renaissance style of simple squares of hedging filled with plants similar to those re-created by Lady Salisbury at Hatfield House in the ‘newer’ part of the garden. Christina

  4. Thank you for sharing pictures of this gorgeous garden. I have a cottage garden, but I certainly do appreciate and love this style of gardening. I admire the diligence and hard work required to achieve such precision and beauty.

  5. We don’t see these here in the States much, but I do like them. I think mostly because of the incredible design. It is not easy to create and maintain these. I admire how uniform they are as well which is completely contrary to my style of garden.

  6. Yvonne – NZ – Yes I agree with you – not my favourite design of garden – so much maintenance and so rigid – but interesting to see. Not many here in NZ. Much prefer a more loose and soft type. Christchurch in NZ has more formal gardens and I say not complimentary ‘Oh that’s a like a Christchurch garden – especially if it has bedding begonias. Ok 50 years ago but I don’t like now!

  7. Hmm. Well, I don’t dislike them at all. Would I want to tend them? Nah. Would I want to visit and see them? Yes (with tea and cake). Not sure I agree about the viewing platform idea, Helen. They weren’t designed and planted with that in mind and so I think the oblique view is just fine. Plus it makes us work. It makes us wonder how they might appear from above. Which I quite like. Dave

  8. Could you ever envision Witley Court restored back to its former glory as a Hotel/Wedding Venue, as well as a monument dedicated to Winston Churchill, as well as his parents and family members? With the Churchill mystique added to Witley Court, it might be able to rival the great country houses(like Blenheim Palace and Chatsworth) once again. Do you agree?

  9. Hello Helen, love your blog and the Nesfield images. Can I use one (will give you credit) on my blog for a post I am writing on Nesfield and the Victorian garden? My blog site URL is:

Please feel free to leave comments as its always lovely to get feedback. I try to respond to comments as much as possible but sometimes life and work get in the way but I will do my best to respond especially if your comment is a question.

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