Shrubbery

Shrubbery

[shruhb-uh-ree]

A shrubbery was a feature of 19th-century gardens in the English manner, with its origins in the gardenesque style of the early part of the century. A shrubbery was a collection of hardy shrubs, quite distinct from a flower garden, which was a cutting garden to supply flowers in the house. The shrubbery was arranged as a walk, ideally a winding one, that made a circuit that brought the walker back to the terrace of the house. Its paths were gravel, so that it dried quickly after a rain. A walk in the shrubbery offered a chance for a private conversation, and a winding walk among shrubs surrounding even quite a small lawn was a feature of the garden behind a well-furnished Regency suburban villa.

"Mr Rushworth," said Lady Bertram, "if I were you, I would have a very pretty shrubbery. One likes to get out into a shrubbery in fine weather." —Jane Austen, Mansfield Park (1814).

In the 1980s John Nash's never-executed plans for the garden setting of the Brighton Pavilion, illustrated in Nash's volume Views of the Royal Pavilion (1826), were finally carried out, in connection with the extensive restorations of the Pavilion itself. Its "fairly open landscape of soft lawns dotted with trees and set with lightly-wooded, sinuous shrubberies" are best illustrated in Augustus Charles Pugin's watercolor view c. 1822 of the west front of the Pavilion, reproduced in Nash's publication. The winding perimeter walk circling the lawn among the shrubs and trees, enriched with island beds of herbaceous perennials, began to be laid out in 1814, with a flush of activity 1817-21. Two books of commentaries proved indispensable for the replanting scheme. One was Henry Phillips, who wrote in 1823

The shrubbery is a style of pleasure-garden which seems to owe its creation to the idea that our sublime poet formed of Eden. It originated in England and is as peculiar to the British nation as landscape planting.

The formulas for arranging a shrubbery were founded on contemporary painterly requirements for the Picturesque; judicious contrast and variety were essential, but Philips seems to have been among the first garden writers to notice that yellowish-greenm leaves in the foreground seem to throw bluish green-leaved shrubs deeper into a perceived distance. The desirable undulations of paths and islands and bands of shrub plantings would ideally undulate in elevation too: "break up the level by throwing up uelevations,' Philips suggested, "so as to answer the double purpose of obscuring private walks and creening other parts from the wind.

Nash was at work also on the public parks of London, devising the shrubberies of Regent's Park and of St. James's Park, where the German visitor Prince Pückler-Muskau discerned that

Mr Nash...masses the shrubs more closely together, allows the grass to disappear in wide sweeps under the plants or lets it run along the edges of the shrubs without trimming them ...hence they soon develop into a thicket that gracefully bends over the lawn without showing anywhere a sharply defined outline

Such precise effects were made immeasurably simpler by the invention in 1827 by the English engineer Edwin Beard Budding of the rotary lawn mower, an extrapolation of machinery commonly being used to cut velvet pile.

After the turn of the new century Gertrude Jekyll offered a chapter of suggestions for "Wood and Shrubbery edges" in Colour Schemes for the Flower Garden (London, 1908) in which her descriptions were based on her own garden at Munstead Wood, south of Godalming, Surrey, but her shrubbery and hardy perennial plantings were design to soften the effert "Where woodland joins garden ground there is often a sudden jolt; the wood ends with a hard line, sometimes with a path along it, accentuating the defect. In the expansive space of even a small Edwardian garden, Miss Jekyll recommended a space "from twenty-five to forty feet" planted to as to bring wood and garden into harmony, "so planted as to belong equally to garden and wood." Rhododendrons were the stand-by in these shrub belts, combined with ferns, wood-rush, lilies, white foxgloves and white columbines. The genteel country-house connotations of a shrubbery were exploited by Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1974) in the demand of the Knights who say Ni for an instant shrubbery:

ARTHUR: O Knights of Ni, you are just and fair, and we will return with a shrubbery.
HEAD KNIGHT: One that looks nice.
ARTHUR: Of course.
HEAD KNIGHT: And not too expensive.
ARTHUR: Yes.

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