Loudon’s Circular Flowerbed
John Claudius Loudon (1783 – 1843), often called the father of the English garden, wrote books and articles on gardening and growing plants which were widely read and used in the creation of private and public gardens in the 19th century. Loudon did not believe that gardens should imitate nature. His gardenesque style allowed for the placement of specially designed planting areas where plants could grow under optimal conditions. These planting areas were geometrically shaped like squares, triangles, and circles.
In his Suburban Gardener and Villa Companion, published in 1838, Loudon describes the construction of a circular flower bed on a grassy lawn. The outside of this flowerbed was made of a circle of bricks with the short sides of the bricks facing each other (a). The raised slope inside the circle (c) was covered by another row of bricks (b) laid perpendicular to the bricks forming the outside circle. A year after the publication of Loudon’s book, the description of this circular bed with accompanying illustrations was republished in The Magazine of Horticulture, Botany, and All Useful Discoveries and Improvements in Rural Affairs (Volume 5, 1839, p.133) in America. The circular bed was praised as an inexpensive method of creating desirable planting areas for growing a mixture of verbenas, and other plants with maybe a tall fuchsia as a center piece in the middle. In the next edition of this magazine, Mr. R.S. Field of Princeton is praised for having introduced this circular flower bed with “the result being quite pleasing and worth imitation.” The article recognizes Field as an innovator willing to experiment with building these new planting areas.
In 1840 when the article was written, Robert Stockton Field was still living on Stockton street across from the Morven estate and had not yet bought the property that later became Marquand Park. Thus, it is uncertain if he ever constructed similar flowerbeds on his newly purchased estate. But Field’s association with Loudon’s work is interesting. He most likely owned a copy of the Suburban Gardener and Villa Companion or was familiar with Loudon’s gardening methods from local publications. When, the time came for designing and constructing his newly purchased estate, then called Fieldwood, Field did not follow Loudon’s gardenesque style but preferred the more natural and pitturesque garden designs popularized by Andrew Jackson Downing. But even in this more natural landscape design, the construction of some circular flowerbeds could be easily imagined.
John Notman and Andrew Downing
John Notman, the architect of Guernsey Hall (the estate house of the property that is now Marquand Park), was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on July 7, 1810. He studied at the “School of Arts” also known as The Royal Academy of Scotland before emigrating to the United States in 1831. Notman arrived in Philadelphia with excellent drawing skills and a four-year apprenticeship which put him at great advantage to American practicing architects. He initially worked as a carpenter, quickly established his career as an architect around 1835, and eventually became well known for his designs of churches, private homes, and public buildings.
Notman was responsible for many of the great historic buildings that remain in Princeton, including Prospect House, expansions to Nassau Hall, and the Lowrie House, located at 83 Stockton Street. His biographer, Connie Greiff writes of Notman: “He introduced the Italianate villa to the United Stated at Burlington, NJ and was recognized by the chief apostle of the picturesque, A.J. Downing, as one of the country’s most skilled practitioners in that vein.“
The Princeton University Library has a drawing by Notman intended as a design for the garden of Guernsey Hall. It shows similarities to the current lay-out of Marquand park. In this drawing and an another for Laurel Hill, the first architecturally designed park-like rural cemetery in the country, the strongly influence of the landscaped garden principles of Andrew Downing on Notman can be observed in the meandering paths, clusters of trees, wide lawns, and open vistas. In his Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening and essays published in his magazine, The Horticulturist, Downing popularized landscape gardening among America’s growing middle and upper middle classes. Following British models, he categorized landscape design styles as “The Beautiful” (calm and serene) and “The Picturesque” (dramatic), with the style to be determined by the existing landscape context. Proponents of the Picturesque strove to make “improvements” to the natural landscape. They aimed to perfect nature by considering the real site-specific characteristics of a place, the genius loci or what we might consider a “sense of place.” This might be realized by recognizing the topography of a site or framing a view of a borrowed landscape. These approaches often were employed on a single site. Olmsted, Downing, and Weidenmann all created picturesque landscapes, including many public parks. The picturesque style remained popular from the 1840s well into the early 20th century.