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Historic Garden Designers: William Kent

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Historic Garden Designers: William Kent

Landscape Garden Design William Kent

The first in our historic garden designer series, delve into the life and legacy of top architect and garden designer, William Kent. 

Regarded as one of the most prestigious of Georgian Britain’s architects, William Kent is most famously known for his beautifully sculpted gardens at Rousham House. An innovator of English landscape design, Kent was praised for his extraordinary creation of natural estate gardens and grand landscapes. With the Hanoverian Royal Family rising to power in 1714, William Kent led the design world, redefining Britain with a refreshing and innovative garden style that would take the nation by storm.

Early life

Born in Bridlington, William Kent attended Bridlington Grammar School and shortly after became an apprentice house painter. In 1709 he left for Italy to finalise his training.

Meeting a series of highly regarded friends along his “Grand Tour” travels such as the Earl of Leicester and the third Earl of Burlington, Kent made his way back to England 10 years later.

Defining a strong connection between Britain and Italy during the Palladio era, Kent’s designs were soon growing in popularity, which, before long, allowed him to become a Deputy Royal Surveyor at the Royal Office of Works.

Famously known for his contribution to Stowe’s Elysian Fields, Kent was the pioneer of a more informal garden style and, therefore, his creation of Rousham Gardens in 1738 was one of Kent’s most highly-regarded designs and can still be enjoyed to this day.

Landscape design

An architect, stage designer and even book illustrator, William Kent was an exceptionally talented creative who was arguably most famously known for his glorious English landscape garden designs.

Found nestled in the captivating Oxfordshire landscape of Rousham, Rousham House and Gardens is a prime example of one of William Kent’s most glorious garden designs.

Constructed in 1635 by Sir Robert Dormer, Rousham House is set in a breathtaking expanse of Oxfordshire countryside. With the helping hand of Kent’s skilled eye for design, the beauty of this grand estate was further enhanced by Kent’s truly breathtaking English garden design.

Filled with an array of traditional English landscape features, such as vast bodies of water and historical structures, you can still walk and admire the grounds to this day.

Beginning at the bowling green, the Great Lawn is the first statement aspect that will ensure to grab your attention. Overlooking a rich landscape containing the river Cherwell, you can choose one of many paths to lead you down to the William Kent Gardens.

Heavily influenced by the Italian ruins of Palestrina, these gardens contain a series of tranquil water features such as flowing rills, pools and striking statues.

Further work…

With Rousham’s gardens often referred to as Kent’s most well-known work, you can also find his stunning English landscape influence dotted throughout Britain in several other striking estate gardens.

Located in Surrey, in the beautiful town of Esher, you can find Claremont Landscape Garden.

During the 1720s, the Duke of Newcastle appointed Charles Bridgeman, an established landscape designer, to transform the grounds into a formal garden design. However, just 10 years later, styles began to change and the wilder, and looser designs, of English landscape gardens began to soar in popularity among the social elite.

In the 1730s, this change quickly led to William Kent being called in to refresh the garden in the new style of English landscape design.

Containing picturesque pleasure grounds and expansive parklands, Kent influenced this landscape alongside the likes of Capability Brown, including a beautiful grass amphitheatre and winding serpentine lake (which to this day is still home to an ever-expanding community of waterfowl).

Eager to dive into more horticultural history? Scroll through our stories and see what we’re talking about this week. 

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