Audio Tour 2
2a) Chiswick as it Never Was
2b) A Revolutionary Garden
(Scroll down for second part of tour)
2a Chiswick as it Never Was?
‘The Shadow’ by Michelle Penn, a London-based poet and fiction writer.
(Tone: humorous jealousy)
I am only her follower, her echo, barely noticeable. She flits and she flirts with the bird in her hand and she sings, she sings, tra-la-la-waltzing her way across a patch of grass, her stage, lit just for her by a gracious sun. I do my best, follow and keep up, but she’s more graceful, more subtle than I — a mere shadow. She has even dressed for the occasion, outdone me once again, her snappy white dress and hat match the house perfectly. They even match the clouds, those perfect painter’s puffs. Or no. Of course. They dressed to look like her.
(Humorous, singing a little made-up song)
How can the river and trees even compete
when my little mistress takes to her feet?
Even her dog, what’s-his-name, even he can’t command attention the way she can. He simply barks his unbroken adulation, his anthem of love and she laughs, taps him playfully on the nose before joining a new duet with the birds. If she could, she’d take wing, her dress billowing, drawing her above the treetops and toward the clouds. I’d be clinging to her ankles, hoping not to fall.
Low and silent as I am, I try to accept my place. I try to be generous in thought and spirit, more picturesque in my own private way.
‘Just act naturally,’ she whispers. ‘Please don’t worry so.’
I am my mistress’s shadow. Only the trees and river don’t know, the big house doesn’t know that the little miss doesn’t exist. She’s no more solid that I. She is an artist’s whim, a flick of colour on canvas, a fine detail in a splendid scene. A happy phantom perhaps, but a phantom nonetheless. Even the prettiest landscape needs its shadows.
2b A Revolutionary Garden
Chiswick was a new and revolutionary kind of garden. At the beginning of the 18th century, it was fashionable to have formal gardens, which were laid out in carefully planned geometric shapes. Lord Burlington bucked that trend, with more natural-looking stretches of water and groves, opening out into sweeping lawns which created vistas, or picturesque views. These more informal gardens gave birth to the English landscape movement and were widely copied across England, including Stourhead in Wiltshire and Stowe in Buckinghamshire.
Terraces like the one you’re now walking along weren’t particularly new in garden design, but Lord Burlington set a precedent by planting his with ‘… all manner of sweet shrubs, roses and honeysuckles.’ From this terrace, visitors had spectacular views across the meadows.
At its height the garden estate would have been more extensive than today. Part of the land was leased to the London Horticultural Society (later the Royal Horticultural Society) for an experimental garden open to the public. Today, many landmarks in Chiswick are reminders of what was once there, such as a nearby cul-de-sac known as Horticultural Place.
Many artists came to paint Chiswick including Flemish artist Andreas Rysbrack who made a series of paintings that recorded the garden’s transformation from formal arrangement to largely informal and picturesque. It was the artist and designer William Kent who was instrumental in helping Lord Burlington realize his vision for his new garden.