John Claudius Loudon, our greatest horticultural journalist, didn’t mince his words. He made a visit to Cheshire (this was in 1831) to see the earl’s new palace of Eaton Hall, and approved of the house. “It is the only palace we have ever seen where every part of the finishing and furniture are equally excellent. With great splendour, there is great chasteness of colouring….” “Having said this’, he goes on, “we have said all that we can say in favour of Eaton Hall…. the situation forbids all hope of any natural beauty…. a totally wrong character has been attempted in laying out the pleasure grounds,….. tiresome in its sameness, and without a single object that can raise ideas of either grandeur or beauty.” He then goes on to give his ideas (they sound more like instructions) to remedy things.
Then he goes on north to Lowther Castle in Cumbria, recently rebuilt for the Earl of Lonsdale, where “a great error, in my opinion, is that … the house faces the wrong way….., is too low. “There is a small flower garden, in a hollow, shaded by high trees, where fine flowers. can never grow, and a very bad kitchen garden, a mile or more from the house.” Lowther Castle, he graciously concedes “may still be made of something of” …. and then lets the earl have the benefit of his instructions..
William Robinson, the next great panjandrum of garden writing, can also fall short on courtesy. “Osborne” (Queen Victoria’s pride and joy) “is perhaps one of the saddest and ugliest examples in England….” Robinson, of course, was famously rude about formal gardening of almost any kind, and has been said to have invented woodland gardening. But, compared to these self-confident Victorians, we no longer have any garden critics at all. Would Monty Don ever say a garden was ugly? Would Alan Titchmarsh? The modern style of describing a garden is milk and water compared with these combative commentators. It must all be positive, not even constructive in suggesting things that could be done better. And, Trad has to admit he tends to look on the bright side, too.