Q2. Discuss how ideas from the Italian and French Renaissance informed the design of the
gardens at Ham House. As well as the planting and layout of the garden discuss how the
building establishes specific sets of relationships to the garden.
Ham House and its extensive gardens were constructed in 1610 for Sir Thomas Vavasour,
Knight Marshall to James I. On his death it passed briefly to the Earl of Holderness, before
becoming the home of William Murrey in 1626. It was during his ownership that the
works on house and garden began, defining what exists at Ham today. Having no male
heir, on his death in1670 his estate and titles passed to his eldest daughter Elizabeth,
Countess of Dysart. It was during her second marriage to the 1st Duke of Lauderdale,
Secretary State of Scotland during the Restoration of Charles II in 1672 that works were
completed and evidence of the house and garden can be gathered. Figure .1 illustrates the
plan design of John Sleaver and Jan Wyck (1671 – 1672), while Figure .2 provides a birds
eye view from the south in an engraving produced in the “Vitruvius Britannicus”, the title
revealing its Italian heritage.
The principles of the Italian Renaissance gardenwere defined by Leon Battista Alberti who
compiled his ten part “De Re Aedificaticria” in 1452, his works followed the studies of
Vitruvius and classical Roman architecture. His new found rules of mathematics and linear
perspective enabled gardens to becreated where nature and art could co-exist with
proportion and symmetry. The garden is about the manipulation of space; its distinctive
geometric composition originating from a central axis leading from the middle of the
house, which was intersected by a number of cross axis, developing a grid system arranged
in compartmental squares divided by sand or gravel paths to be viewed from the house
windows or terrace. This being the arrangement set out at Ham, with a broad south terrace
from the house looking down on eight grass plats separated by intersecting gravel paths at
right angles to the house.
The garden outside was becoming an architectural extension of the inside. Symmetry,
harmony, balance and proportion between house and garden were the basic tenets. This
architectural relationship was achieved at Ham by the Scottish architect Sir William Bruce
who redesigned the house in 1671 by building new rooms along the south front between
existing projecting wings creating a perpendicular for the gardens corresponding layout.
The central axial line of sight was the most defining characteristic of the Italian
Renaissance garden, which by the time of the 17th and early 18th century had extended from
their ordered layout surrounding the house into “wilder” groves and orchards in the
countryside. This part of the garden was to contrast with the architecturally contrived area
near the house, where a more naturalistic setting of paths winding through a woodland or
wilderness would attempt to merge and become an extension of neighbouring countryside.
Again this was another feature included within the gardens at Ham. Beyond the southern
plats is set out, in the form of grass walks, sixteen compartments of hornbeam hedges and
Although Italian ideas forged new and sophisticated designs, they were rooted in the
tradition agricultural landscape. Broad terraces reflected the ancient layout of vineyards
and olive groves cultivated for centuries. The Melancholy Walk east of the Cherry garden
with its trees planted in quincunx order harks back to the traditional placements of crops,
whereby plants could receive as much air and light as possible.
The planting scheme within Ham garden can be reflected in Alberti’s recommendations for
“The trees ought to be planted in runs exactly even and answering to one another
In straight lines . . . let the walks be evergreens.”
History of Gardening, Penelope Hobhouse, Page 131
And thought attention should be paid to
“accuracy of spacing, the regularity of angles”
History of Gardening, Penelope Hobhouse, Page 131
It is within the planting scheme at Ham that we can discover the impact of the French
Renaissance. The Cherry garden to the east of the house displays the techniques and ideas
developed on from the Italian form, with its two Bercaux of pleached hornbeams and a
central parterre of dwarf box and clipped box cones, with alternating santolina and lavender
in the centre of each box hedge compartment.
Although the physical presence is minor compared to the scale of the garden at Ham, those
who provided the inspiration and confidence to create the gardens in 17th century England
were French and set the styles of garden style which influenced at Ham. The De Caus
brothers continued from their grandfather Androuet Du Cereau, the dynasty of the Mollets
and Andre Le Notre were pivotal members in the development and creation of noted
gardens throughout Europe during the mid-16th and 17th century. One of the De Caus
brothers, Isaac worked for the Countess of Bedford, Lucy Harrington, where at Wilton in
Wiltshire in the 1630’s his design shown in Figure 3 consisted of a broad central gravel
path divided into plats by cross axial paths to be viewed from a terrace extending the width
of the garden. Included were groves of trees with walks cut through them to form a
wilderness with two symmetrically placed stat es of classic mythology on either side of the
main walk, all these features mirroring those at Ham (Fig 4).
One of the reasons in the absenceof the drama typified by the baroque French Renaissance
gardens was the trend in some English gardens to dispose of the display and pomp to
produce modest gardens absorbing the classical features of Italy, not feeling the need to
impress with copies of grand grottoes, water features full of allegorical meaning.
Ham house and its recreated gardens by the National Trust provide present visitors with an
excellent example of the influences and styles of the aristocracy and designers of the 17th
century. Though predominantly inspired by the classical Italian garden, Ham illustrates the
progression and adjustment of ideas concerning design through 150 years, embodying the
finest elements the different movements could tender.
J. Dixon Hunt Garden and Grove
J. Dixon Hunt & P. Willis The Genius of the Place
R. Strong The Renaissance Garden in England
National Trust Ham House
P. Hobhouse The History of Gardening
J. Curl Oxford Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape