As spring is officially here and the season for garden-visiting is ahead, the architectural setting – the bones of any garden – might repay some attention.
So here’s a quick alphabetical rundown of a few things you might spot when you’re next strolling through an historic garden.
Allée: Like many garden-related words, allée is, of course, taken from French. When the great gardener André le Notre laid out the gardens at Versailles for Louis XIV he provided it with very long, straight avenues that strode across the countryside, usually bordered by rows of trees – limes, elms or oaks.
These grand allées were quickly adopted by the English, and we can see remains of them in many gardens, including at Newby Hall near Ripon. Allées could also be formed by hedging – Bramham Park near Wetherby is Britain’s supreme example.
Aviary: Sometimes you will come across an ornamental cage constructed in the 18th or 19th Century for exotic birds – exotic in this case often meaning pheasants and guinea fowl, which were kept for their decorative qualities rather than for the pot. Aviaries could be very elaborate; that at Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire is a spectacular example.
Banqueting House: The taste for sugared sweetmeats was strong in the Tudor period, when small structures in gardens were built to which the company could repair after a meal to enjoy confectionary and wine. Tudor banqueting houses were often of brick; later they were built in the style of the day – so, for example, the banqueting house at Studley Royal is in the form of a classical temple.
Bee Bole: You may spot small, round-headed niches in a wall – this is likely to be a bee bole, a space in which to place a straw bee skep, the forerunner of the wooden beehive. There are examples at Nutwith Cote, near Hackfall.
Crinkle-Crankle Wall: If your garden did not stretch to a full-sized walled garden with heated walls, you could build yourself a serpentine wall of brick, known as a crinkle-crankle. As long as it’s not too high, it can be self-supporting, even if it’s only one brick deep. The curves provide micro-climates so that different crops can be grown and ripened against it.
Exedra: Originally a hall that opened into a portico, the exedra was appropriated by garden designers as a semi-circular structure, of masonry or of hedging, against which statues and seats were displayed. They were often used to end a view. There is a good example at Chiswick House, west London.
Gazebo: The name gazebo is described as ‘facetious Latin’ for ‘I will gaze’.
Gazebos were raised structures with a roof, from which to view either a garden or a natural landscape. Ripon’s Gazebo, off Blossomgate, has, strictly, two gazebos joined by a gallery.
Grotto: The grotto has a long and distinguished history, dating back to classical times. In the 16th and 17th Centuries rooms in a house were decorated with rocks, semi-precious stones, exotic shells and rare minerals – a surviving example is at Woburn Abbey – but grottoes were later separate garden structures. For those without deep pockets, the grotto could be decorated with local seashells – the Grotto in Margate used about 4.6 million of them.
Hermitage: In the later part of their 18th Century it was fashionable to have a hermitage in your grounds – usually a structure of wood and moss, sometimes thatched. The idea was to suggest the ancient lineage of your estate.
If you could afford to pay an ‘ornamental hermit’ to live in it and to appear when you took your visitors to see it, you were very much at the forefront of style.
Ice House: Before the days of refrigeration, ice was taken from frozen lakes and ponds (sometimes land was deliberately flooded when frost was due) and stored deep underground; a domed structure, usually of brick, would be constructed above the pit so that evaporating water fell back and refroze.
Often these domes were covered in earth mounds (the recently restored examples at Studley Royal are), but could also be thatched.
Moon Window: As the name suggests, a moon window is a circular opening in a wall to give views of the countryside, or from one part of the garden to another. A moon gateway is a larger version through which you can walk.
Mount: To be able to see across a garden, or down on a knot garden, early gardeners would construct a mount – a pile of earth with a path ascending it, sometimes to a gazebo on the top.
Mounts went out of fashion in the 18th Century, but you may still spot the remains; one of the most famous, said to represent The Sermon on the Mount, is at Packwood House in Warwickshire.
Patte d’Oie and Rond Point: Where several allées converge in a semi-circular space, the result is known by another French term, patte d’oie – a ‘goose foot’ – from the resulting shape. If the allées meet in a complete circle, it’s known as a ‘rond point’. There are good examples of both at Bramham Park.
Quincunx: not strictly architectural (but a useful word for Scrabble, perhaps), a quincunx was a method of planting trees, one at each corner of a square with a fifth in the centre. It was fashionable in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Tea House: A descendant of the Banqueting House, the Tea House can take many forms. In the 19th and early 20th Centuries it was smart to have a Chinese or Japanese tea house; some were genuine Japanese examples, imported, with workmen to construct them to great estates.
Urn: In gardening terms, urns have left behind their sad associations as containers for the ashes of the dead to become a regular feature of gardens. Some are entirely ornamental, like the row of urns designed by William Kent on the terrace of the now-vanished Londesborough Hall in East Yorkshire; others may overflow with attractive planting.