English gardens had degenerated into meaningless repetitions of French and Dutch fashions through the end with the seventeenth century. Conventional plans were mimicked or exaggerated until the formal manner became merely an affected mannerism. Finally, absolutely nothing remaining but the defects from the old system, a reaction resulted in its entire destruction. On the ruins was developed the Landscape Garden, within the strict meaning of the word no garden at all, but a stretch of cultivated scenery.
The English — possibly because they had most abused the conventional program — have been the very first to raise an outcry against formal gardening. Formality could definitely be carried to no greater excess; it was logical to seek beauty in a contrary extreme. Freedom from every restraint was the gospel from the new school. Kent, its leader according to Walpole, was the very first to jump outside the fence and insist that the garden needs to be “set totally free from its prim regularity, and also the gentle stream taught to serpentize.” His method, as described by Lord Kames, was, “to paint a field with stunning objects, natural and artificial, disposed like colors upon a canvas.”
It requires indeed a lot more genius to paint in the gardening way: in forming a landscape upon a canvas, no more is needed but to adjust the figures to each other. An artist who lays out grounds in Kent’s way has an extra task: he ought to adjust the figures towards the numerous varieties of the field.
In plain words, nothing remained with the old style in the new gardens. These latter consisted of smooth lawns of grass, diversified by clumps of trees, and intersected by curved paths or irregular pieces of water. Nature was said to abhor a straight line; hence walks and brooks were often laid out in “serpentine meanders.”
Marks of decay are usually to be seen in nature; Kent reproduced this effect by planting dead trees and stumps. These attempts to make a stunning wilderness often resulted in practically nothing but a confused mass of disorder, and have been received with ridicule even by the sentimentalists.