‘All the rules of gardening are reducible to three heads: – the contrasts, the management of surprises, and the concealment of the bounds’.
Returning to variety (note 31) for a moment, the difference between it and contrast must be that while variety is harmonious, contrast involves violent juxtapositions – the pleasurable effect appreciated by the poet William Mason, of ‘broken rocks and rugged grounds … introduced near an extent of lawn’.
Before Mason, the royal gardener and predecessor of the great genius, Capability Brown, Charles Bridgeman had also been enamoured of the sudden contrast between paths winding through topiary and ‘Pieces of a rougher Taste … plain Imitations of Nature.’
The point is that harmony and unity were preferred by Brown because they produced grandeur, hence Thomas Whately’s complained that ‘a small fine polished form, in the midst of rough, misshapen ground … is generally no better than a patch’. Contrast led to the frantic search for ‘originality’ and the dissolution of grandeur.
Brown found his contrasts in juxtaposing meadows and pasture with forests, the arable of the open field system with commons and wastes, and he prized these wherever they could be got. But he nursed just one proviso that, as Isaac Ware put it, the cheerfulness of ‘every smiling beauty’ could be contrasted with ‘the very wildest parts of nature … the ragged rock or dropping precipice’ only if these had a ‘remote dignity … softened by distance’.
Here’s Brown at work at Longleat in 1757: ‘without the gate of the Park the ground was wild as in the County of Wicklow unreclaimed grounds scatterd with low furze a thing not often mett in England This wild heath is at the Distance of about a mile and half from the House and as the Park is well dressd I do not think the Little undressd Nature that here comes in is at all Disagreeable, but Rather makes the other appear to more advantage from contrast.’