Perry's Perennial Pages-- Famous Perennial Persons

Humphry Repton
by Jason P.

Humphry (not Humphrey) Repton (1752-1818) was born in 1752 in England, the son of a prosperous tax collector. He was expected to enter commerce, but several early attempts at business were dismal failures. Repton made many acquaintances when he lived in Ireland, and offered his services as an "improver of the landscape". He soon had steady work. Repton included a vision of the house itself and its place in the landscape that surrounded it. To Repton gardening was an art form, and the landscape was his canvas, though he admonished those who sought to impose the classical Italian style on the English climate and landscape.  His ideal was natural beauty enhanced by art. By using the inherent natural beauty of a space and combining it with features of interest his creations looked more natural but still included introduced features such as houses and other structures. In contrast to many formal gardens of the time that tended to bend nature to a predefined form containing formal landscape arrangements that were almost entirely man made.

In his book published in 1806, he outlined the principles of landscape gardening which he followed in his successful conduct of his profession as follows: "The perfection of landscape gardening consists in the four following requisites. First, it must display the natural beauties and hide the defects of every situation. Secondly, it should give the appearance of extent and freedom by carefully disguising or hiding the boundary. Thirdly it must studiously conceal every interference of art. However expensive by which the natural scenery is improved; making the whole appear the production of nature only; and fourthly, all objects of mere convenience or comfort, if incapable of being made ornamental, or of becoming proper parts of the general scenery, must be removed or concealed.”

Repton also introduced the terrace as important to the foreground. He also reintroduced flower beds and small flower gardens consisting of various kinds of plants. These are all ideas that we consider commonplace today but where certainly not the norm through much of the 18th century.

Repton was innovative and prolific, undertaking more than four hundred commissions during his thirty-year career. Repton worked for a wide variety of clients, notably the dukes of Portland and Bedford, and on many kinds of sites throughout England. He also promoted his profession in extensive writings about the theory and practice of landscape gardening. In fact Repton’s most lasting contribution to his profession lies not in his actual landscaping but in his writings on his art which were derived from his famous Red Books. In the process of designing a landscape for a client Repton would create a Red Book of the estate. This was a slim volume bound in red leather. It contained his proposals for changes outlined in neat copperplate handwriting and embellished with maps, plans, drawings and water-colors to illustrate his ideas. Many of these can be seen today. These innovative ideas helped shape a new ideology in landscape design. In fact these ideas are still an integral part of landscape design today.

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