'Farmer' George and his 'ferme ornée'
His passionate interest in agriculture earned George III the nickname
of 'Farmer' George. He converted several areas in the Gardens to
arable cultivation including: "land cropp'd with oats and
barley from Stafford Walk to Pagoda" and another 23 acres
"cropp'd with turnips and buckwheat". Sheep were
grazed in the Gardens to cut the Great Lawns, a common practice
in the 18th and 19th centuries. The sheep at Richmond and Kew were
part of an experiment by 'Farmer' George to improve the genetic
stock of British sheep by crossbreeding with the Spanish Merino.
Since the Spanish guarded their lucrative Merinos very closely,
Sir Joseph Banks reputedly organised a smuggling expedition from
Spain, via Portugal, to bring the King the sheep he desired. This
Spanish flock was kept at Kew and Windsor and was publicly auctioned
on 15th August 1804 in the field below the Pagoda.
George III's use of the Gardens as an elaborate 'ferme ornée'
harks back to Bridgeman's innovative incorporation of fields into
his landscape designs at Richmond a century earlier. The 'ferme
ornée' in Britain was a phenomenon peculiar to the 18th and
19th centuries. Stephen Switzer is acknowledged as the first advocate
and practitioner of this form of landscape design in Britain and
in his book "The Nobleman, Gentleman and Gardener's Recreation",
he describes the practice of the ferme ornée as: "By
mixing the useful and profitable parts of Gard'ning with the Pleasurable
in the Interior Parts of my Designs and Paddocks, obscure enclosures,
etc. in the outward, My Designs are thereby vastly enlarg'd and
both Profit and Pleasure may be agreeably mix'd together".
George's 'ferme ornée' at Richmond and Kew may have owed
rather more to a wish to reclaim agricultural land from an ornamental
landscape, than a desire such as Switzer's to marry the ornamental
and practical for aesthetic effect. However, the end result of both
these approaches is very similar in appearance.
Back to: 1771-1820:
George III and Joseph Banks