Although public gardens are well known for their beauty and pleasure, gardens also functioned as a means for the upper class to express their wealth and power. Throughout history, gardens have been used as an important way of communicating power to society and the lower classes.
Beginning with early Roman gardens around 700 B.C.E., the members of the wealthy class were able to use their gardens as an area for throwing parties, displaying works of art, and relaxing. Some Roman gardens were even used as an area to sell artwork featured in the garden. For the Romans then, gardens represented a way for nobility to reinforce their power through their overt demonstration of wealth in the form of artwork, statues, and other elaborate garden features.
Centuries after the Roman gardens, in the 1500s, gardens continued to remain an important demonstration of wealth for the nobility. King Henry VIII ascended to the throne in England in 1509; as a celebration of his rise in power, the King’s Beasts were commissioned. As pictured below, the King’s Beasts were statues of animals which symbolized the different branches of royalty and the King’s own lineage.
The lion was commonly used as a symbol of England. Placing the lion in the garden served as an excellent reminder of the power of England. Additionally, guests who visited the garden were immediately reminded of the might of the king, and his royal ancestry.
This website: http://patrickbaty.co.uk/2009/03/23/the-kings-beasts/ contains more information about the significance in the colors chosen for the statues, along with the restoration process at Hampton Court Palace.
However, one of the most expensive gardens was the garden of Versailles in France. During the mid 1600s when Louis XIV ascended to the throne, gardening in France became more elaborate (and expensive.) The garden of Versailles was an extravagant way of entertaining.
King Louis XIV spared no expense in wooing visitors of the garden. In fact, when important visitors toured the garden, employees in the garden were required to turn on certain fountains, wait for the visitors to pass, and then turn off the water and wait for the visitors to approach the next fountain before turning it on. Although the cycle was tedious for the garden staff, the result for the tourists, and king himself, was breathtaking.
Viewers were also awed by the King’s orangerie, or citrus collection. The collection of trees was moveable, which meant that during the winter months the trees were brought inside and sheltered from the cold.
As visitors tour the Garden of Versailles, it remains as breathtaking today as it was when it was first created (although a little smaller). The Garden of Versailles, and Hampton Court Palace both serve as significant reminders of the wealth and foresight of kings like Louis XIV and Henry VIII.