George London: designer of dreams

View of Hanbury Hall from across the parterre garden, Worcestershire

Discover the creative geniuses and visionaries, from nurserymen to designers, plant hunters to private owners, who helped to make some of our most famous and important gardens. Here we meet garden designer George London.

Who was he?

One of the most influential nurserymen and garden designers of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

Why is he famous?

George London founded the acclaimed Brompton Park Nursery in 1689 with his former apprentice and later business partner, Henry Wise. One of the most famous and successful nurseries of its day, London and Wise supplied garden designs, choice plants and specimen trees to wealthy and elite garden owners. London was the creative mind behind the partnership and Wise the businessman.

How did his career take off?

London is first recorded in the 1670s when he was apprenticed to John Rose, gardener to Charles II and the Earl of Essex. Soon after he was working for Henry Compton, the Bishop of London, a keen botanist who introduced many new plant species to the garden at his official residence, Fulham Palace.

What was his design style?

London gave an English twist to the grand Baroque gardens of Europe, the most famous being André Le Nôtre’s spectacular garden at Versailles for Louis XIV of France.

London incorporated the fashionable formality of French and Dutch gardens, notable for their flat, intricately patterned parterres, elaborate and ornate water features, tree-lined avenues and topiary.
However, he wasn’t a slavish copyist and was also influenced by the writings of diarist and gardener, John Evelyn, who advocated a more natural feel with walks and views out to open countryside. His gardens often contained a Wilderness, informal tree planting within a formal layout of hedges for shady walks.

Who did he design for?

A prestigious list of clients, from Queen Anne to the great landowners of the day. His first commission, in 1682, was for Lord Weymouth at Longleat and he also worked at Chatsworth, Burghley and later in his career, Castle Howard for the 3rd Earl of Carlisle.

Have any of his gardens survived?

Most were swept away when the English landscape garden became all the rage in the eighteenth century. None of London’s gardens survive in their original state but at Hanbury Hall in Worcestershire, the garden he created for lawyer Thomas Vernon has been faithfully re-created.

How was the garden at Hanbury Hall restored?

Not a trace of London’s garden remained but original plans, maps, paintings and archeological and geophysical research were used to discover the scale and position of the original garden features as they were in 1701.

Hanbury Hall from the Bowling Green by Sir James Thornhill
Drawing of Hanbury Hall from the Bowling Green
Hanbury Hall from the Bowling Green by Sir James Thornhill

What does London’s recreated garden look like today?

The eye-catching, sunken flower parterre, laid out as four large grids of box hedging studded with gilded, ball-topped topiary, is the centre piece. It’s filled with colourful specimen plants, chosen from the original Brompton Park Nursery list for the garden. The formal fruit garden and Wilderness with its more informal walks have also been returned.

Last year, London’s novel viewing platform was reinstated to show the radiating rides aligned on distant hills and churches. It’s thought to be the earliest example of the borrowed landscape in a formal park setting, illustrating how he anticipated the landscape garden movement which brought the destruction of so much of his work.