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NATURE, ART AND THE LANDSCAPE 

 The ideas of a 19th century French botanist and garden designer can be seen clearly today in his parks in Lithuanian

Edouard André was a prolific writer and landscape architect. He travelled all over Europe devising plans for municipal gardens and private estates.
His work also brought him to Lithuania where he was commissioned by a famous landowning family.

 By Joseph Everatt

Palace in Palanga. Photo by Juozas BaltiejusThe design of gardens (...) has not improved in proportion to their growing popularity,” wrote Edouard André in 1879. “The culture, the practice and the science of gardening have made big steps forward; the art of it has hardly advanced at all.”

To remedy this he proposed his own theory for the landscape. He expressed his views in his writings and put them into practice in his gardens. His energy and the scale of his output assured him a position as one of the most sought-after landscape architects of his day and won him a series of prestigious commissions across Europe and in South America.

He came to Lithuania several times in the last few years of the 19th century to design at least one private park. His moderate hand, and a distinctly French approach, may be discerned in this and in other gardens that are sometimes attributed to him.

Edouard André was born in Bourges, France, in 1840, the son of a gardener. In 1859 he went to study botany in Paris under Joseph Decaisne, a respected botanist and member of the Académie des Sciences. A year later he began working for the Paris city council.

In 1867 he won a competition in England to landscape the 370-acre park at Sefton, near Liverpool. The high profile of this competition (the park was officially opened by Prince Arthur, the third son of Queen Victoria) guaranteed him immediate recognition.

He was then invited to work on projects all over Europe. The Russian royal family took his advice for their estates at Tsarskoe Selo, Pavlovsk and Peterhof. Later he travelled south to work in Ukraine and the Crimea. He wrote an account of his journey to Russia which in 1870 appeared under the title Un Mois en Russie.

In 1875 he set out on a two-year expedition to South America. On this trip, which was the first of two, he made a large collection of botanical specimens and discovered and classified the plant Anthurium andreanum (below) which he came across in Columbia in 1876.

From as early as 1860 he was contributing articles to the Revue Horticole, and later became its editor-in-chief. He also spent some years as editor of L’Illustration Horticole. He published many books, including L’Art des Jardins, a general thesis on landscape design.

André was appointed professor of landscape architecture at the Ecole Nationale d’Horticulture at Versailles in 1892. This post was the first of its kind in France, being created specially for him. It coincided with the opening of departments of landscape architecture around the world. He may be counted as one of the people who helped to elevate the subject to the status of a serious discipline.

 

Garden design as art

His method of working was developed enough for him to be able to apply his ideas at immediate notice. He set out his principles at length in the 868-page L’Art des Jardins, which was published in 1879. It aimed to be a prescriptive guide to all aspects of the landscape, not only for the parks around country houses but also for the gardens of modest suburban homes.

In the book he combined his theories of aesthetics with his knowledge of botany. Despite his wide travels, he discouraged the use of non-indigenous plants.

André wrote that tree planting should follow the natural and irregular lines of the landscape. In this way it should disguise the hand of man, despite being made by man. He criticised the building of temples and pergolas, and excessive ornamentation in gardens.

 Sculpture of Jesus Giving a Blessings. Photo by Danute MukieneHe is sometimes associated with the 19th-century romantic movement, popular at the time in England and Germany, which was in revolt against formality, and which taught that a park’s design should not impose on nature but be guided by it.

However, he was not opposed to all formality. He believed that a garden should include a parterre, a space in front of the house laid out in an angular pattern, reflecting the form of the house itself. Further away it should imitate the natural landscape. This reflected the style prevalent in France at the time – a combination of informal and formal, neither fully romantic nor austerely classical.

The late 19th century saw a move away from favouring exotic plants. Increasing world travel had led to the introduction of many foreign species to Europe, which some specialists saw as an aesthetic disaster. There were calls for garden design to be left to professional botanists, a role which André was well qualified to fill.

 

Tiskevicius estates in Lithuania

By the time he came to Lithuania he was well established and his ideas highly developed. A central part of his theory was the importance of responding to the possibilities offered by a site, and this is demonstrated by his work here.

Given the extent of his published writing, it is surprising that there is little written about his stay. In later life, however, it is evident that André wrote considerably less. We know that in the 1890s he worked on an estate at Palanga on the Baltic coast belonging to Feliksas Tiskevicius, and possibly, because they bear the hallmarks of his work, on three others belonging to his brothers, at Traku Voke, Lentvaris and Uztrakis, not far from Vilnius.

The Tiskevicius family had been expanding their estates throughout the 19th century to become enormously wealthy and influential. Juozapas Tiskevicius, who died in 1891, divided his property between his wife and four sons, some of whom set about building new palaces and landscaping the grounds.

The palace at Traku Voke was built in the 1870s by an Italian architect. Since the Second World War the estate has been occupied by the Lithuanian Agricultural Institute. The grounds were altered significantly in the 60s and 70s with the addition of a laboratory building and brick garages, but the approach from the west by a long and stately avenue of lime trees, the gatehouse, the rectangular parterre with a pond and the rambling woodlands are largely intact.

At Lentvaris the woodlands are landscaped with waterfalls, bridges and mountain paths. The parterre, however, is highly formal, consisting of two rectangular sunken sections, each surrounded on all four sides by a line of yew trees, and each with a stone column in the centre surmounted by a single classical urn.

The simple formality of this part provides a balance to the irregularity of the woods and the confusion of the architecture of the neo-gothic house which was added to after the war when it became a carpet factory and had a third floor built on to it.

The house at Uztrakis was built by a Polish architect in 1896 on an attractive wooden peninsula between two lakes. On the lake side is a balustrade with steps leading down to the water. This exploits the full potential of the view which looks across Lake Galve with its many islands and towards the castle at Trakai which then would still have been only a ruin.

On the other side the parterre is framed by paths which are sheltered by a low and closely cropped avenue of lime trees. The surrounding woods, which are made up of pine, oak, lime, sycamore and ash trees, are dense with few open spaces.

 

A park on the Baltic coast

We can only speculate about André’s hand in these projects but, even if he was not directly involved, since their design followed his principles, they may be attributed to his school of thought. About Palanga there is no doubt. In 1906 an article by his son René appeared in the Revue Horticole in which he described their work there together.

Feliksas Tiskevicius married in 1893, shortly after he inherited the property, and afterwards toured Europe with his wife. In Berlin they met the architect Shvechten who agreed to come to Palanga to build a neo-renaissance palace for them. It was probably Shvechten who recommended André to landscape the grounds for the two had already worked together at Poznan in Poland.

André spent three summers at Palanga. When he firstPalace and park in Palanga came it was an ancient pine forest on the shore of the Baltic Sea. The place was mainly uninhabited, as the summer resort we know today only grew up after the palace was built.

He was struck by the site’s atmosphere, created by the huge 200-year-old pine trees, the dunes, the sound of waves breaking on the nearby beach, and sought to enhance it. René wrote in his article that their main consideration was “… to keep the forest untouched, to preserve its magnificence…”

Nevertheless, some clearing was necessary. About two hectares were felled to the front and the back of the house to make space for broad-leaved trees and a greater variety of conifers. Part of the forest was thinned to open out a view to the beach.

The palace was built on a rise about 12 metres above sea level. “The imposing architecture of the palace,” wrote René, “did not go well with the gentle forms of the dunes. We decided to surround it with a terrace and balustrade, broken by steps on the north.”

The mainly flat site offered few natural lines for planting to follow. André created a broken edge to the park, so that it merged gradually with the woods. He planted yew and larch, sycamore and hawthorn. He introduced new varieties of birch and pine. When he found a spring there he decided to make a small pond. Around this he planted aspen, willow and alder to screen it from the view to the dunes. They paved the paths and terrace with sand, to correspond with the nearby beach.

Today the park is preserved as a public park and the palace is the Museum of Amber. It is the most carefully looked after of all four estates, though the number of sculptures in it were probably not André’s intention. Unfortunately, most of the original old trees have been lost in storms.

A plan of the park dated 1899, one of several framed plans at the Ecole Nationale d’Horticulture, suggests that he considered it important enough to use as an example in his teaching material.

A century has passed since he worked here, and his planting has matured. Though some of the gardens and parks suffer from neglect, it is not as serious as might have been feared and may even have contributed to their survival. For him, too much care was also a hazard: “… gardens that are too well looked after (…)” he warned, “with their unending polished surfaces (…) have no life.”

The variety of his abilities, his experience and his travels gave him a wide perspective which enriched his work. What he wrote about the aesthetics of landscape architecture is eloquent and it has a directness which makes it accessible today. “A flower, so beautiful close up, in the distance becomes just a mark…” he wrote. Although in his time he was very much in demand, today he is virtually unknown.

(From Lithuania in the world, No 2, 1998)


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