A GUIDE FROM THE HISTORY BOOKS
In the beginning, there was Eden, arguably the most famous garden in history, which let’s face it, was totally a pleasure garden if the publicity around it is anything to go by. Since then, it would seem as though we’ve been in search of Eden for as long as we’ve gone in search of pleasure. The Egyptians had gardens, the Greeks, the Romans… all dedicated to pleasing the senses. But it was only in the 17th century that the idea of a pleasure garden was born. And although the pleasure garden has evolved into what is better known as an amusement park today, there’s nothing stopping you from turning your garden into a space dedicated entirely to the pursuit of enjoyment, romance, and scandal. Just take heed of these simple rules.
LOCATION ISN’T EVERYTHING
The whole idea behind creating a beautiful outside space started as a way of escaping the hustle and bustle of the city, which might lead you to think that a true pleasure garden should be situated in the countryside, right? Wrong. In almost every metropolis in the world you’ll find a surprising spot tucked away naughtily amongst a cluster of buildings that offers a welcome respite from the noise and squalor of the busy streets. Think of Le Jardin de JAN in Nice. It used to be where Napoléon entertained his lovers when he was still a sergeant!
YOU WANT ATMOS, DARLING
When the pleasure garden was just beginning to come into fashion in London in the mid-1600s, it offered its guests a beautiful space away from the eyes of “polite” society, perfect for the pursuit of impolite romantic entanglements, and even prostitution. But it didn’t just come down to a few hedges and vines to hide any possible indiscretions. They were truly breath-taking spaces complete with manicured walks, dramatic fountains, light refreshments served discretely, classical concerts, exotic street entertainers and fireworks. Of course, some of these elements could be hired in on special occasions, and don’t need a permanent presence in your garden, but see this level of effort as the gold standard and work your way back from there.
A GOOD PLEASURE GARDEN MAKES ITS OWN LIGHT
Much has been said and sung about the sensual properties of moonlight, but the romance goes out the window (although in this context it already is) when one member of the party breaks a toe on a tree root or loses an eye on a flailing branch. We’re not talking sport stadium lighting, however. Before electricity, garden lighting comprised hundreds of oil lamps that illuminated the trees and bushes and provided just the right amount of light to flatter and entice. These days, the options for romantic garden lighting are numerous.
MAKE A SCENE
Part of the thrill of creating a pleasure garden is for it to become the talk of the town. In 1661, the New Spring Gardens opened on London’s South Bank, a few acres of landscaped walks hedged with fruits and vegetables. In 1732, it was redesigned and renamed to the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, and everyone who was anyone was invited to its opening (a masked ball), including the Prince of Wales. The party went on until 4 in the morning, after which the garden became accessible to everyone, and it remained a huge success for 200 years. In short, don’t underestimate the importance of a good event.
AND… A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC
Music was huge in the pleasure garden’s heyday. In fact, guests would often have to pay for entry and refreshments, but there was always free entertainment, which usually took the form of music. Interesting to note is that the concept of fireworks set to music was started at Vauxhall Pleasure Garden. Let’s face it, though, while hiring in an orchestra and some next-level pyrotechnics might be a little OTT if you plan to create your pleasure garden in a suburban setting, a subtle string quartet packs every bit the punch in the right context. For anything else, a playlist streamed over a Bluetooth speaker never fails.