William Kent: Garden as though you will live forever

Wednesday, May 01 , 2019

William Kent: Garden as though you will live forever

When it comes to quintessential English landscape design, many people will have heard of Capability Brown and Humphrey Repton. But, what about William Kent?

Here is a brief insight into the man Horace Walpole extolled as, “the father of modern gardening” along with his connection to Chilstone…

Painting of William Kent 'The father of modern gardening'

The Father of Modern Gardening

Originating from Bridlington, Yorkshire, William Kent was a man born to humble origins in 1686.

Starting out as a modest sign and coach painter, Kent had an abundance of talent, and an aptitude for social climbing.

Thanks to his artistic skills, he quickly gained patronage and embarked on a Grand Tour of Europe, (typical of the middle and upper classes at the time). He studied in Rome and, like his contemporaries, was intoxicated by Italy.

It was here that he fell under the patronage of Lord Burlington, who convinced him to return to England to promote a new architectural aesthetic. This reinvented Palladian style was received rapturously by a country keen to define the newly United Kingdom in a blossoming Georgian period, aspiring to elevate her citizens through art and culture.

The Cupola Room at Kensington Palace Designed by William Kent

The Cupola Room at Kensington Palace designed by William Kent features Kent’s painting as well as architecture

From Interior Designer to Landscaper with Flair

Kent initially directed his design flair towards interiors (he’s now widely credited with being the first British designer to see the interior as a whole.)

He secured a number of lucrative commissions, including from royalty. Beautiful examples of his work can still be seen at Kensington Palace and Hampton Court – alongside many pieces of Chilstone!

It wasn’t long before he looked beyond the windows of grand estates (e.g. Chiswick House, Rousham House, Holkham Hall, Stowe House and Claremont House) and out into the English landscape.

Kent broke with formal garden traditions imported from France and Holland, adopting a poetic approach, embodying a fresh, naturalistic style. Inspired by pastoral literature and art, Kent believed “All gardening is landscape painting”. He designed a number of garden buildings and ornaments, to provide captivating focal points and contemplative spaces.


William Kent and Chilstone

Chilstone has a long history of producing elegant garden ornaments and beautiful architectural stone, with some dating back over forty years. A number of urns designed by William Kent were lovingly restored under the leadership of Chilstone’s founder, Michael Dibben.

Cast stone garden urn and pedestal at Great Comp Gardens with leafy green background

Longleat Garden Urn at Great Comp Garden by Carolyn Ripley

Michael started Chilstone in 1953 at Great Linford Manor, moving firstly to Sprivers, and then to our current home, Victoria Park near Tunbridge Wells.

Michael developed a unique process for accurately replicating classical English garden ornaments using cast stone.

The Chilstone secret recipe is well-guarded and produces a finish like natural stone, available in a range of colours. Through the normal weathering process, our stone faithfully recreates a sense of history, by encouraging the growth of moss and lichens.

The aged patina of an original piece can be achieved in only a few years. (In this way, they actually gain value with age and represent a sound investment!)

Close up of weathered old cast stone garden ornament with moss and lichen

Close up of a piece of weathered Chilstone at Great Comp Garden by Carolyn Ripley

The History behind the Garden Urns

The William Kent Urn was originally designed for the Wilderness Garden at Great Linford Manor.

Pope’s Urn was named after Alexander Pope, and the Longleat Urn was based on a set of six held at Longleat.

These great garden urns also feature in a famous reference work by Vardy from 1744: ’Some designs of Inigo Jones and Mr William Kent’.

During this restoration project, Chilstone took moulds and preserved these archetypal Kentian garden urns, by bringing them into the Chilstone Collection.

You can read more about the restoration work that Chilstone have undertaken such as the restoration of bespoke planters for Kew Gardens and the Florence Nightingale garden urn restoration project we undertook for Embley House…

Chilstone staff Producing a replica of florence nightingale garden urn in cast stone

A Garden Ornament Legacy

Through our work, we hope to play a small part in protecting this historical artistic legacy. Thanks to Michael’s vision and the dedication of our amazing staff over the years, Chilstone have become a worldwide brand, renowned for finely crafted, handmade products and outstanding, friendly customer service.

We really enjoy seeing our craftsmanship in situ, during visits to the beautiful gardens and homes of our lovely clients. This is where they truly shine.

Have you spotted any of our pieces in the great gardens mentioned?

Feel free to get in touch with your pictures and we’ll tell you the story behind the product.


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