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Fishponds and Fountains in English Pleasure Gardens

As the cultivated ground of estates grew in size, it gradually came to be divided into compartments. These subdivisions were usually formed of latticework with square or diamond-shaped apertures, more or less ornamental as during the classic era. There were beds for plants raised several inches above the level of the path, retained by a stone coping, and fenced in with wattles, latticework, or open wooden railings. Fruit trees and herbs predominated, for as yet flowers were given no especial prominence in the garden. The main paths or alleys were covered with sand, and usually broad enough for two or three people to pace abreast. Narrower paths were intended to facilitate the weeding of the beds.

Resting-places were provided for those who found walking or standing tiresome. Simple benches cushioned with turf were built into embrasures or against the wall. Earth banked up around the trunk of a tree, grassed over and held in place by wattled osiers, formed a circular seat. In the center of the garden a three-sided exedra constructed of stone or brick, covered with grass and flowers, often formed the most important feature. Arbors or bowers were wooden structures covered by shrubs and vines and usually shading a comfortable seat.

Water in various forms was always, if possible, introduced into the garden. Fishponds, bathing pools, and fountains were common. Usually the central and most ornamental architectural feature of the pleasure garden was a fountain. The earliest of an ornamental appearance were apparently of Oriental design. A maze or labyrinth was frequently laid out in or near the garden. An early form seems to have consisted of a network of underground passages, making the approach to a hidden bower almost impossible to the uninitiated. Several of these mysterious subterranean labyrinths existed in England, the most celebrated one being that constructed by Henry II to conceal fair Rosamond's bower at Woodstock. The bower, in her case, was a small stone building enclosing a well, a large enough dwelling-place for one or two people. Other features of the garden, also constructed at a later date, were menageries, aviaries, apiaries, and dovecotes. Birds and bees everywhere added much to the charm of the garden.

Swans swam in the basins and moat, peacocks strutted along the alleys and perched on top of the walls, and doves flew to and from their spacious homes. All these were served up as delicacies at meals.


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