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John Claudius Loudon

John Claudius Loudon (8 April 1783 – 14 December 1843) was a Scottish botanist, garden and cemetery designer, and garden magazine editor.



Loudon was born in Cambuslang, Lanarkshire, Scotland to a respectable farmer. Therefore as he was growing up, he developed a practical knowledge of plants and farming. As a young man, Loudon studied chemistry, botany and agriculture at the University of Edinburgh. When working on the layout of farms in South Scotland he described himself as a landscape planner. This was a time when open field land was being converted from run rig with 'ferm touns' to the landscape of enclosure which now dominates British agriculture.

Horticultural work

Around 1803, Loudon published an article entitled Observations on Laying out the Public Spaces in London in a literary journal. In this article, he recommended the introduction of lighter trees rather than those with dense canopies. Loudon was attacked by rheumatic fever in 1806 which left him crippled, but this illness did not affect his writing. As his condition deteriorated over time, Loudon was forced to use the services of a draughtsman and other aids.

Beginning in 1808, Loudon was employed by the notable General Stratton to landscape and farm his property, Tew Park, where Loudon was able to set up a school for young men to be instructed in theory of farming and modes of cultivating soil. Loudon’s design was a model of efficiency and convenience reflected in elegance and refinement. In conjunction with the goals of diffusing agricultural knowledge, Loudon published a pamphlet entitled The Utility of Agricultural Knowledge to the Sons of the Landed Proprietors of Great Britain, &c., by a Scotch Farmer and Land-Agent.

After traveling through Europe from 1813 to 1814, Loudon began to focus on the improvement of the construction of greenhouses and other agricultural systems. He ultimately developed a design for hinged surfaces that could be adjusted depending on the angle of the Sun. Loudon also developed plans for industrial worker housing and solar heating systems. In 1815, he was elected a corresponding member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Loudon established himself as a city planner, decades before Frederick Law Olmsted and others began to work. His vision for the possibility of long term planning for London’s green spaces was illustrated within his work, Hints for Breathing Places for Metropolis published in 1829. He envisioned city growth being carefully shaped and circulation influenced by the inclusion of green belts.

In 1832, Loudon established the design theory entitled Gardenesque. In this style, attention was given to the individual plant and placement in the best conditions for them to grow to their potential. 19th century thought was punctuated by the belief that gardens should not mimic nature, so Gardenesque offered a solution by introducing exotics into gardens and basing layouts on abstract shapes.

Loudon was instrumental in the adoption of the term landscape architecture by the modern profession. He took up the term from Gilbert Laing Meason and gave it publicity in his Encyclopedias and in his 1840 book on the Landscape Gardening and Landscape Architecture of the Late Humphry Repton.


Loudon was a prolific horticultural and landscape design writer. His first published was The Encyclopedia of Gardening in 1822. After its success Loudon published The Encyclopedia of Agriculture in 1825. He founded the Gardener’s Magazine, the first periodical devoted solely to horticulture, in 1826. A short time later, he commenced the Magazine of Natural History in 1828.

Loudon’s other publications include:

  • The Encyclopedias of Plants (1828)
  • Hortus Britannicus (1830) (not to be confused with Sweet's Hortus Britannicus (1826))
  • The Encyclopedia of Cottage, Farm, Villa Architecture (1834)
  • Arboretum et Fruticetum Britannicum (1838)
  • Suburban Gardener (1838)
  • The Encyclopedias of Trees and Shrubs (1842)
  • On the Laying Out, Planting and managing of Cemeteries (1843)

Perhaps the most significant of these, certainly the most time consuming and costly, was Arboretum et Fruticetum Britannicum. This work was published in three formats: with the plates entirely uncoloured, with botanical details hand-coloured, and fully hand-coloured. Work began in 1830 and it was first issued in sixty-three monthly parts from January 1835 to July 1838. It presented an exhaustive account of all the trees and shrubs growing in Great Britain and their history with notes on remarkable examples growing in individual gardens, together with drawings of leaves, twigs, fruits, and the shapes of leafless trees, as well as entire portraits of trees in their young and mature state. All were drawn from life, many from the parkland grounds of Syon House, one of the homes of the Duke of Northumberland to whom the work was dedicated, or from Loddiges' arboretum. 'It was on the collection maintained by this firm more than any other that J.C.Loudon relied for living material in the preparation of his great work' W.J.Bean notes, in Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles.

His work on cemeteries also had a significant influence. As churchyards were becoming full, especially in urban areas, new cemeteries were being opened by private enterprise; Loudon designed and laid out only three cemeteries (in Cambridge, Southampton and Bath) but his influence on other designers and architects, through his writing, was enormous.

Through his publications, Loudon was hoping to have a far-reaching influence and spread his ideals of the creation of common space and the improvement of city planning and develop an awareness and interest in agriculture and horticulture. Through his magazines and works, he was able to communicate to the gentile as well as other professionals.

Loudon laboured under the belief that public improvements should be undertaken in a democratic fashion and in a comprehensive reasonable manner, not sporadically by the benevolence of the wealthy. In 1839, he was commissioned to design the Arboretum at Derby. In commissions such as this, Loudon was able to display the principles that he advocated in his many publications. In this space, Loudon attempted to consider the general public and their hardships and create a space where the classes could mingle easily as well as creating community pride. In order to reach his goal of creating educational environments, the planting were labeled extensively. Loudon’s design for the Derby Arboretum paralleled the Loddiges arboretum at Abney Park and served as inspiration for the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew. In December 1843 John Loudon died of a disease in the lungs.

The standard botanical author abbreviation Loudon is applied to species he described.

Private Life

In 1830 when Loudon was 47 years old he asked a mutual friend to invite an author to lunch. He had recently reviewed and admired the inventions in a novel called The Mummy!: Or a Tale of the Twenty-Second Century for his The Gardener’s Magazine. Set in 2126 AD it is still a fascinating example of early Science Fiction. England has become an absolute monarchy and featured an early Internet, espresso machines and even air-conditioning.

The author was Jane Webb who, having been left penniless by the death of her father at 17, had turned to writing as a profession. She had published the book anonymously and John Loudon may have been quite surprised to meet a female author. The meeting must have been a success for they married seven months later and had one daughter, Agnes.

Loudon developed a limp in his 20s and as he aged became crippled with arthritis. But when in his 20s still undertook a Grand Tour of Europe and the Near East. He was keen to visit the classical ruins of antiquity that had inspired so many others of his Age.

In 1826 crippled by rheumatism and arthritis he had to endure the amputation of his right shoulder after a botched operation to correct a broken arm. He learnt to write and draw with his left arm and hired a draughtsman to prepare his plans. At the same time he cured himself of his opium habit that had been keeping the pain at bay.

The municipal cemetery at Southampton was his final project. But despite advanced lung cancer he still managed to correct the final proofs for his latest encyclopaedia and went to Bath to inspect the site for another cemetery and thence to Oxford to see a client. On his return to London his doctor told him that he was dying; he died, penniless, in the arms of his wife in 1843. He is buried in Kensal Green cemetery.

Prominent Loudon Designs

designed by others in Loudon's 'Gardenesque' style:


  • Loudon, J.C. (1843; 1981 reprint). On the Laying Out, planting & Managing of Cemeteries. Redhill, Surrey: Ivelet
  • Rogers, Elizabeth B. (2001). Landscape Design: A Cultural and Architecture History. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.
  • Thompson, I. (2003). 19th Century Design. Retrieved September 23, 2004 from [1]
  • Turner, Tom. (&). Introduction to John Claudius Loudon’s 1829 plan for London. Retrieved September 23, 2004 from [2]


External links



Up to date as of January 23, 2010

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