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Parterre: Wikis


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Kensington Palace engraved by Jan Kip for Britannia Illustrata, 1707/8
The left hand side of the completely symmetrical parterre at Waddesdon Manor, England

A parterre is a formal garden construction on a level surface consisting of planting beds, edged in stone or tightly clipped hedging, and gravel paths arranged to form a pleasing, usually symmetrical pattern. Parterres need not have any flowers at all. French parterres were elaborated out of 16th-century knot gardens, and reached a climax at the Chateau of Versailles and its many European imitators, such as Kensington Palace (illustration, right).

The word parterre comes from French, "on the ground" where it is used in the same sense but also has several other meanings, for example, that part of the auditorium of a theatre that may also be called in English "orchestra seats" or the "stalls".



At Kensington Palace, then a suburb of London, the planting of the parterres was by Henry Wise, whose nursery was nearby at Brompton. In the engraving of 1707-1708, (illustration, right), the up-to-date Baroque designs of each section are clipped scrolling designs, symmetrical around a center, in low hedging punctuated by trees formally clipped into cones; however, their traditional 17th century layout, a broad central gravel walk dividing paired plats, each subdivided in four, appears to have survived from the Palace's former (pre-1689) existence as Nottingham House. Subsidiary wings have subsidiary parterres, with no attempt at overall integration.

At Prince Eugene's Belvedere Palace, Vienna, a sunken parterre before the facade that faced the city was flanked in a traditional fashion with raised walks from which the pattern could best be appreciated. To either side walls with busts on herm pedestals backed by young trees screen the parterre from the flanking garden spaces. Formal baroque patterns have given way to symmetrical paired free scrolling rococo arabesques, against the gravel ground. Little attempt seems to have been made to fit the framework to the shape of the parterre. Beyond (in the shadowed near foreground) paired basins have central jets of water.

The parterre at Cliveden from the terrace.

In the UK, modern parterres exist at Trereife Park in Penzance (Cornwall), Birr Castle in Ireland, at Drumlanrig Castle in Dumfriesshire and at Bodysgallen Hall near Llandudno. One of the largest in Britain is at Cliveden in Buckinghamshire; it consists of symmetrical wedge-shaped beds filled with catmint, santolina and senecio, edged with box hedges and with sentinel pyramids of yew at the corners and altogether covers an area of four acres.

Some early knot gardens have been covered over by lawn or other landscaping, but the original traces are still visible as undulations in the present day landscape. An example of this phenomenon is the early 17th century garden of Muchalls Castle in Scotland.

Development of the parterre

The parterre was developed in France by Claude Mollet, the founder of a dynasty of nurserymen-designers that lasted deep into the 18th century. His inspiration in developing the 16th-century patterned compartimens—simple interlaces formed of herbs, either open and infilled with sand or closed and filled with flowers— was the painter Etienne du Pérac, who returned from Italy to the château of Anet, where he and Mollet were working. About 1595 Mollet introduced compartment-patterned parterres to royal gardens at Saint-Germain-en-Laye and Fontainebleau; the fully-developed scrolling embroidery-like parterres en broderie appear for the first time in Alexandre Francini’s engraved views of the revised planting plans at Fontainebleau and Saint-Germain-en-Laye in 1614 [1].

Modern Parterre at Birr Castle, Ireland

Clipped box met with resistance from garden patrons for its "naughtie smell" as the herbalist Gervase Markham described it. By 1638, Jacques Boyceau described the range of designs in box a gardener should be able to provide

"Parterres are the low embellishments of gardens, which have great grace, especially when seen from an elevated position: they are made of borders of several shrubs and sub-shrubs of various colours, fashioned in different manners, as compartments, foliage, embroideries (passements), moresques, arabesques, grotesques, guilloches, rosettes, sunbursts (gloires), escutcheons, coats-of-arms, monograms and emblems (devises)" —Traité du iardinage selon les raisons de la nature et de l’art, pp 81–82 (quoted by Laird)

By the 1630s, elaborate parterres de broderie appeared at Wilton House, so magnificent that they were engraved— the only trace of them that remains. Parterres de pelouse or parterres de gazon refer to cutwork parterres of low-growing herbs like camomile as much as to the close-sythed grass.

An alley of compartiment is that which separates the squares of a parterre.

Revival of the parterre

Parterre gardening was swept away, beginning in England, by the naturalistic English landscape garden, beginning in the 1720s. Its revival coincided with Neo-Renaissance architecture, in the nineteenth-century fashion for "carpet bedding" which was realized by mass planting of non-hardy flowering annuals, set out anew at the start of each season and providing the blocks of color that made up the design. Flat surfaces were required, and a raised terrace from which to view the design, and so the parterre was reborn in a transfigured style.


Making of a modern parterre: gallery

Historical images


External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

PARTERRE, a term, taken from the French phrase par terre, i.e. on the surface of the ground, and used of an arrangement in a garden of beds of flowers with gravel or other paths and plots of grass; also of that part of the auditorium of a theatre which is occupied by the orchestra stalls.

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also parterre



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Parterre n. (genitive Parterres, plural Parterre)

  1. ground floor, first floor


Derived terms


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