Garden Rills - Part Two

Natural Rill in French AlpsIn early Persian gardens slim canals were the focus, understandably in a hot climate, with the trees and pavilions sited around; until the rose arrived the only flowers were spring bulbs so flower colour was very secondary. (Peacocks and coloured tiles, however, did add colour.)

These canals were straight lines for convenience and, many say, this led to formal western gardens; a garden may have 2 bisecting straight rivulets, effectively quartering the garden. (Informality, not coincidentally I believe, arose with Capability Brown just when informal Chinese gardens were first seen by westerners.)

Pictured right is a Natural Rill in the French Alps

Earlier still were Egyptian gardens, formal and geometric; a plan from circa 1400 BC includes a mile-long canal, storage pools, fruit trees and vineyard.
When slim - only 15cm wide or less - rills intrigue us; wider ones invite us to dip in a finger or toe - as at the Renaissance Villa d'Este near Rome where a raised rill acts as a balustrade and a hand may be trailed along, or at the Villa Lante near Viterbo (Italy) where I love the stone table with a rill along its centre (for keeping wine cool) and the rill at the feet for dipping. Here, with fountains and rills, water is the `ultimate philosophical instrument, used to retell the story of Man's ascent from the Golden Age to the Age of Civilisation' (The Garden Book, PHAIDON).

Garden Rill Villa d'Este Balustrae Rill Villa Lante Table

Villa Lante Balustrade RillThe Grand Tour (of Europe) inspired many Englishmen to adapt gardens as did William Kent who remodelled Rousham, Oxfordshire in 1738; here he included the famous serpentine rill which ends in a large octagonal pond. That the rill is curving shows how very different gardens were becoming.

By 1906 Hestercombe, Somerset, displayed Arts-and-Crafts style water rills designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jeckyll: softer, less rigidly neat and planted within.

Water features create a sensuous interaction with the garden, wonderful in a hot climate; a rill can be an intimate expression, and a fine proportion to a smaller garden.

Rill at Roush

Photographs and article by Jill Weatherhead

Jill is a Garden Designer who works in Melbourne Australia



John Allman 


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