Imperial Gardening

Exhibit Author: AS

Over the course of Catherine the Great’s long life, she forthrightly confessed to only two passions, one being her grandson Alexander I, and the other being English Gardens.[1] As a traditional noble gift for the birth of her first grandson, Catherine bequeathed 1000 hectares along a picturesque stream by her Tsarskoe Selo palace to her son, the future Paul I.[2] Upon this land, the future Pavlovsk Gardens, she constructed a magnificent landscape with the help of British designers. The use of foreign sources demonstrates the influence of Western, specifically British, culture and economic thought on the Russian court. These gardens were intended to be used by Catherine as a teaching model for her subjects in their economic lives as well: they demonstrated how commerce should run according to “natural” principles. Her center of rule demonstrated not only how the world at large was built, but provided a model for the rest of society. She was merely following precedence in this regard, mimicking past tsars in their emulation of the West, while at the same time using this emulation as a model for the rest of Russia. The scope and dynamics of this cultural borrowing are best exemplified through the use of gardening. Gardeners learned from Catherine, but also set the tone for economic growth and stratified society by wealth and social status in doing so.

[1] Dmitry Shvidkovsky, A
Grandmother’s Garden for the Heir to the Imperial Throne, in Garden History,
vol. 24, no. 1 (1996), 107.

[2] Dmitry Shvidkovsky, The Empress
and the Architect (New Haven, Yale University Press: 1996), 117.