Mikhailovsky Garden is one of the rare monuments of the landscape architecture of the 18th — the 1st third of the 19th century. It is a unique combination of two different styles of the landscape art: of the regular or French and the landscape or English. It is also a bright example of architectural unity of a building (Mikhailovsky Palace) and a landscape (Mikhailovsky Garden), created after the design of the great architect Carlo Rossi.
Mikhailvosky Garden belongs to the three-dimensional complex of the St Petersburg centre, along with the Summer Garden and the Field of Mars. The Garden has many times changed its plan in accordance with the tastes of its owners and the fashion trends.
Originally the territory of the modern Summer, Mikhailovsky, and Engineers Garden was occupied by villages and an estate with hunting grounds of a Swedish captain of horse Konau — this can be seen at the 1698 plan. In 1716-1717, the architect J.-B. Leblond, commissioned by Peter the Great, made a general plan of the three Summer Gardens. The first and the second were situated on the territory of the modern Summer Garden. The third was the one that housed the palace of Catherine I. The territory of the modern Mikhailovsky Garden belonged earlier to that third Summer Garden and was called «the Swedish garden».
Leblond wanted to create a united grand ensemble of palaces and parks. He included there all the designs, which were approved of by Peter the Great. The north-east part of the territory, where the palace of Catherine I was situated, was the representative one. The design of the palace practically repeats that of the Peter the Great's upper chambers in Peterhof. Near the palace grew the pyramid-cut fur-trees. A chestnut alley led to a large parterre with a trellis arbor, a figurative swimming pool with a fountain and sculpture. The south-west part of the Garden was initially designed as a regular fruit garden — a garden of the Russian Emperor Court, with a fruit trees plantation, herbs, roots, conservatories, greenhouses, hothouses, and cellars. Here various exotic plants and kinds of fruit were grown. During the reign of Anna Ioanovna the Swedish garden housed «reserve» maples, i.e. a nursery-garden. There was also a «Jagdgarten» — a small hunting territory, where hares and deer for court hunting were kept in specially enclosed areas.
In 1741 the Empress Elizabeth Petrovna suggested that Rastrelli makes a project of a new Summer Garden that would include the former Palace of Catherine I and the surrounding garden. In April 1743, Rastrelli presented his project of a labyrinth-garden decorated with sculpture and fountains. It was planned to create one more representative area with two figurative ponds, a fountain, and a figured flower garden behind the Palace. The Swedish garden was slightly altered. Through the introduction of lateral and transverse alleys the territory was divided into geometrical lots, and five rectangular ponds were dug in the centre. Thus, the Third Summer Garden and the Swedish garden may be said to have become another example of the Russian landscape art of the 18th century.
Paul I ordered the Palace of Elizabeth Petrovna to be demolished and the St Michael's Castle to be built on its basement in 1787-1801. The surrounding territory encompasses the both gardens — the Rastrelli's and the Swedish one. According to the Castle's design two figurative ponds with linear tree planting along their perimeter were to be preserved. In the Swedish garden four of the five ponds were to be preserved. Those were interconnected via an underground canal. The canal was lengthened to reach the western figurative pond. Such a unique system of ponds and canals should not be underestimated.
St Michael's Castle was built as an unapproachable fortress with drawbridges surrounded by water. The four channels (Voskresensky, Tserkovny, and two Obvodnys) with the Castle and the gala square with the monument to Peter the Great on it formed a grand and unique architectural ensemble of the 18th century. The Third Summer Garden received the name of the Upper Summer or Mikhailovsky Garden. The Swedish Garden, which was a fruit garden (in its western part) and a promenade representative garden (in its eastern part) did not change. Unfortunately, the ensemble of the St Michael's Castle was to undergo alterations, and in a very short period of time. After Paul I was murdered, the Castle ceased to be the Emperors' residence. The Emperor's family moved out, the park and the channels gradually became desolated. In 1822, the Castle was handed over to the Central College of Engineering.
In 1819, a new period of the Gardens planning started. Architect Karl Rosssi contributed considerably to the alteration of the Gardens at that time. Old conservatories, which joined the Upper Summer Garden in the south, were replaced with a complex of Mikhailovsky Palace, commissioned by Alexander I to K. Rossi for the Grand Duke Mikhail Pavlovich. The architect replanned the Mikhailovsky Garden and develop the territory in front of the south façade of the Palace. It was actually the last palace ensemble constructed within the city boundaries. The final plan of the garden new design, created by Rossi along with Menelas, was approved of by the Emperor in April 1822.
In 1823, the Emperor Alexander I approved of the Rossi's projects of replanning the territory around the St Michael's Castle. According to the project, the Tserkovny channel was filled up, while the eastern figurative pond of the Mikhailovsky Garden was diminished. However, the unique water system was preserved (that of the ponds of the Mikhailovsky Garden and the channels of the St Michael's Castle), and even supplemented by an underground collector that united the large pond with the Moika River, thus assuring additional water circulation. According to the Rossi's project two rows of cut trees were planted around the St Michael's Castle.
It should be pointed out that Rossi intended to preserve certain areas of the Mikhailovsky Garden as they were designed by Leblond and Rastrelli.
Karl Rossi created an exemplary English garden. He used all the main planning features of the landscape style borrowed from the English landscape architecture of the 1715-1760. In front of the garden façade of the Mikhailovsky Palace there was a spacious meadow of an uneven oval form, framed with an alley and included into the regular plan net.
Another typical feature of the English garden is the use of ponds with uneven water-edges. That is why the architect turned the former pools of geometrical forms into picturesque ponds of various sizes with «natural» meander banks. He also demolished the central small rectangular ponds. One more traditional element of a landscape park was introduced — a pavilion with an quay on the bank of the Moika River. This pavilion, built where the basement of the first wooden Palace of Catherine I once was, was intended for romantic encounters of the summer evenings, for tea-ceremonies or card plays.
There were many flower gardens and flowering bushes on the territory of the Mikhailovsky Garden. The most valuable thing Rossi preserved was the system of alleys, which form the basis of the composition. Alley plantings were partly preserved and supplemented with picturesque groups of trees. Until the Revolution the Garden was a palace garden and was ordinary citizens were not allowed in there. The further story of the Mikhailovsky Garden is a tragic one, like the story of all the historic territories.
In 1902, the small eastern pond shallowed and was filled up. At the same time, due to the construction of the Resurrection Church after A. Parland's project and a new garden railing the rear part of the Garden was considerably abridged.
In 1922, the Garden received a name of the International Organization for the Assistance to the Revolutionary Fighters Garden. Under such a «poetic» name the former Mikhailovsky Garden received the status of an ordinary city park. The English meadow was crossed by a footpath; a stage and a number of pavilions were built. Later, these were replaced with playgrounds for children. In the early 1960s, it was allowed to build a tennis-court and a public toilet here.
During this period trees and bushes were planted randomly. The trees grew larger so that the garden façade of the Mikhailovsky Palace could no more be seen, and neither was the perspective leading from the Palace to the Field of Mars. Every year affected the once excellent historic landscape…
Investigations of the 2000 revealed that the Garden was in a critical condition. In 2001, reconstruction was started. It is to continue till 2007.
The reconstruction project presupposes preservation of the landscape English style in the centre of the Garden, with regular French planning along its perimeter. The reconstruction will allow to recreate one of the best gardens of St Petersburg central part and to return the historic significance of the Mikhailovsky Palace — Mikhailovsky Garden complex.