Garden and Landscape Design
- LAST REVIEWED: 25 July 2022
- LAST MODIFIED: 28 March 2018
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0025
- LAST REVIEWED: 25 July 2022
- LAST MODIFIED: 28 March 2018
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0025
At first hand, little is known about gardens and landscapes in ancient times. Writing about them came much later, first as technical treatises, as manuals for planting and garden layouts, and then as critical evaluations and cultural commentaries. As gardens are fragile, we depend largely on documents and archives of older sites; in the modern period, archaeology and sonar soundings also help to recover former sites; and for more recent work we have the sites themselves, which themselves are in constant flux. While there are important works on the gardens of antiquity, the more we approach modern work, the richer is the bibliography. Garden history essentially “took off” in the late 20th century, with art historians in the United States and literary historians in the United Kingdom taking the lead; geographers, philosophers, and cultural historians, among others, have also taken up the topic. Given that there is no institutional instruction in garden history (landscape architects usually get some patchy instruction by nonhistorians), the field has also been occupied by amateur writers and researchers, to whom much excellent writing is due. What began as large-scale international or national surveys (histories of gardens are still with us) now focus on local territories (English counties, French départements, Italian regions, etc.) and even single sites, as well as on more theoretical approaches. While all disciplines or fields develop, garden history is still (absent professional instruction) searching, properly, for how to tackle this field of “gardening,” which the English writer Geoffrey Grigson rightly saw as “one index of the history of men [sic]” (in the introduction to A World of Gardens [London: Reaktion Books, 2012]).
Early Surveys and Histories
These began to emerge when modern garden makers began reflecting on earlier designs (Switzer, Walpole, see the section Britain: Later 18th Century) and continued as historians sought to construct plausible and up-to-date narratives (Loudon 1840 [cited under Britain: The 19th Century], Amherst 1895, and Tunnard 1948 [cited under Britain: Modern Design]). Modern narratives are abundant, not least because publishers can now reproduce excellent images of gardens and landscapes, but they are not always either new or well founded on primary sources. Two early surveys were in Jellicoe and Jellicoe 1989 and Thacker 1979, both still extremely useful for their illustrations and cultural commentary. Some attempts to do these surveys more fully and systematically have started to emerge: Mosser and Teyssot 1995 provides a collection of essays on specific moments or activities in landscape architecture; Baridon 1999 exhaustively researches the annals of garden publications through the ages; Baridon 2006 explores the origins of ideas of landscape from earliest times till the Renaissance; and Leslie and Hunt 2011 provides a detailed discussion of different periods of garden making in six volumes. The danger, too, of proleptic narratives—seeing what lies ahead as a clue to understanding the past or present—haunts garden histories (this is especially true in English garden historiography, where the “high point” of “English” gardening [the time of “Capability,” according to Brown and Humphry Repton] is used to retrospectively gloss earlier designs).
Amherst, the Hon Alicia. A History of Gardening in England. London: Bernard Quaritch, 1895.
An early and unusual history, in that it devotes more space (eleven chapters) to a discussion of prelandscape gardening and to the 19th century than to the “English” (two chapters).
Baridon, Michel. Les Jardins: Paysagistes—Jardiniers—Poètes. Paris: Editions Robert Laffont, 1999.
A rich anthology of writings in this field, with extensive commentary, by a premier garden historian and intellectual historian who knew both French and English sources.
Baridon, Michel. Naissance et renaissance du paysage. Arles, France: Actes Sud, 2006.
A rich and detailed narrative of the birth and circumstances of landscape from ancient times to the Renaissance. An English translation will appear in Penn Studies in Landscape Architecture.
Girot, Christophe. The Course of Landscape Architecture. London: Thames & Hudson, 2016.
Subtitled A History of Our Designs on the Natural World, from Prehistory to the Present, the book’s title(s) conceal some doubles-entendus: the course is less a narrative of that history, but a course book; and the emphasis is usefully on the designs (schemes) of those who sought to rework the natural world. Each of the twelve chapters announces and discusses a theme, but then focuses on one site. Some of these are familiar (Villa Lante, Rousham), some far less so, in terms of how that theme could be illustrated (Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage, Egypt’s Faiyun Oasis). A bibliography attends to the theme and not to the sites chosen; the notes extend discussions into a larger area of inquiry.
Hadot, Pierre. The Veil of Isis: An Essay on the History of the Idea of Nature. Translated by Michael Chase. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2006.
Published in French in 2004, this extraordinary and learned, but wonderfully readable, inquiry into what a whole range of scientists, philosophers, and other inquirers found when they sought to lift the veils, which Heraclitus had originally said were used to hide human searches into nature. While it makes few references to garden culture, its importance for those who do is invaluable.
Hunt, John Dixon. A World of Gardens. London: Reaktion, 2012.
Twenty essays on gardens in different cultures and throughout history; connections are made between gardens and other gardenlike inventions, such as national parks, amusement parks, and hunting parks. Well illustrated.
Jellicoe, Geoffrey, and Susan Jellicoe. The Landscape of Man: Shaping the Environment from Prehistory to the Present Day. London: Thames & Hudson, 1989.
Originally published in 1975. One of the best accounts, by two distinguished landscape architects, of how the environment has been shaped from prehistory to the present day. Good black-and-white images.
Leslie, Michael, and John Dixon Hunt, eds. Cultural History of Gardens. 6 vols. London: Berg, 2011.
The six volumes have different editors and provide very extensive bibliographies and eight chapters each that deal, in the different periods (antiquity, Middle Ages, Renaissance, Enlightenment, 19th century, and modernism) with eight topics (design, types of gardens, plants, reception, meanings, the relation of gardens with the larger landscape, and visual and verbal representations).
Mosser, Monique, and Georges Teyssot, eds. Architecture of Western Gardens. London: Thames & Hudson, 1995.
Also published in French and Italian. A collection of short essays charting Western garden making, a sensible structure that eludes the dangers of a narrative sequence.
Pavord, Anna. The Naming of Names: The Search for Order in the World of Plants. London: Bloomsbury, 2005.
This most readable book searches through the world in different eras to define how humans have looked to understanding nature by exploring the names of their plants. Both a botanical guide and a cultural adventure through our linguistic reception of the natural world.
Rinaldi, Bianca Maria. Ideas of Chinese Gardens: Western Accounts, 1300–1860. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016.
After a lengthy editorial introduction, this volume collects Western writings about Chinese gardens and their European significance and (for some) their imitations in the West from authors in Italty (Marco Polo and Matteio Ricci) to French, German, and British writers (John Barrow, George Macartney).
Thacker, Christopher. The History of Gardens. London: Croom Helm, 1979.
One of the earliest and still useful general histories.
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