History of gardening

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This entry concerns the history of ornamental gardening considered as an amenity of civilized life, as a vehicle for style, for conspicuous show and even an expression of philosophy.

See also subsistence gardening, the art and craft of growing plants, considered as a circumscribed form of individual agriculture.

Though cultivation of plants for food long predates history, the earliest evidence for ornamental gardens is seen in Egyptian tomb paintings of the 1500s BC; they depict lotus ponds surrounded by rows of acacias and palms. The other ancient gardening tradition is of Persia: Darius the Great was said to have had a "paradise garden" and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were renowned as a Wonder of the World. Persian influences extended to post-Alexander's Greece: around 350 BC there were gardens at the Academy of Athens, and Theophrastus, who wrote on botany, was supposed to have inherited a garden from Aristotle. Epicurus also had a garden where he walked and taught, and bequeathed it to Hermarchus of Mytilene. Alciphron also mentions private gardens.

The most influential ancient gardens in the western world were the Ptolemy's gardens at Alexandria and the gardening tradition brought to Rome by Lucullus. Wall paintings in Pompeii attest to elaborate development later, and the wealthiest of Romans built enormous gardens, many of whose ruins are still to be seen, such as at Hadrian's Villa.

Byzantium and Moorish Spain kept garden traditions alive after the 4th century. By this time a separate gardening tradition had arisen in China, which was transmitted to Japan, where it developed into aristocratic miniature landscapes centered on ponds and separately into the severe Zen gardens of temples.

In Europe, gardening revived in Languedoc and the Ile-de-France in the 13th century, and in the Italian villa gardens of the early Renaissance. French parterres developed at the end of the 16th century and reached high development under Andre le Notre. English landscape gardens opened a new perspective in the 18th century.

The 19th century saw a welter of historical revivals and Romantic cottage-inspired gardening, as well as the rise of flower gardens, which became dominant in home gardening in the 20th century.

20th century gardening expanded into city planning.

The Eolia Italian Garden, in Waterford, Connecticut


The historical development of garden styles

Ancient Near East

Assyrian hunting parks and Persian paradise gardens

Egyptian temple courts

  • Royalty, most likely that found in Egypt, was probably also very instrumental in the development of the garden, much as royalty and the privileged classes throughout the centuries have continued to influence the design and actualization of gardens.

Hellenistic and Roman gardens

  • Hellenistic gardens.

It is curious that although the Egyptians and Romans both gardened with vigor, the Greeks did not own private gardens. They did put gardens around temples and they adorned walkways and roads with statues, but the ornate and pleasure gardens that demonstrated wealth in the other communities is seemingly absent. Part maybe that blank areas in the historic landscape were assumed just that : blank. No one bothered to look for pollen or evidence of gardens. Part maybe that the modern technology is only just emerging, but the predominance of knowledge is that they just did not bother with gardens.

  • Roman gardens had many characteristics in common with contemporary gardens. The garden was a place of peace and tranquillity, a refuge from urban life, and was invested with religious and symbolic meanings. Ornamental horticulture became highly developed during the development of Roman civilisation. The administrators of the Roman Empire (c.100 BC - AD 500) actively exchanged information on agriculture, horticulture, animal husbandry, hydraulics, and botany. Seeds and plants were widely shared. The Gardens of Lucullus (Horti Lucullani) on the Pincian Hill on the edge of Rome introduced the Persian garden to Europe, about 60 BC.
  • Byzantine gardens

Islamic gardens

Chinese and Japanese gardens

  • 'Hill-and-Pond' gardens of China and Japan. Both Chinese and Japanese garden design traditionally is intended to evoke the natural landscape of mountains and rivers. However, the intended viewpoint of the gardens differs: Chinese gardens were intended to be viewed from within the garden and are intended as a setting for everyday life. Japanese gardens, with a few exceptions, were intended to be viewed from within the house, sort of like a diorama. Additionally, Chinese gardens more often included a water feature, while Japanese gardens, set in a wetter climate, would often get by with the suggestion of water. (Such as sand or pebbles raked into a wave pattern.) Traditional Chinese gardens are also more likely to treat the plants in a naturalistic way, while traditional Japanese gardens might feature plants sheared into mountain shapes. This contrasts with the handling of stone elements: in a Japanese garden, stones are placed in groupings as part of the landscape, but in a Chinese garden, a particularly choice stone might even be placed on a pedestal in a prominent location so that it might be more easily appreciated.
  • Zen garden of Japan.

European gardens: Medieval

European gardens: Italian Renaissance

  • The Italian Renaissance inspired a revolution in gardening. Renaissance gardens were full of scenes from ancient mythology and other learned allusions. Water during this time was especially symbolic: it was associated with fertility and the abundance of nature.
The Medici Villa Petraia, near Florence, laid out by Niccolò Tribolo, epitomizes the Italian garden of the early Renaissance, before the grander architectural schemes of the 16th century

European gardens: French Baroque

  • Baroque French gardens of André Le Nôtre and followers.

Characterized by a centrally positioned building, elaborate parterres, radiating axis, fountains, basins and canals. Gardens of this typology are also designed with an interest in mathmatics and science. Perspective is highly designed for to create a sense of power for the owner.

European gardens: Anglo-Dutch gardens

  • Anglo-Dutch formalgardens

Landscape gardens

Romantic gardens

Picturesque gardens

'Gardenesque' gardens

The 'Gardenesque' style of English garden design evolved during the 1820's from Humphry Repton's Picturesque or 'Mixed' style, largely under the impetus of J. C. Loudon, who invented the term.

In a Gardenesque plan, all the trees, shrubs and other plants are positioned and managed in such a way that the character of each plant can be displayed to its full potential. With the spread of botany as a suitable avocation for the enlightened, the Gardenesque tended to emphasize botanical curiosities and a collector's approach. New plant material that would have seemed bizarre and alien in earlier gardening found settings: Pampas grass from Argentina and Monkey-puzzle trees. Winding paths linked scattered plantings. The Gardenesque approach involved the creation of small-scale landscapes, dotted with features and vignettes, to promote beauty of detail, variety and mystery, sometimes to the detriment of coherence. Artificial mounds helped to stage groupings of shrubs, and island beds became prominent features.

Pattern gardens: revived parterres

"Wild" gardens and herbaceous borders

The books of William Robinson describing his own "wild" gardening at Gravetye Manor, Sussex, and the sentimental picture of a rosy, idealized "cottage garden" of the kind pictured by Kate Greenaway, which had scarcely existed historically, both influenced the development of the mixed herbaceous borders that were advocated by Gertrude Jekyll from the 1890s. Her plantings, which mixed shrubs with perennial and annual plants and bulbs in deep beds within more formal structures of terraces and stairs designed by Edwin Lutyens, set the model for high-style, high-maintenance gardening until the Second World War. Vita Sackville-West's garden at Sissinghurst Castle, Kent is the most famous and influential garden of this last blossoming of romantic style, publicized by the gardener's own gardening column in The Observer. In the last quarter of the 20th century, less structured Wildlife gardening emphasized the ecological framework of similar gardens using native plants.

Modern gardens

Historic gardeners

The following names, roughly in historical order, made contributions that affected the history of gardens, whether as botanist explorers, designers, garden-makers, or writers. Further information on them will be found under their individual entries.

Notable historic gardens


  • J. S. Berrall. The Garden: An Illustrated History
  • Ciolek, Gerard. "Ogrody polskie" [Gardens of Poland]. Revised edition of the 1954 publication under the same title, updated and expanded by Janusz Bogdanowski. Warszawa: Arkady (1978).
  • Carroll, Maureen. "Earthly Paradises: Ancient Gardens in History and Archaeology" (London, British Museum Press 2003)
  • Engel, David. Creating a Chinese Garden, Timber Press, 1986.
  • E. Hyams. A History of Gardens and Gardening (1971)
  • Tom Turner. "Garden history: philosophy and design 2000 BC to 2000 AD" (Spon, London, 2005)

See also


External links

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