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Design 411 - Ladue News: Design

Design 411

The History of the Garden

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Posted: Thursday, September 9, 2010 12:00 am

I love a garden! Whether it is a visit to our amazing Botanical Garden or enjoying cocktails and dinner in a friend’s garden, there is something soothing and

ethereal about being in the middle of a lush landscape.

Do you have any idea how many types of gardens there are and how they got their start? Well, too many to cover here, but we can talk about a few bits of garden history that are interesting. Gardening can be traced back through at least 4,000 years of civilization to, whom else, but the Egyptians. Their tomb paintings depict rows of acacias and palms surrounding lotus ponds. After the New Kingdom (1550-1070 B.C.) the Egyptians had two kinds of gardens: the poor maintained gardens for food near the water source of the Nile, while the affluent could indulge themselves with gardens of beauty inside their walled yards, since they had servants to tend them.

Ptolemy’s gardens in Alexandria were the most influential, as Lucullus brought his gardening tradition to Rome where the incorporation of water features, topiaries, rose gardens and shaded arcades were yet other examples of visible wealth. Roman gardens were places of peace and tranquility, a way to escape the everyday demands of life. The Roman horticulturists were very free with their findings and shared much of their information and seeds in order to spread beauty around the country. After the fall of the Roman Empire, gardening took a back seat for a while.

Jumping ahead, the French revived gardening in the 13th century, and the Spanish Crown built the first public parks in the late 15th and early 16th centuries in Europe and the Americas. The gardens of Versailles dominated the style of the formal garden until the middle of the 18th century, when the English and French landscape garden was the new vogue (anything to forget about the Louises!) The 19th century introduced the wild and perennial garden created by William Robinson and Gertrude Jekyll. And, of course, Frederick Law Olmstead set the standard for the public parks and manicured gardens of the robber barons in the late 19th century. Variations on English and French gardens are still popular today.

Chinese and Japanese gardens also play an important role in the history of the garden. While they both focus on the natural landscape and how it relates to the spirit of the viewer, their outlooks differ. The Chinese garden usually has a water feature, while the Japanese, who live close to water, merely use water imagery in their gardens, for example, raking gravel in a wave-like pattern. The Japanese shape their plants, and the Chinese prefer more naturalistic forms. Stones are important in both traditions, but the Chinese tend to feature their stones on pedestals as focal points.

For me, gardens evoke thoughts of growth and the seasons of life. I hope you, too, notice and find inspiration from the beauty around you.

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