Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Garden of my Dreams.

Throughout the entire semester I imagined myself in whatever garden style we were talking about. I would stroll through the formal baroque garden with my royal guard following quick behind or I would pace my renaissance gardens in thick robes and shabby philosophy book in my hands. Some would call these elaborate creations, daydreams, others, who would never be inclined to daydream during class would call them visual learning experiences. It is through these visual learning experiences that I found my ideal garden style.

The problem with determining a favorite style in a dream world is you’re not bound by worldly realities, such as monetary and geographical restrictions. It is for this reason I have two styles that most resonate with me, just in slightly different ways. 

My first inspiration comes from where I am from, California; the natural environment that I have access to is almost unparalleled. Vast pine forests dotted with soaring mountains, crisp rivers and raging waterfalls make up the surreal natural environment. Yosemite, Sequoia National Park, King’s Canyon, Mammoth Mountain and many other national wildlife reserves make up the Mid to Northern California region. When I imagine myself standing in a garden of my own creation with no restrictions what-so-ever, it is most often this sort of environment that comes to mind. A Landscape of pine with tall peaks and freshwater, rock-bottom rivers. Of course, without a massive expanse of land and generous financial capabilities the feasibility of a project like this is slim to none. However, the landscape style is still my favorite garden style given no restrictions.

If I live a totally average life, no 200 hectare tract of land in Northern California or $40,000,000 budget, just a comfortable, normal life, then I want a garden that is an escape from the mundane routine of normalcy. My garden would be vividly colorful and maze-like, akin to the arts and crafts gardens of Jekyll, although not so much Lutyens. I do not like anything extremely formal or geometrical. Fluid lines and blended colors can hide rooms, disguise passageways that lead to small enclaves of pools or statues. In some ways the mysticism of the garden is reminiscent of the renaissance garden, but the style is much more in line with the arts and crafts movement. While still slightly extravagant with all my childish hidden rooms and secret passage ways, this garden is much more realistic on an average consumer budget. 

Thus, the arts and crafts garden and the landscape garden are the gardens I most enjoy learning about, thinking about and would most enjoy owning. 

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Sunday, May 4, 2014

Gertrude Jekyll and Edwin Lutyens

In 1897 Gertrude Jekyll moved to Munstead Wood, the home that would serve as her garden laboratory for the next 30 years. To design and build Munstead Wood, Jekyll hired Edwin Lutyens. Lutyens was a young up and coming architect who had a flare for gardens. Gertrude Jekyll was a skilled gardener intent on experimenting with aesthetics. Jekyll and Lutyens quickly developed a close personal friendship that evolved into a successful business partnership. The two began designing country cottages connected to intricate, colorful gardens. Jekyll and Lutyens soon developed a name for themselves as leaders in the arts and crafts movement. 

The arts and crafts movement is an artistic reaction to the industrial revolution and the horrors it produced. Therefore, gardens of this time were focused on aesthetic beauty, color theory and exotic plants. The drab, formal Victorian garden was far to contained and rigid for the arts and crafts movement. However, when it came to gardening the arts and crafts movement was divided into two competing schools of thought. On the one hand were the architects who thought that the garden was an essential part of the house and the house is designed by the architect so the garden too should be designed by the architect. On the other side of the debate were the gardeners who argued that the aesthetic of the garden is only achieved through the planting and since the gardener has an extensive knowledge of plants he should design the garden. This debate was essentially settled by Jekyll and Lutyens who combined architecture and gardening to produce an improved result.

Their style was dynamic and could change according to the style of the surrounding area. However, there are many defining characteristics of a Jekyll, Lutyens garden. Firstly, Jekyll loved to experiment with color theory. She used her time at Munstead Wood to create different configurations of herbaceous borders. In fact, she was partly responsible for the popularity of herbaceous borders in the early 20th century. She would line the edges of pathways with different flowers that would create colorful combinations. Secondly, their gardens tended to focus on aesthetic beauty and would feature bright colors and exotic plants in formal arrangements. The entire garden tended to be asymmetrical and would include different “rooms” or sectioned areas each with a different theme. Artisanship was emphasized in the architecture of the garden. Hand crafted fences and benches were common and as well as pergolas and trellises. The genius of the Lutyens, Jekyll garden was in the combination of architecture and gardening. Both Jekyll and Lutyens used their expertise to design practical, aesthetically pleasing gardens that were fully integrated into the landscape of the house. 

For more information on Gertrude Jekyll and Edwin Lutyens see below:

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Arts and Crafts: A Battle of Styles

The 19th century saw the emergence of a wave of new design styles in not only the garden design realm, but in furniture design, architecture and painting. Let us first take a few steps back to the Victorian era where new technologies paved the way for the industrial revolution and mass production. The  “era of  stuff” in which people were obsessed with conspicuous consumption began to fade out of style. In opposition to this style of living arose the arts and crafts movement, which emphasized beauty and artisanship over mass production and profit. In the context of garden design there were essentially two sides to the arts and crafts movement. One side of the debate argued that the architect was the one responsible for the design of the house and since the garden is a natural offshoot of the house, it fell under the jurisdiction of the architect. To be expected of course came the argument from the gardeners who believed that the gardener had access to special knowledge that was essential if the garden was to take its proper form, thus design of the garden should fall under the head gardener.

But what was it that architects and gardeners were designing? The previous century saw the existence of two major garden design styles: landscape design and Victorian gardens. The arts and crafts movement incorporated small bits of the previous movements, for example, arts and crafts gardens are not as formalized as Victorian gardens, but not as wild as landscape parks. They incorporate aesthetically pleasing color schemes using bright flowers, create separate garden ‘rooms’ where yew hedges or colorful vines separate our different compartments of the garden. Many arts and crafts gardens have formalized aspects: parterres and geometrical design. Even within the movement differences of design style still remained. The variations of style within the arts and crafts movement generally derives from the career of the designer, that is, whether they were an architect or a gardener. 

Sir Reginald Blomfield and John Dando Sedding were two of the most prominent architectural garden designers during the mid 19th century. Sir Blomfield was born in 1838 and attended Exeter College where he received a degree in classics. He soon discovered architecture and was inspired by the renaissance (something to be expected from his interest in classics). Renaissance design was characterized by a continuation of the house into the garden. That is, the two were fundamentally connected and even intertwined. John Sedding was another leading architect of the arts and crafts movement. He developed a love for gothic design and thus strict borders and crisp lines. Sedding pushed the boundaries of garden design because of his despise for anything that looked too contrived or man-made. In this sense he differed from Blomfield who rejected the Kentian landscape design. However both men were guided by their architectural perspective which lent a certain structure to the garden. They both used rigid lines and formal designs to format their garden. These designs differ from previous baroque or rococo formality in their use of asymmetrical design, bedding, flower usage and size of the garden. 

William Robinson makes up a very different perspective on garden design. Unlike Blomfield and Sedding, Robinson was not an architect, he was a gardener. His garden background paved the way for an internal division in the arts and crafts movement. Instead of the hard lined, geometric architectural movement, Robinson and other gardeners of the time experimented with the actually plants themselves. Masters of botany and horticulture these men and women focused on color theory, but emphasized nature more than the actual design of the garden. In fact, Robinson took a note from the landscape design book and used informal growing patterns and liked to use plants that would survive for multiple years without having to be replanted. Although the same emphasis was put on artisanship and design, the gardener perspective took a more naturalistic approach and the architectural approach took a more design driven, geometrical approach. 

The eventual outcome of this internal dispute was actually a compromise. Gertrude Jekyll and Edwin Lutyens combine the intricacies of architecture and gardening. When Edwin Lutyens was just 22 he was hired by Ms. Jekyll as the architect who was to design her new home at Munstead Wood. During this time the two developed a friendship that turned into a successful professional partnership. Gertrude Jekyll was a skilled gardener who revolutionized color theory and successful flower borders. The combination of a skilled architect in Lutyens and an experimental gardener in Jekyll led to a successful career and settled the debate of the arts and crafts movement. 

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Monday, April 21, 2014

Urban Greenspace

The introduction of landscape design and garden parks as a relevant style in the 18th century kickstarted a new design trend that continues today: urban green space. Fueled by new intellectual, philosophical, ideological and scientific ideas, landscape design broke free onto the design stage and relieved itself of the formalized, geometrical characteristics of baroque era gardens. Instead of formal parterres, terraces and ornamental flower beds, the intention of landscape design was to capture and enhance the beauty of pure nature. While everything was intentionally arranged and built, these landscapes mimicked nature. They represented many of the same things that previous baroque era gardens represented, however, they did it in a new inventive way. They displayed power through sheer size not grandeur, control through subtle, yet intentional placement not rigid, geometrical patterns, etc, etc. Further, landscape gardens were purposed towards similar baroque objectives: study, relaxation, escape, displays of power and wealth and entertainment.

Landscapes slowly transformed into recreational parks, which shifted the focus of the park from individualism to a sort of communalism. Urban parks are still an escape, still a place to study or relax, but they bring the community together in a different way than the aristocratically dominated landscape parks of the 18th and 19th century. Parks today can be used for everything from exercise to sleep, study to procrastination even self-reflection to huge parties. The urban greenspaces we examined however, each had their own idiosyncrasies that made them special. 

The Palm House and surrounding gardens: The Palm House of Copenhagen is a large glass building built into a landscape park that spans an area of about 10 hectares. Even without the Palm House itself the park is incredible. Imagine entering from the busy street only to find a large central lake with small streams and rivers flowing in from the surrounding area. To the left there is a long area of grass that is bordered by a rock and succulent garden. The the right there is a large hill with pine and evergreens that form a shaded wood. This park is not only used for otium and relaxation, it is used for research and cultivation. 

The last place we visited on our trip around the green spaces of Copenhagen was Kastellet. This urban green space differed the most from any of the other parks we visited that day. Not only was it an urban greenspace but it is the base for Denmark’s secret service. Shaped like a five sided star, Kastellet is mainly used as a running or walking park, but the surrounding canals and small surrounding greenspaces makes the park more inclusive. The paths are raised above the fort like natural walls. Perhaps the best way to describe the difference between the parks is to say the botanical gardens is the park to bring your family for a picnic, Kastellet is the place to go running if you are training to be a green beret, or more appropriately if you are more motivated than me to go running.
Aside from the obvious benefits of urban greenspace: quite, peaceful escapes, nice scenery, and increased property values, urban greenspace has scientifically proven beneficial results. According to a study done by the National Recreation and Parks Association a $10 increase in per capita park investment “was associated with a third of a day more per week of vigorous exercise by girls. State spending on parks and recreation was also associated with more days of strength-building exercise for both sexes.” If an increase in the availability or spending on parks leads to better health, it is no wonder many governments now consider parks as an active part of the healthcare system. Parks can bring about a decrease in total healthcare costs, which means money is freed up to either reinvest in parks creating an even healthier society or in the context of Denmark an increased investment in parks could help make the welfare state more sustainable. 

Regardless of the use of parks, they positively benefit those affected, and the greater availability of urban greenspace the greater the number of people positively affected. 

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Friday, April 4, 2014

For the three most influential designers and innovators of in the18th century English Landscape Movement - Charles Bridgeman, William Kent & ‘Capability’ Brown - write a brief paragraph to describe the style - form, layout, content, purpose - of their landscapes.

The formalized, geometrical, baroque gardens of the 17th century were swept away with the introduction of landscape design in the 18th century. Landscape design first took root in England. It quickly gained popularity by virtue of it’s historical context. Firstly, there was a staunch anti-French sentiment in England and thus a rejection of the baroque; secondly, England during the 18th century was progressing into the early stages of the enlightenment and industrial revolution. These significant socio-political/socio-economic movements ushered in an era of new (some may say radical) philosophy, improvements in technology, political reforms and democracy; and finally, the new neoclassical artistic movement. Each of the above contributed to a new sense of individualism, nature, art and philosophy, which subsequently moves us away from formalized gardens and brings us to the introduction of landscape design. This blog post will mostly focus on Stowe, a large country estate in Bukinghamshire, England. The gardens of Stowe are interesting to examine precisely because of the fact that they were worked on by the three most influential landscape designers of the 18th century. The evolution of landscape design runs parallel to the renovations of Stowe, worked on by all three of the designers. 

When, in 1715, Sir Richard Codham began to think about expanding his country estate of Stowe he first hired Charles Bridgeman as the landscape designer. Bridgeman acts as a transitionary designer for both Stowe and the greater landscape movement as a whole. He was one of the first landscape designers of the time and he was the first to renovate Stowe with Codham in the landscape style. His style very much reflects the transitionary role he played at Stowe. Remnants of the formal baroque style of the past do exist in Bridgeman’s designs. He included parterres, straight and geometrically arranged paths and avenues, and even geometric water features. However these formal features were offset by the landscape they were a part of. Bridgeman liked to include garden buildings, amphitheaters made of grass, informal ponds and lakes and key vantage points throughout the garden that helped frame intentionally designed views (unfortunately the gardens of Stowe were redesigned several times, so very few pictures are available to help visualize Bridgemon’s original landscape). One particular innovation stands out among Bridgemon’s contributions to landscape design, that is, the ha-ha. The ha-ha or borrowed landscape replaces the wall or shrubbery that forms the perimeter of the garden with a ditch or small moat that slopes downward into a wall that separates the property from surrounding landscape. This creates a sense of extension, hence the phrase borrowed landscape. Without impediments to sight, the garden looks much more grand when it blends in with the natural environment. 
William Kent was hired after the death of Bridgeman to continue designing the garden. Kent refurbished the grounds at Stowe after Bridgemon’s original design. He further removed the formalized aspects of the gardens: straight paths, symmetrical axis, and fountains were replaced with sinuous paths, snaking rivers and larger, less formal lakes. Although Kent was notoriously unreliable and drunk, but he had key themes which show up explicitly in his garden designs. First of all Kent strove to create an idealized, sculpted nature that would portray a certain mood, a sense experience of sorts. Further, he used classical statues, buildings and ancient myths to create an allegorical story that parallels the assent or decent through the garden. For instance, Kent, in his communication with Cobham designed two distinct sections to the garden of Stowe. One section represents the difficult path to virtue and it is filled with features that allude to greatness, worthiness etc. The Temple of Ancient Virtue and the Temple of British Worthiness are just two examples of the kinds of allegory Kent was fond of. The other half of the garden was dedicated to the opposite path: the pleasurable path of vice. In this section Kent uses imagery like the temple of venus and the spurting obelisk to portray the hardships of love and more importantly the misery of lust. 
The last of these three influential landscape designers is Lancelot “Capability” Brown.  Brown worked as the head gardener for Stowe partly during the Kent’s tenure at Stowe. Brown dismissed most of Kent’s allegorical features and focused more on the natural landscape. For him, England was the inspiration, much less so Ancient Rome or Greece. Instead, Brown played with the topography of the land, sculpting and reshaping areas to accomplish a desired aesthetic look. He had an extremely subtle touch, using shadows from  groves of trees or even a small manmade overlook to evoke a sense of naturalism. Nature was improved upon by use of nature as opposed to embellished by statues and allegory. See for instance the picture below of Blendheim. This landscape, although it does feature a bridge and a castle, looks very natural and uses subtle techniques like the framing of the castle in a field surrounded by trees to create the desired effect. 

These three designers used their revolutionary new ideas to shape the landscape garden at Stowe and further shaped the progress and evolution of landscape design.

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Sunday, March 23, 2014


Without simply repeating the lecture notes explain why Versailles Palace and Gardens were built, and the role they played during the rule of King Louis XIV

Louis XIV came to power in 1661 when he was 23 years old. During his 72 year reign, Louis XIV transformed not only the original hunting lodge of Versailles, but the reputation of France along with it. The renovations to the small chateau at Versailles began in 1662 as Louis’ interest in versailles increased. Beginning from around 1669 the chateau and its grounds were expanded into the palace and gardens f Versailles. It was not until 1682 that King Louis XIV made Versailles the Royal residence and court of France. Politically, the palace became the center of France and an extremely important representation of the power of Louis XIV. 

When he was a child Louis spent many days at his fathers hunting lodge at Versailles. As he grew older Louis XIV found Paris unappealing and decided to expand his fathers hunting lodge and move his palace and court to Versailles. This he did on a monumental scale. The palace and grounds were expanded to house the entire Nobility and court of France. Larger than any palace before it, Versailles was the epitome of excess, decadence and power. 

The power dynamics of Versailles were developed on a foundation of paranoia. When he was a child, Louis had experienced an upper class revolt so-called the Fronde. The nobility tried to seize power from the previous king, but were unsuccessful. From this point on Louis was on edge when it came to the nobility. Thus, one of the significant aspects of Versailles is that it housed the court and nobility of France. With the nobility in such close proximity Louis was able to keep an eye on them as well as prevent them from accumulating a larger power base at home and keep them busy with infighting instead of fighting him. Further, the palace at Versailles insulated Louis from the mobs of Paris. Like a rather large sanctuary, Versailles was an outward expression that nobody could touch the power of France or Louis XIV.

The sheer size of the palace is enough to awe its visitors, but it is the gardens that truly stun the viewer. From the back of the palace one gazes upon an expanse of fountains, pools, groves and many groomed garden features. These gardens represented control, power, wealth, prestige and safety. They were used to entertain nobles and portray Louis’ power. Louis XIV is often referred to as the sun king. He loved the allegory of the sun and used its motif throughout the grounds of Versailles. Along the same line, Louis found the god Apollo to his liking. The fountain of Apollo is one of the main water features of Versailles and represents Louis’ ultimate power and wealth. 

Versailles was meant to shock its guests and it accomplished just this. It was unmatched in size and became the model for gardens across Europe. Not only was Versailles the power center of France, it was also the cultural center. Versailles hosted unparalleled parties, balls, plays, concerts etc. It acted as a major influence on European architecture, city layouts, garden design, cultural development and political power. 

The impact of Versailles on the politics of Europe is hard to measure. For one, Louis XIV is still t this day the longest reigning monarch, which may speak to his power and the power of Versailles. However, it is difficult to measure the cultural impact of Versailles. The events that took place at Versailles shaped the course of French history up until the French Revolution and has had a lasting impact on architecture and gardens.

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Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Palace of Versailles and it’s Historical Significance

Last week I traveled to Paris with my Global Economics class. There we met with business professionals and investment organizations in order to study globalization and its consequences. Rather appropriately then, during my free day I visited the Palace of Versailles, both because my garden art professor would have been dumbfounded had I decided not to go and because the Palace of Versailles and the gardens of Versailles encapsulate the concept of Globalization. 

In order to understand the significance of Versailles it is important to look at its design and the historical context in which it was built. The Palace of Versailles was initially a hunting lodge used by Louie XIII. However, when Louie XIV took power he found the inner city of Paris much to his dislike and decided to move the court to Versailles. Accordingly, the Sun King (Louie VIX as he liked to be know) began to formulate plans to expand the palace and to expand the gardens. In 1661 under the direction of the landscape designer André Le Nôtre, work on the gardens of Versailles commenced. The project was completed in a series of four building campaigns, which lasted until 1709. When the gardens and palace were completed , they became representations of enormous power and influence. 

Within the design of the gardens at Versailles it is very easy to pick up on global influence and in return the influence of Versailles on other gardens. Le Nôtre was raised and educated in Paris and as such, developed a classical French style. This French style was heavily influenced by both late renaissance and baroque concepts. An arial view of the gardens at the Palace of Versailles illustrates the combination of these styles. Looking down on the gardens we can see the axial design that runs through the entire landscape. There is a central axis and cross axis from which radiate pathways that form an interesting geometric pattern. The reliance on axis and symmetry is a classic renaissance characteristic. The design was to demonstrate mans ability to subject nature to specific patterns and further reflected humanist ideals that controlling nature brought one closer to God. In this case the garden design demonstrates specifically the Sun King’s power and control. Renaissance ideas stem from Italy, but were transported to France when in 1494 Charles the 8th of France invaded Italy and stumbled across the Poggio Reale (an early Renaissance chateau and garden). As avenues of trade expanded and transportation methods improved, renaissance ideas and new ideas in general began to spread. Thus, we can see how economic and political forces translate into the spread of cultural ideas. 

Not only were the gardens of Versailles based on offshoots of renaissance ideas, a new art form, the Baroque, came to play a large role in Le Nôtre’s design. The baroque period is characterized by exaggerated movement and emotional depictions that produce dramatic effects. For a concrete example of baroque style see figure two. This is the famed Hall of Mirrors inside the palace of Versailles. The rounded architecture that has fewer geometrical straight lines and sharp edges, but instead swirls and evokes colorful and emotional images is a good representation of the period. The gardens however are not necessarily fully baroque nor fully renaissance in style. Their layout is geometrical and controlled, but the designs within the gardens are swirly, colorful and emotional. Some may call this fusion of baroque and renaissance styles a flamboyant renaissance style. 

Within the gardens of Versailles there were also quite a few allegorical statures and fountains. Apollo who was the god of the sun and sky was a natural favorite of Louis XIV. Apollo was the god of gods as Louis XIV was the king of kings. Both the Apollo fountain and the Lotona fountain are depictions of Apollo and his power.

It is clear then that Louis XIV and his larger than life palace was a show of ultimate power, which resonated through the entire European continent. This is of major significance because the Palace of Versailles, the gardens of Versailles and the ideas therein became immortalized. For many thousands of years before Versailles gardens had been used to display wealth and power, but the display at Versailles was of a different scale entirely. Not only did it solidify gardens as a show of power, but it helped contribute to the way future gardens and even cities were laid out. For example, the axial design of the gardens with radiating walkways that form geometrical sections became the basis for street design in Paris. The criss crossing patterns and strange geometrical shapes made it difficult for people to block off one section of the city if there was a revolt. There was always another way to get to the destination. Further the gardens acted as an interesting transitionary style from very controlled renaissance design to colorful and dramatic baroque design.

Globalization allowed for the spread of renaissance ideas to France, which in turn contributed to the design of Versailles in a new baroque style. The significance of the garden can be seen not only in power dynamics and influence on other gardens, but on things as removed as city and street planning. Overall, I would say it was a productive visit to Versailles and an academic win for DIS.

Check out these interesting descriptions of the Palace of Versailles and it's gardens:

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Monday, March 10, 2014

Humanist influence on Renaissance Gardens

Question: Explain with examples the ways in which the Renaissance spirit of a rediscovery of the classics and the new Humanist ways of thinking were expressed in the design and content of the Italian Renaissance garden.

In order to answer this question completely it is important to understand each component of the questions, i.e. what were Renaissance ideas and humanist ways of thinking? 

The Renaissance, which formally began in Italy sometime during the early 1300s (Scholars still debate the actual starting date), was a refocus on classical Greek and Roman ideas. It was an age of discovery, invention and art. However, the new renaissance ideology was practiced by a very select segment of the population. Those who had enough money, time and cultural awareness had access to Renaissance ideas, but the vast majority of the population was not generally effected. 

Humanism was a specific Renaissance idea that focused the attention of study on human importance in relation to God and nature, as opposed to the previous focus on divine and eternal matters. The study of man (broadly construed to mean humans) was a way to get closer to God. Since God had created everything in his image, studying humans and nature acted as a way to understand God. 

These ideas translated into new garden designs and ornamentation. One way to see the influence of the Renaissance and Humanism is to examine the evolution of the quadripartite design. In medieval and monastic gardens, the beds were simply arranged with a few plants, a small water feature and a tree or two and each item in the garden had its own significance (tree - tree of life, water feature - rivers that flowed out of eden, etc.). However, when this is compared to a Renaissance equivalent, the designs of the interior sections of the bed become much more complex and ornamental. While each section of the quadripartite design did not have the same significance of the monastic garden, the overall theme was humanist. Nature was seen as an ordered creation of God, thus, man could organize and improve nature’s raw materials, and by doing so come to know God. The focus is on the human ability to organize and subject nature to man. Another example of this idea can be seen through the incredible water features that play a central role in many Renaissance gardens. For example,  the Villa d’Este featured several water features that control and demonstrate the power of human innovation.

v Aside from the artistic recreation and innovation of the Renaissance, power relations played a dominant force throughout this time period. Gardens, as they have almost always been (at least partly), were a way to show off power and wealth. However, these new gardens were outwardly positioned. That is, they displayed ancient greek and roman epics and myths, which would often correspond to family history or lore. Educated visitors to the gardens would instantly recognize and understand the references. To take the example above of the Villa d’Este, one of the largest water features is the Dragon Fountain. This fountain was an allegory to the story of Hercules. It was said that there was a golden apple guarded by a ferocious dragon. Hercules defeated this dragon and took the golden apple. The d’Este family is coincidently said to be related to Hercules. These sorts of allegories were common in early Italian Renaissance Gardens. 
Overall, Renaissance gardens transformed in size and complexity. The focus on man’s abilities and values helped fuel this transition and renaissance innovations in science, art and technology made it possible for gardens like the Villa d’este and Villa Medici come to fruition. 

For more information on Renaissance gardens and their humanist influences check out some of these websites:


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Religion as Seen Through the Garden

Question: In the three cultures we have so far studied - Roman, Mediæval and Muslim - how did /does the garden play a role in their respective religions? 

As can be seen through Ancient Roman, Medieval and Islamic history the garden manifests the role and practice of religion in different cultures. The garden is used and designed in a variety of different ways, but as religion (and by extension garden design) evolved through each culture the ideas and designs were incorporated and reflected in subsequent or parallel cultures.

To the Romans, religion acted as a mutual exchange. The devotion and faith expressed by Christians was not the dominant theme of Roman religious worship. Instead the Romans thought of religion as a give and take relationship where gods were worshiped and in return the devotee expected something. This idea was expressed in the garden throughout the many statues and shrines (aediculas) that displayed the gods. Venus, the god of gardens and vineyards, as well as Pariapus, the god of fertility were often placed in Roman Gardens. 

When Rome fell and Europe “went dark,” Christianity was becoming more and more popular. As a consequence, Medieval gardens began to take on new religious significance. These christian gardens began in monasteries and were erected in enclosed courtyards. They were purposed toward religious discussions, teachings and reflection. As the medieval ages progressed and the church amassed more power the significance of the garden evolved. Gardens were to become a representation of Eden. They were enclosed and signified purity, freedom and uncorrupted nature. Hence they become identified with The Virgin Mary. She was pure and uncorrupted and thus a perfect addition to Eden’s garden. Mary was represented in the garden in a variety of ways. Firstly, she is often painted in scenes of the garden. Further, she has her own flowers that represent her purity and grace: the red rose, white lily and purple violet. Monastic gardens continue the trend of religious significance by utilizing a quadripartite design. That is, a garden divided into four sections and separated by four small streams or walkways. These segments were supposed to represent the four rivers of life that flow out of the garden in Eden (Pishon, Gihon, Tigris and the Euphrates). The adjacent picture shows not only the four sections, but the further allusion to the tree of life. 

The gardens of Islam picked up on many of the same themes of the Medieval, christian gardens. The four rivers of life are again represented in Islamic gardens, but as the rivers of water, wine, milk and honey. These layouts are sometimes referred to as Chahar Bagh. Thus, the intricate intermingling of christianity and Islam can be seen throughout the garden. Unlike the Christian garden focus on a pre-human times, Islamic gardens are focused on the afterlife, i.e. “Jannat al-firdaws,” or gardens of paradise. The garden of paradise is the place where devout Muslims go when they die.

The evolution of religion as seen through the garden is one way to analyze different ways in which cultures practice and approach religion. 

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For more information on the role religion played in the garden check out:

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Why do you think gardens have always been an intrinsic part of European culture?

There are, in my opinion, three answers to the question posed above. The first is a more generalized answer that could be applied to the importance of gardens in any continent. That is, subsistence. Gardens allowed peasants, craftsmen and merchants to subsidize their menial income with home grown food. 

Of course, this answer is incomplete because all gardens are not planted specifically for subsistence, which brings us to the essence of the question at hand: why are gardens an intrinsic part of European culture.
The intrinsic nature of the garden in Europe is epitomized by the dissemination and evolution of religion. To take one example, the Roman gardens often contained elements such as statues of gods and goddesses  as well as aediculas (small shrines to the gods or religious figures). As the Romans converted to Christianity they carried with them the sacred characteristics of the garden, i.e. the garden as a representation of the Garden in Eden. Even when the fall of the Roman empire transitioned Europe into the Medieval ages, the garden remained intricately tied to religion. Monasteries created utilitarian herb and vegetable gardens that provided food for the monks. As the church began to amass large sums of money the garden and the meaning and function therein changed. Monasteries started to build cloisters, which were gardens dedicated to the studying, teaching of religious themes and often featured religious themes: the tree of life, the four rivers of life, etc. 

Religion is interwoven throughout the fabric of European history and a natural counterpart to religion was the garden, hence the gardens intrinsic place in European culture.
However, the church was not the only institution that solidified the garden as an intrinsic aspect of European culture. Royalty and Nobility make up the final piece of this puzzle. From early ancient Europe, gardens have been associated with wealth and power: the palace of Versailles, the garden at the Chateau Villandry and Herrenhausen Gardens in Hannover, to name just a few.

Due to the Europe’s history of turbulent royal regimes and the necessity of establishing power and wealth in the threat of domination, the garden was permanently sewn into the fabric of European culture.
Subsistence, religion and royalty are the three prongs to the intrinsic nature of the garden in Europe. 

Check out this wikipedia article for more information on the history of gardens: