Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Aztec Gardens

Is a subject that I have only come to learn about recently - and to be amazed by.  For example, the garden at Huaxtepec (now Oaxtepec and south of Mexico City) created by Moctezuma I (r.1440-1469) was an exhibition of royal power-gardening, a site of religious significance, a cosmic paradigm and possibly representational of symbol of the paradisical afterlife garden of Tlalocan.  And if this were not enough, Moctezuma had planted the many different species he ordered sent from all over his empire.  The collection had a focus on medicinal plants, making Huaxtepec probably  the world's first botanic garden.

Sadly the garden is now under a holiday park but to read more about the subject in general, may I recommend this excellent article on Aztec Royal Pleasure Parks.

Chinese & Japanese Gardens - resources

The Classical Gardens of Suzhou have UNESCO World Heritage status; and here is to be found more on the individual gardens - scroll down past the bit in Hungarian if, like me, you are no linguist!

In Japan, the four Pure Land gardens of Hiraizumi are also on the UNESCO list as are the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto - but there is more on the gardens per se here - scroll to the bottom of the page and click the individual properties.  

Better still is  the Bowdoin College web site.  In addition to the historical information, what I really like about this site is the neat way that the photographs are integrated with the garden plans.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Chinese & Japanese Gardens

Walking further along our path of time and looking east, we encounter the gardens of China and Japan.  Thick academic tomes can be, and have been written on these gardens.  What follows, therefore, is nothing more than an overview.  In fact I am not sure Westerners can ever fully understand the nuances of garden styles that are an physical expression of a far deeper and ingrained psycho-philosophical nature-centric view of the world and our place in it. 
The Silver Temple, Kyoto
Certainly, and however hard we try to imitate Chinese and in particular, Japanese garden, we never do more than that - create an imitation.  And in so doing we loose their essence - five minutes spent in a garden in Kyoto or Suzhou drives that point home subtly bur emphatically.

In China, hunting parks., somewhat similar to the Persian pairidæza, were made during the Zhou period (1066-221 BC).  Perhaps the most famous was the Shanglin Park created by Qin Shi Huang as ‘ a symbol of the empire's worldly supremacy and cosmic grandeur.’

The spectacular Chinese landscape was seen as something to be used - the impact of man being considered adornment rather than subjugation - an attitude which can be said to have direct parallels with the English Landscape Garden of the 18th century.

The landscape was also associated with the legendary eight Immortals or xian, who lived amongst the peaks of the mythical Mount Kunlun (the Himalaya) in the west, and on the Isles of the Blessed in the eastern sea, with their misty valleys, blue rivers, delightful flora and pleasure pavilions.
The Humble Administrator's Garden, Suzhou
This concept of Immortality and the eternal unity of all things in nature became an intrinsic part of Taoism and, together with the legends of the Islands of the Immortals became fused with the teaching of Buddhism which arrived in China in the 1st century AD.

All had a strong impact on Chinese garden styles.  By the 3rd century a cultural matrix of mythology and nature philosophy (together with a hefty dose of imperial authority) melded with the arts of gardening, painting, poetry and calligraphy in an approach that was going to last for 1,500 years.
The Lingering Garden, Suzhou
For the literati, the garden was a place of enjoyment, repose, study and discussion.  Within the enclosing walls, a variety of sensory experiences were created through the medium of ingenious spatial connections and the core design elements of water and rock, symbolic of mountains and the sea, with pavilions  from which to view the garden.

In Japan, the dominant religion before the arrival of Taoist and Buddhist ideas from China in the 5th and 6th centuries was Shinto which teaches that everything contains a kami or spirit power.  Indeed, The Japanese word for garden, niwa, was first used to denote a sanctified space in nature set apart for the worship of Shinto.

Pure Land Buddhism was particularly influential on the development of gardens during the Heian period (794-1191) when architecture followed the symmetrical shinden style.  Gardens, with their water and rock symbolising both the Pure Land the Islands of the Blessed were large and to be used.  A rare survivor (albeit much modified) is Byōdō-in near Kyoto.
The Kamakura (1185-1333) & Muromachi (1333-1547) periods saw rise of the samuri and a shift to asymmetrical shoin architecture with the garden becoming something to be viewed not entered.  This was the time of widespread adoption of Zen Buddhism, the austerity and simplicity of its ethos and its gardens appealing to the needs and wants of the samuri.  So arose the kare niwa or dry gardens.  The Muromachi era also saw the emergence of the tea ceremony and a refined rusticity of the tea garden.  
Ryogen-in, Kyoto
Early in the Edo Period (1603-1867) came the Stroll Garden, its aim to epitomise the art of kirei sabi - elegant beauty infused with a weathered rustic quality.

Is sum, the Japanese garden is not simply a copying of nature, ‘self created’ as the word shizen would have us believe.  It has always been nature crafted by man, and at its best, is nature as art.  For although the garden may look natural, the garden maker has taken select forms of nature, isolated them from their natural context and placed them to be experienced within the new, unnatural setting, an intellectually imposed enclosure which physically and visually frames nature.

Katrsura Imperial Villa, Kyoto
Thus the Japanese garden is a symbiosis of the right angle and natural form, and is very closely associated to the architecture of the house.  In Japan beauty is perceived as the conscious overlapping of the beauty of a natural object and the perfection of the man-made type.  The Japanese garden aims to be an amalgam of both these forms of beauty. 

All I can add is - go there and see them for yourself.  From personal experience, 15 minutes spent in Ryoan-ji before the gates opened to the public is something I will never forget.  For more, have a read of Marie Luise Gothein's chapter on China and Japan.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Date for the Diary: 28 April, Garden History at the Dower House

 This event is organised by Women Returners to Amenity Gardening Scheme (WRAGS) offers training opportunities to Women Returners who are seeking a career in horticulture.

The Dower House is in Morville, Bridgnorth, Shropshire and gardened by Katherine Swift left the world of academia and set about transforming a garden of one and a half acres in the grounds of Morville Hall. Her aim was to relate the history of English gardens in a sequence of separate features, from a medieval cloister garden, 17th century plants and flower beds through to a 19th century wilderness and an ornamental fruit and vegetable garden.

This workshop is designed to inspire every gardener interested in creating an historical garden and Katherine will present a history of gardening through the ages, with a slide presentation.  Then she will turn to the garden she created at the Dower House and talk through the decisions featuring research, design and planning, before moving onto the structure of the garden.

During the afternoon the group will tour the garden to look at the use of authentic planting and construction techniques used in the development of an historical garden and the day will close with a discussion over afternoon tea.

Hannah Carter Japanese Garden Update


The furore and fury caused by the proposed sale of the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden by UCLA shows no sign of abating.

The latest action to try to stop the sale is a meeting to be held by the Bel Air Association will hold a meeting  on Tuesday, Jan. 31, from 5 to 7 p.m. at Community Magnet Charter Elementary School, 11301 Bellagio Rd., Los Angeles.

For more information on the Bel Air Association meeting on Tuesday, call (310) 474-3527 or email baa@belaironline.org.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Tobacco - a Plant that Changed the World

The Washington Post reports on a ‘groundbreaking exhibition’ at the National Museum of African American History and Culture which ‘has taken a firm stand to focus on a controversial chapter of history: Thomas Jefferson and his slaves.’

As I am sure we all know, the prime reason for slave labour in America and the Caribbean was the cultivation of economic plants - cotton, sugar and tobacco. Which got me thinking about the impact of plants on world history.  For example, tobacco.
Today, perhaps the most widely used, legal, non-prescription drug, but its history outside the Americas is just 500 years old.  Yet it has financed the development of the largest Empire the world has known, and without tobacco, there would be no United States of America. 

On 28th October 1492 Rodriguo de Jerez, one od Columbus’s crew  became the first European to smoke tobacco.  The dubious honour of introducing tobacco to Britain in 1564 or 65, fittingly belongs to a man of very dubious morals - Sir John Hawkins (1532-95), the first English slave trader. 

By 1600 smoking had taken society by storm and knew no social barriers.  However, James I (r.1603-25) was a rabid anti-smoker who in 1604 raised duty payable by a whopping 4000%.  The result - smuggling.  Yet this was not as drastic as Shah Sefi of Persia (r.1629-42)who punished smokers and tobacco merchants by pouring molten lead down their throats.

The Virginia Company of London colonized Chesapeake Bay in 1606, where after the ‘starving times’ – the winter of 1609, tobacco became a lifesaver to this struggling community.  Here was a crop that was not only perfectly suited to the local conditions, had relatively low production costs and a high yield per acre, but for which there was also a seemingly bottomless market across the Atlantic.  The first successful commercial crop was cultivated in Virginia in 1612 by John Rolfe – husband to Pocahontas.

Tobacco was green gold and a formof curency.  In 1619 the first prospective brides for the colonizers arrived from Britian - the cost of their passage, some  120 pounds weight of tobacco. 

The Old Plantation c.1790 atttib. John Rose
Which brings us back to slaves, for in August that year Rolfe recorded in his diary the first 20 slaves were purchased from a Dutch trader.  As tobacco output rose, so did the need for slaves - some 100,000 were brought from Africa between 1690 and 1770.

Which brings us to the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783)
.  The French supported colonies because they wanted to gain direct access to the Virginian tobacco market and gave Benjamin Franklin’s a loan secured on 5,000,000 pounds of tobacco.  Incidentally one of Franklin’s first purchases was another plant product - quinine, to keep his soldiers malaria free and fighting fit.

Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze, 1851
And even the first President of the United States, George Washington, produced tobacco with the aid of 316 slaves on the 17,000 acres  of land acquired when he married Martha Dandridge Custis.

Date for the Diary

The Institute of Historical Research, one of ten member Institutes of the School of Advanced Study, and part of the University of London is running a series of History of Gardens and Landscapes seminars.

The next is on 27 January when Margaret Willes will be taking about 'A Man with a Garden and a Library has all that he needs'. Gardening books 1560-1660'. 

A Digital Archive of Historic Gardens and Landscapes

To quote its website: ‘The primary mission of Catena, the Digital Archive of Historic Gardens and Landscapes, is to fill a void in American higher education by assembling a searchable collection of historic and contemporary images that include plans, engravings, paintings, and photographs’.

However, you don't need to be American or in higher education to enjoy the website's contents.  For here you will find a range of resources that focus on specific historic gardens, but with an emphasis on those of Renaissance Italy.  However, one rather annoying feature of the site is the requirement to enable pop-up windows to see the results of your search.  Nonetheless, a very useful tool.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Roman Gardens

Continuing our walk through garden time, today its the Romans.  The Roman was a very civilised civilisation, and the garden was no exception.  Roman gardens were either large estates in the countryside (villa urbanae which evolved from villa rusticae), on the outskirts of cities (villa suburbanae), or the hortus a (relatively) small enclosed courtyard gardens set within their urban town houses (domus). 

Country Estate Gardens
In the former category, the writer Pliny the Younger, left us much evidence.  His estates - one at Laurentum (on the coast so technically a villa marittima) and up in the Tuscan hills at Tifernum Tiberinum (under what is modern day Citta di Castello) had a formal layout of beds, borders, walks and avenues around the house  - there was even a menagerie – beyond which, stretching into the countryside, was a larger and more informal landscape augmented by walks, groups of trees, and sinuous water features.
Pliny's Tuscan villa from a 1728 plan
Indeed, it was Pliny’s writings, rediscovered in the 15th century, which provided so much inspiration for the Italian Renaissance Gardens of the 15th and 16th centuries, which in turn influenced gardens across Europe.   

Town Gardens
While Pliny’s villa no longer exists, the ruins of Pompeii do, and they give us a very clear picture of what the Roman town garden looked like.  The rectangular courtyard garden or hortus, with rooms leading off it, was central (literally) to the house and family life, for the Romans, like us, used their gardens as a place in which to relax and entertain.  

Garden Form
Formal in layout, the most characteristic feature was the peristyle or a covered walkway that ran around the perimeter walls, offering shelter from sun and rain.  The peristyle also protected the beautiful landscape murals painted on the walls in order to create an illusion of a country setting.   
Reconstruction of Peristyle Garden of the House of Vetii, Pompeii.  Attribution Sailko
In the middle of the courtyard, sometimes delineated by ornamental trellis work and possibly sunken below the level of the peristyle walk, was the garden itself.  The focal point was often a water feature, ranging from a simple statue spouting forth a jet of water, to a sizeable pool.  Flanking the water feature and the perimeter of the garden were the flower beds, traditionally edged with low box hedges.  And running between them were paths – either gravel or beaten earth. 

The beds were filled with flowers, mainly from the Mediterranean region, although the Romans enjoyed showing off rarities brought back from the far-flung corners of the Empire.  
Villa Livia
Many plants were also grown to be made into wreaths and garlands for religious ceremonies, favourites were roses and violets.  Another favourite was to clip evergreen plants into geometric shapes –hence the word topiary.

The  beds and borders were also home to arrange of ornaments - many of which were religio-symbolic.  Statues and herms (for example, Venus as the protectress of the hortus or Priapus, god of fecundity), a nymphaeum or mini-grotto dedicated to nymphs.
Priapus, House of Vetii, Pompeii
Oscilla (clay masks) hung from the beams supporting the peristyle roof.  And on the walls murals painted to represent sacro-religious landscape scenes filled with flowers.  This trompe d’oil effect also gave the illusion of the garden in a rural setting and larger than it was.
Frescoes, House of Vetii, Pompeii
Another effect was to have a whole room painted like a garden, for example the Villa of Livia (see above).  This provided a cool retreat in the summer.  Back in the peristyle garden, also present were bowls and urns on pedestals, and were especially popular.  So, of course, were couches and tables at which to dine.

To see a Roman domus garden, visit Pompeii.  And for a villa urbana/marittima, visit the Getty Villa Malibu (California) for an accurate recreation Villa of Papyrii at Herculaneum.  To read more, try Gothein's A History of Garden Art.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Garden History Inspiring the Contemporary - Again

A site called Treehugger reports that ‘Derelict Docks in London Will be Transformed into "Pleasure Gardens" for the 2012 Olympics’.  The Aim of the Pleasure Gardens is, and I quote:

‘This is a two stage project to kick start the regeneration of The Royal Docks. The first stage involves bringing East London Culture to The Olympic Last Mile, the second stage aims to support the cultural legacy of the games through the provision of a multi-functional cultural destination.  We will transform Pontoon Dock from its current state of dereliction into a cultural hub for Londoners seeking a vibrant and exciting cultural experience that is both avant-garde and inclusive. During the Olympics, we will be proud to say, this is our London – an innovative and creative world, acclaimed for its cultural influence, yet previously without a defined hub.  The Pleasure Gardens will provide London with a 60,000 sq.m waterside leisure park featuring both year-round attractions and seasonal spectaculars.’

Interestingly, today's Royal Victoria Gardens which was opened in 1890 and is also in the Borough of Newham, was created on what was then last surviving Pleasure Garden in London - the full story is via the above link.

Vauxhall Gardens c.1751
The concept of the Pleasure Garden can be traced back to 18th century London with Vauxhall and Ranelagh Gardens being perhaps the most famous. These were places which charged a small entrance fee, where members of the opposite sex could meet (who knows what happened in the shrubberies!?) and where tea was served.  Indeed, today’s gem of useless information is the origin of giving TIPS  - a coin for the serving staff was placed on the table when you sat down To Insure Prompt Service.

Ranelagh Gardens 1754
I'll post something on the history of tea soon but in the meantime, here is more fascinating information on Vauxhall and Ranlelagh and their social context, together with information about tea gardens on a delightful blog called Jane Austen’s World.

Sail Away

The Australian travel company Botanica has announced its 2013 British Isles garden cruise.  And the reason for this blatant plug?

 I am the guest lecturer. 

Having done it many times I can attest that the itinerary is a great one.  And to be honest there is no better way to view the West Coast of Scotland than from the sea.  Not only does it look spectacular, there are also no midges!

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Edward Milner (1819-1884)

Just to follow up on this morning's post, a word about Edward Milner, one of the 19th century’s overlooked landscape gardeners.  Educated at Bakewell Grammar School,  Edward undertook a gardener’s apprentice under the famous Joseph Paxton, the head gardener to the 6th Duke of  Devonshire at Chatsworth in Derbyshire.

In 1841 Edward continued his apprenticeship at France’s main botanic garden, the Jardin des Plantes (website is in French) before returning to become Paxton’s assistant.   Together they worked on  Prince's Park in Liverpool, the Crystal Palace Park in Sydenham, near London in 1852 and the People’s Park in Halifax.

Buxton Pavilion Gardens
In the mid-1850s and following a period as superintendent of Prince’s Park, Edward became an independent designer, working at Buxton, Lincoln, Preston, Bodnant and Gisselfeld in Denmark.  Edward became principal of the Crystal Palace School of Gardening in 1881 and founded the firm of Milner-White which continued in business until 1995, by which time it was the oldest garden design and landscape architecture practice in the British Isles.

Terrace Designs from Art & Practice
Milner's park design shows an influence of Paxton's style, while The Art and Practice of Landscape Gardening published in 1890 by his son Henry Ernest presents an approach by which time was becoming unfashionable - terraces covered with parterres leading to rustic, shrubbery-ornamented landscape beyond.  The book is available free from our good friends at the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

Islamic Gardens in North Africa - a questiion

Excepting Menara Gardens and Bou Inaniye Madrassa in Morocco, does anyone know of good extant examples of historic Islamic gardens in north Africa?

Highbury Park Restoration

After yesterday's glum news concerning the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden, today a modicum of good news.  It is reported that the Highbury Park in Kings Heath, Birmingham (UK) is to receive repairs totaling £170,000.

Photo from the Highbury Park Friends website
The public park, which is maintained by Birmingham City Council was the suburban estate of Joseph Chamberlain.  Chamberlain came to Birmingham in 1854 and in 20 years made sufficient wealth from a manufacturing business to retire and enter politics.  The 25-acre grounds surrounding his Venetian Gothic Highbury Hall was landscaped by Edward Milner, and the estate increased to 100 acres by 1903.  A detailed history of the gardens has been prepared by the Highbury Park Friends.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Australian Garden History Society

To quote its mission, 'The Australian Garden History Society is the leader in concern for and conservation of significant cultural landscapes and historic gardens through committed, relevant and sustainable action.'  

And with its stated aim of 'Researching, enjoying and preserving Australia's gardening heritage, horticulture landscape design and architecture' the Australian Garden History Society is another worthy organisation in the global battle to preserve our international garden heritage.  If you live 'down under' please join and give your support.

Gardens of the Ancients

It has been suggested that a 'walk through gardening time' would be interesting.  So I'm proposing to post a series of potted histories that offer a very brief introduction to garden history around the world and down the millennia.   The first gardens have been dealt with in an earlier post.  So, let us start with the gardens of the Ancients.

Gardens are a Barometer of Civilisation
The cultivation of gardens has always required a settled and organised society, and the making of gardens acts as a barometer of civilisation.   

An Egyptian Nobleman’s Garden
One of the best representations of an ancient Egyptian garden is a painting found on a tomb wall.  In a hot, dry and dusty land, this garden was oasis in the desert.  The link is to an artist's reconstruction of the garden.  Enclosed behind a wall, the garden was shaded by trees, cooled by moving water, and ornamented by the symmetrical and edible planting scheme of sykomor fig, pomegranate, and palm.  And occupying the whole of the centre of the garden was a great trellised area smothered with vines.   
This is Paradise
The Assyrians, who inhabited what became Persia (Iran and Iraq of today) had contact with the Egyptians from about 1400 BC, built their gardens with artificial hills, pavilions and shrines surrounded by flower beds, canals and ponds.  They also had a love of trees and the within these enclosed parks were groves formally planted with pines, cypress and other species.

Ninveh c.690 BC

The next dominant civilisation in this area was that of the Medes and Achaemenians (900-400 BC).  These Persians continued to develop the parks along the same lines, but with increasing elaboration, and tree culture become elevated to a sacred occupation.  These parks with their ornate pavilions, great abundance of fruit and ornamental trees, well-tended meadows, flowers and game, were the playgrounds of the lordly.  Here within the idyllic landscape where the mind and body could be refreshed and the eye stimulated.  There was also a new role for the parks - filled with beasts they became places in which to hunt.  And from their name, pairadaeza, meaning enclosed space, we get our word ‘paradise’.  

Hanging Gardens of Babylon

How the Hanging Gardens may have looked

Not only did the Persians develop wonderful parks, but also they also created The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, which, with their complex terraces and intricate irrigation system, was one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World - although many archaeologists now agree that the terraced garden, which was probably drew its inspiration from the design of the ziggurat was not in fact built in Babylon.

Adonis Garden © Karlsruhe, Badisches Landesmuseum B39. Photo. Mus. R8057
Homer describes the garden of Alcinous, King of the Phoenicians as a productive garden, and while Alexander the Great may have assimilated many of the habits of the Persians he conquered, the Greeks seem never to have developed a garden making culture.  Admittedly, plants had a religious significance – the gardens  of Adonis, sacred groves and Diana’s woodlands, but their gardens were limited to the gymnasium, a shady area used for education and physical training.  The next great civilisation to create gardens was the Roman Empire.

The Hannah Carter Japanese Garden Under Threat

Last week several newspapers including the Los Angeles Times (and here) and the  Beverly Hills Courier ran articles decrying the planned sale of the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden by UCLA. 

Named in honour of the wife of Edward Carter a former chairman of the University of California Board of Regents, the Japanese Garden was conceived by Nagao Sakurai and Kazuo Nakamura.  

The Garden Conservancy, which has posted a history of the garden, describes it as ‘an exceptional Japanese-style garden built in America in the post-World War II period’ that is ‘in critical danger’ and has urged UCLA to preserve the site.  The Garden Conservancy also asks that that should you wish to learn more about how you can help in this urgent situation, please send an e-mail to info@gardenconservancy.org.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Living History near Sydney

I found this interesting article in today's Sydney Morning Herald about the market gardens to the south of the city's airport.  With their origins in the 1850s, the plots were taken over by Chinese gold miners after the gold rush and   continue to supply the city with fresh greens.

Historic roots... the Chinese market gardens in Kyeemagh have long been a food bowl for the city. Photo: Quentin Jones
Interesting to think how London would look if a fraction of the 19th century market gardens still survived.  For a fascinating account of market gardening around Chelsea, may I recommend Malcolm Thick's The Neat House Gardens?

Walled Garden Saved

It is always nice to be able to report good news.  Today’s comes via the Eastwood & Kimberley Advertiser which states that at a recent meeting ‘district councillors in Ashfield agreed to amend the conservation area within the historic village of Teversal’. 

The happy result of this vote is that the new zoning includes ‘several local landmarks including Teversal Manor’s walled garden and the historic field to the south of the Manor.’

Those literary buffs amongst you will no doubt be aware of Teversal Manor's  significance.  For the rest of us, the Manor in 
Nottinghamshire is considered by many to be the inspiration for Wragby Hall.  And Wragby Hall features in which famous novel from 1928 and banned until 1960?  Why, D H Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley's Lover of course!

Monday, 16 January 2012

Who Made the First Gardens? A tough question!

Why?  Because it depends on your definition of a garden.  Penelope Hobhouse in Plants in Garden History says ‘The first western gardens were those in the Mediterranean basin. There in the desert areas stretching from North Africa to the valleys of the Euphrates, the so-called cradle of civilisation (the Fertile Crescent - my comment) where plants were first grown for crops by settled communities, garden enclosures were also constructed.'

Thus. if the definition of a garden is based on a matter of the scale of cultivation - gardening as supposed to agriculture - then the first gardens were the made by the Neolithic tribes people who gave up hunter gathering, domesticated wild cereals and adopted a sedentary, agrarian lifestyle. The oldest of such sites so far discovered by archaeologists is Tell Aswad in what is now Syria, where ‘the earliest systematic exploitation of domesticated cereals (emmer wheat) dates to c. 9000-8500 BC’.  

However, I am not aware of archaeological evidence to support the claim of Neolithic ornamental gardens - if its there I would love to discover the source. But I am sure that domesticated plants would have been grown in a protected proto-garden, and as we all know an arrangement of plants grown for utility can simultaneoulsy have an ornamental value.

If, on the other hand we are talking about ornamental gardenis, then the Sumerians (c.5000-2400 BC) had hunting parks which were used for recreation and pleasure, but were not gardens for a garden’s sake.  

The Epic of Gilgamesh (which is supposed to be based on Sumerian legends and if Gilgamesh is an historic figure, his rule is dated to c.2500 BC) has, on Tablet Nine, mention of the 'garden of the gods' filled with jewel-laden trees. So maybe there were ornamental gardens in the great cities such as Uruk. I would have thought it likely, but sadly there is no surviving archaeological evidence.

There is however archaeological evidence for ornamental gardening from Ancient Egypt dating about 2,000 BC.  This is in the form of carvings and model gardens included as tomb goods. By this date the gardens seem already quite advanced in their design and the Egyptians were certainly accomplished gardeners (in the cultivation-for-food sense).  Later evidence in the form of tomb paintings (the best example is in Theban Tomb 96, the tomb of Sennufer - painting, artist's reconstruction) shows that the Egyptians, who dwelt in hot, arid and windy locations, designed gardens as an escape. Walled in to keep the elements out, a cool, shaded, well-watered space filled with garden kiosks, scented flowers, fruit laden trees and vine-clad pergolas.

And, as already mentioned in a post there is archaeological evidence from Crete that the Minoans may have made gardens - there are frescoes from the Villa of Amnisos and a possible rock garden at the Place of Phaistos, both dating to c.1500 BC.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Thomas Dolliver Church (1902-1978)

With all this recent talk of influential gardeners and 20th century archives, I have decided to put forward one of my candidates for most influential garden designer of the 20th century - Tommy Church. 

Born in Boston, Mass., Church studied Landscape Architect at Berkeley and Harvard before establishing his own practice in California in 1930.  Influenced by two trips to Europe, and in particular the architecture and glassware of the Finnish designer, Alvar Aalto, Church rejected his Beaux Arts training and developed a wholly a new and original approach to the problems of 20th century garden design.  He re-evaluated Modernist principles, and pioneered an Abstract approach that became known as the ‘California style’. 

As a student I was given an assignment to prepare a lecture on Church and knowing nothing about him I dutifully trotted off to the library to check out his Gardens are for People (1955).

I remember vividly being absolutely blown away.  Beginning with the title.  Gardens are for people, whats that all about?  Being English I was of the belief that gardens were for growing plants!  And it just kept getting better as I eagerly turned the pages to study more of his works. 

Here was a designer who had thrown out the traditional concept that a garden should have a beginning and an end, most often arranged around a central, main axis and developed  his own, new idea.  Asymmetric and curvilinear gardens designed to have a multiplicity of viewpoints - no beginning and no end.  Garden that were both a beautiful place to be in and a functional space playing a central role in the way of life of the modern Californian family able to enjoy life outdoors.

The British certainly do not have the Californian climate, but we have one which allows us to grow a huge range of plants.  And it was John Brookes in 1969 who managed to wed  Church’s role for the garden as an outdoor space to be used for living in with the British love of horticulture.  The result, his influential book, Room Outside.  

"A garden should have no beginning and no end. And should be pleasing when seen from any angle, not only from the house"  Thomas Church
A few years ago I was lucky enough to visit El Novillero near Sonoma - and to take a dip in the famous pool with its abstract sculpture by Adeline Kent.  This garden is without doubt one of the 20th century’s most iconic, and the epitome Church’s style.  The perfect combination of site, man made and natural materials, and the freedom of art where ‘line plays against line, form against form, the whole uniting, with admirable restraint’.  And it is a joy to be able to report that the garden (and house) are maintained as they were originally designed - a testament to the owners and their sense of responsibility.

For more, this is a very informative article on Church.

Friday, 13 January 2012

For the Diary

If you happen to be in or near Whitewater, Wisconsin on the 25 January, you may like to drop by a meeting of the Whitewater Historical Society to be held at 301 N. Whitewater St.  At 7pm that evening, historical gardener and author Marcia Carmichael will talk about her latest book, Putting Down Roots: Gardening Insights from Wisconsin's Early Settlers.   
The talk will looks at the gardening and cooking traditions of early Wisconsin immigrants, from heirloom plants to authentic ethnic recipes, such as Irish potato candy.  Sounds a fascinating lecture and tome!

Britain’s Most Influential Gardeners - the Feedback

Just to follow up on the article posted last week, the author, Tim Richardson answers his critics.

Britain should have a Gardening Archive

Is the title of an article in today’s Telegraph - to whom my congratulations go for being so garden history friendly.  I am not going to repeat the piece suffice to say that the concept is create a Gardening Archive that focuses on the twentieth century post-1918; and that Archive, the brain-child of Christopher Woodward, the director of the Garden Museum, is dependent on his securing a Heritage Lottery Fund grant.

The article features comments from some of the luminaries asked for their suggestion for what should be included in the archive - and you can offer thoughts on the Telegraph’s gardening page.  One area which I think deserves extensive space is the suburban garden.  By numbers alone (4½ million were built between the wars) this is the most influential garden type of the 20th century.  Not only is the evolution of the suburban garden as a style or form a fascinating subject but also how the garden was and is is a reflection of socio-cultural values.

I very much hope Woodward succeeds in securing his grant, that the Archive gets off the ground, and in time may be a catalyst for an even more ambitious project.  With more and more archive material scanned and available online, what I would dearly love to see is some form of synchronous web-based database that links together the diverse repositories holding materials pertaining to garden and plant history.  For example, the Public Records Office, County Records Offices, the Royal Botanic Gardens, the Geographic Society and the Royal Horticultural Society to name but five.

We can but hope, but in the meantime lets keep our fingers crossed for Christopher Woodward, the Garden Museum and the Garden Archive.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Sayes Court - Update

If you didn't see Notacactus Woolii's comment (thanks Notacactus), 'Karen' has a great blog dedicated to Sayes Court at London's Lost Garden

American Garden History Organisations

Following on from yesterdays American theme, I should add that the Garden Club of America has a Garden History and Design Committee that ‘seeks to educate GCA members about styles and trends in landscape and garden design, and to demonstrate that American gardens are an integral part of the cultural and social life of the communities where these gardens exist.’

I’ve also found three more sites which I hope will interest you. 

The Thomas Cave Family (1749) by Arthur Devis
The focus of the blog Early American Gardens is ‘snippets of early American garden history from along the Atlantic coast & images’ - and the blog features some wonderful 18th century paintings of garden scenes - see above.

Since its establishment in 1989 The Garden Conservancy (TGC) in its own words has ‘done more than any other national institution to save and preserve America’s exceptional gardens for the education and enjoyment of the public’.  A claim made with justification for TGC not only provides ‘horticultural, technical, management, and financial expertise to sustain these fragile treasures. It helps ensure long-term stewardship of these natural assets’ but also since 1995 providing access to some of America’s finest private gardens through its Garden Conservancy's Open Days Programme

The American Garden Museum is an web-based project with a most laudable aim.  It is working archive that ‘celebrates American gardens and their gardeners. The Museum highlights gardens big and small, urban and rural, gentle and outrageous, wildly expensive and affordable. It does not, however, support competitions, or pass judgement on the aesthetic or technical merit of any garden. It simply collects and shares American garden stories and pictures.’  Why not contribute and send your story?

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Dates for the Diary

Just a quick heads-up of a series of events in the state of Virginia, USA and one in Oxford, UK.
An aquatint of Mount Vernon by Francis Jukes, 1800.
 The Historic Garden Week is organised by the Garden Club of Virginia and this year is to be held between 21 and 28 April.  To quote the website 'visitors are welcomed to more than 250 of Virginia's most beautiful gardens, homes and historic landmarks during "America's Largest Open House."'  The full programme of tours covers properties and gardens state-wide - including Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington - and is a fantastic opportunity to see living garden history.

And on Saturday March 24th I will be giving a lecture on the subject of my new book at the Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival. Tickets are available now.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

A Tragedy unfolding for the Taj Mahal

It been quite widely reported that the Taj Mahal in Agra, India and one of the wonders of the world is in danger of collapse within two to five years.  In 2010, cracks appeared in parts of the tomb, and the minarets which surround the monument were showing signs of tilting. The problem is the decline in the water level of the Yamuna River which is dropping at a rate of 1.5m a year causing the wooden foundation of the tomb to rot due to lack of water.

The Taj  has a wonderful example of the chahar bagh form of garden in front of it - but sadly now denuded of the riot of flowers with which it was once filled. 

The Taj also has another garden that few visit.  On the other side of the Yamuna River is the Mahtab Bagh or Moonlight Garden (different links).
An 18th century view showing the chahar bagh in the foreground and the mahtab bagh in the distance.
There is more on the Mahtab Bagh at the start of this episode of Monty Don's 'Around the World in 80 Gardens'.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Early Plant Introductions - Gerard's Forgotten Gem

A few posts ago I introduced the first written records of plants in British gardens - and it has generated some interest.  So in this vein, the Book of the Week this week is a tome by John Gerard (1545-1611/12).  
John Gerard from the 1636 ed. of The Herball
And no, its not the book he is most famous for, The Herball or generall historie of plantes  which first appeared in 1597 and was posthumously enlarged and reprinted in 1636 - click the date for the different editions from the Biodiversity Heritage Library.  In any case The Herball is not an original work, but a translation of Cruydeboeck, the herbal published in 1554 by the Flemish physician and botanist Rembertus Dodonaeus (1517-85).
The Herball (1597)
Gerard was head gardener to that great maker of gardens, Sir William Cecil (1520-1598) -later Lord Burghley and Secretary of State to both Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth I (1533-1603.  As such Gerard was one of the most respected horticulturists of his day, and in a position to acquire many rare and unusual plants, both for his master and to plant in his own garden in Holborn, London.

Privately published in 1596 and again in 1599, Gerards snappily-titled Catalogus arborum, fruticum ac plantarum tum indigenarum, quam exoticarum, in horto Johannis Gerardi, civis et chirurgi Londinenais, nascentium (A Catalogue of Plants Dultivated in the Garden of John Gerard) lists the over a thousand types of plants that he cultivated, and includes the first written record of the potato in cultivation.  This very rare volume -  the link is to a 1876 reprint which includes a biography of Gerard - gives a definite date by which many exotic plants both ornamental and edible were in cultivation in England.  Indeed, the publication date is often erroneously quoted as their introduction date.