Thursday 28 February 2013

The History of Street Trees

A month or so ago I discovered Sustainable Cities Collective, from which I have learned a huge amount and developed a great respect for their contributors.

Photo Credit: DeepRoot
I posted a feature about a couple of weeks back about Historic Gardens being Biodiversity Hotspots and today I would like to offer you another insightful piece by L. Peter MacDonagh, this time about the History of Street Trees.  Do read and enjoy.

Wednesday 27 February 2013

Garden History Course

Interesting in digging a little deeper or wanting to discover a whole lot more about global garden history?  Then please do do come and join my on-line garden history course

The course is a month in duration, and there is one video lecture and optional assignment for each of the four weeks.  The format enables you to study at your own pace and I throughout the month I am there to answer questions and queries and to provide feedback on assignments.  

Hosted by My Garden School the course begins on March 02.  

Here's a taster from the first lecture:

Tuesday 26 February 2013

Seminar on Japanese Gardens

The Research Center for Japanese Garden Art and Historical Heritage, in Kyoto, Japan, runs an annual English language intensive seminar regarding the Japanese Garden. The course is designed for the serious student, amateur or professional and is a rare opportunity for English language speakers, giving broad access to Japanese gardens and gardeners. It is not a garden tour.
The Centre is currently accepting applications for review and selection for the 15th seminar to be held in October of 2013. In order to provide maximum personal attention, the course is limited to a maximum of students.  More details via the link above.

Friday 22 February 2013

Jane Loudon

Jane Loudon 1807-1858
Garden historians are generally familiar with the hugely prolific, workaholic 19th century garden designer and garden-writer, John Claudius Loudon.  Most of his works are available from the Biodiversity Heritage Library for free - just follow this link.

However, he was married to an equally fascinating woman, Jane Loudon (née Webb).  Jane was not only a pioneer of science fiction (The Mummy! was published in 1827) but also a pioneer in encouraging ladies to garden - genteelly of course! 

Jane was the author of five books and one magazine and her highly popular and influential Instruction on Gardening for Ladies (1840) has been reprinted by Oxford University Press and both the tome and the author as the subject of yet another fascinating post from the Cambridge Library Collection.

Do take a read and learn more about Mrs. Loudon

Thursday 21 February 2013

A Call for Papers

The 10th Garden Historical Research Colloquium will be be held at the Technical University Munich-Weihenstephan between 19 and 22 September 2013.

The Organizers are asking for abstracts from current or recently finished doctoral dissertations and research projects within a garden historical context.  Deadline 4 March 2013, and for more details email Stefan Schweizer.

Wednesday 20 February 2013

The Parks and Gardens UK

More Good News.   The Parks and Gardens UK website (a partnership between The Association of Gardens Trusts and the University of York) has been revamped and was relaunched.  As the homepage states, Parks & Gardens UK.

‘is the leading on-line resource for historic parks and gardens providing freely accessible, accurate and inspiring information on UK parks, gardens and designed landscapes and all activities concerned with their promotion, conservation and management’.

Do take a look....

Tuesday 19 February 2013

Gardening for the Disabled

Repton's business card
An interesting post, as always, from GardenHistoryGirl that examines the work of Humphry (it is spelt without an 'e') Repton who was the first to write about gardening for the disabled.

As the result of a coach crash Repton used a wheelchair for the last two years of his life and was likely the inventor of the raised bed which allowed those so confined to garden.  He even illustrated the concept in his Fragments on the theory and practice of landscape gardening (1818). 

And just for reference, many of Repton's books are available for free as pdfs from those great folk at the Biodiversity Heritage Library (the link is to the Repton page).

Friday 15 February 2013


Today's guest post is by Debs Wiles.  Thank you @dawiles.

Recently a friend who is starting up a new landscaping business asked my opinion on a logo design. My friend's mission is to create and maintain gardens that appeal to all of our five senses and he was sketching out logos that contained images pertaining to each sense. Naturally, I immediately thought of a Quincunx, a geometric pattern of five points arranged on a cross.

 Cosmatesque floor pattern
The term comes from the Latin quinque + uncia, literally translating to “five ounces”. It has applications in the sciences of botany, astronomy, and modern computer science, not to mention the practices of architecture, agriculture, horticulture, and a style of geometric decorative inlay stonework called Cosmati, or Cosmatesque (Harry Potter fans may recognize this style on the inlaid marble floors of Gringotts Bank). 

Sir Thomas Browne (above), a 17th century luminary, wrote a lengthy and formidable essay on the Quincunx (The Garden of Cyrus also entitled The Quincunciall, Lozenge, or Network Plantations of the Ancients, naturally, artificially, mystically considered, 1658). In it he quotes Quintilian, a 1st century Roman rhetorician who uses the term in his Institutio Oratoria, first published c.95 AD: “Quid [illo] quincunce speciosius, qui, in quamcumque partem spectaveris, rectus est?" which translates roughly, "What is more beautiful than the quincunx, that, from whatever direction you regard it, presents straight lines?" In context, Quintilian is discussing beauty and utility and writes, “Shall not beauty, then, it may be asked, be regarded in the planting of fruit trees? Undoubtedly; I should arrange my trees in a certain order, and observe regular intervals between them.” He recognizes that planting trees at regular intervals is also advantageous to their growth and health “as each of them then attracts an equal portion of the juices of the soil...”.

The quincuncial arrangement of flower petals in bud, as seen in the rose family. Attrib 
Browne's work recounts the military conquests of Cyrus the Great, founder of the Achaemenid Empire, and especially his achievements in gardening, crediting him with the creation of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Cyrus was “not only a Lord of Gardens, but a manual planter thereof; disposing his trees like his armies in regular ordination. So that while old Laertas hath found a name in Homer for pruning hedges, and clearing away thorns and briars; while King Attalus lives for his poisonous plantations of Aconites, Henbane, Hellebore, and plants hardly admitted with the walls of Paradise; While many of the Ancients do poorly live in the single names of Vegetables; All stories do look upon Cyrus, as the splendid and regular planter”.

A Quincunx Orchard.  Attrib.
A recurring theme in Browne is the regularity created by the quincunx pattern which in Roman times symbolized an orderly world, something Romans were very keen on. The quincunx is still the basis for planting an orchard today and in the Middle Ages, it was one of the patterns used for planting medicinal or exotic plants. In Christianity it symbolized the five wounds of Christ on the cross and a sanctified universe. The arrangement of the cross-in-square used in church architecture from the early 9th to 13th centuries was often expressed three dimensionally – a larger central bay surmounted with a dome framed by four smaller bays likewise surmounted by smaller domes. It's an arrangement that can be seen in 18th century garden follies inspired by the Italian Renaissance, such as the Temple of Four Winds at Castle Howard, with the central bay surrounded by four porticoes. 
DaVinci's sketch illustrating quincunx in branch arrangement.  Attrib
Browne asserts that the term quincunx was “in use long before Varro”, a 1st century BC Roman scholar. Varro was widely read by Quintilius and also by Pliny the Elder, who wrote extensively on nature and the ideal arrangement for gardens. Vitruvius read Varro and DaVinci read Vitruvius. 

Students of art and architecture during the Italian Renaissance read them all, and applied their theories to their creations. Through these early scholars and down through history, the quincunx is still in use in garden design today. When you see the rows of an orchard planted with military precision, or a mass of bedding plants neatly laid out waiting to be installed, you are most likely looking at a quincunx. 

N.B. from Toby. Cyrus's garden at Pasargardæ (a UNESCO World Heritage site) contained the prototype quadripartite garden, a Persian garden form that subsequently so influenced the Islamic chahar bagh.

Thursday 14 February 2013

Kew Directors' Correspondence

Today a big thank you to Virginia Mills of the Kew Directors' Correspondence Digitisation  project at Royal Botanic Garden, Kew who has kindly written the following and fascinating guest post...

The team and I are @kewdc on Twitter, it was through Twitter that we struck up a dialogue with @gardenhistory over a mutual interest in intrepid botanist/explorer David Douglas (more on him later). 

KewDC stands for Kew Directors' Correspondence and over here behind the scenes in the library at Kew Gardens the Directors' Correspondence team is busy digitising letters from the gardens' archive. We scan the letters using a high resolution digital camera and also summarise their content pulling out important information about plants, gardens, places and botanists past, to create a description of each letter's content. This 'metadata' is uploaded alongside the images to a fabulous website called Jstor plant science  - a huge repository of plant based information, with many international contributors besides Kew, combining  digitised historical documents, plant  specimens and drawings, as well as published works. 

One of my fellow digitisers imaging a letter
So that's what we get up to during our working week but what exactly is the material we are putting out there? The Directors' Correspondence, one of the largest collections within Kew's official archive, is a unique resource, containing firsthand accounts and observations on botany, botanic gardens, ethnobotany, natural history, history, science and politics. The 218 volume collection contains the scientific correspondence received by Kew's Directors and senior staff from the 1840s to 1928, as well as correspondence received by Sir William Jackson Hooker prior to 1841. The collection highlights the important role played by RBG Kew in furthering 19th and early 20th Century botanical investigation and also its significance to the growth and development of the British Empire.

Kew was instrumental in helping the British Empire make the most of the natural plant resources in its vast territories and this was done through a network of gardeners, botanic gardens, experimental gardens and nurseries across the world all corresponding with the Directors at RBG, Kew. So the DC represents not just a history of Kew as a garden but of botanic gardens throughout the world: of their origin, development and day to day running. For example the collection includes over 500 letters from Calcutta Botanic Garden

The collection also represents the history of what we have in our back gardens today. Horticulture was big business in the 18th and 19th century. As the proliferation of shows and exhibitions of goods from around the empire fuelled the desire for all things new and exotic, plant hunters were sent out by nurseries, by the Royal Horticultural Society and by RBG Kew to find new interesting and ornamental plants. The DC includes letters from some of the great Victorian explorers and botanists who introduced many of today's common British garden plants, some of whom are remembered in the names of the plants they collected. 

But not all the people who can take credit for these introductions were actually employed as plant hunters and most are not well known or remembered. A favourite 'amateur collector' of mine represented in the DC is Augustine Henry who collected in China and Taiwan; he was not a trained botanist and plant hunting wasn't his job, he was posted in the orient as a customs officer. His letters are fascinating accounts of remote regions and fields of botany, which have now been lost to progress, but provided rich pickings for Henry at the end of the 19th Century. He sent over 15,000 dried plant specimens to Kew, material which included 25 new genera and 500 new species, many of which were suited to the climate of the British garden and his success prompted other sponsored collectors to be sent to China. In 1935 J.W. Besant wrote: 'The wealth of beautiful trees and flowering shrubs which adorn gardens in all temperate parts of the world today is due in a great measure to the pioneer work of the late Professor Henry'. See the letters on Jstor here.

The beautiful Lilium henryi, collected by Henry and named after him, appeared in the 1891 Curtis Botanical Magazine and is still a garden favourite
The professional side of plant hunting is represented in the collection by the likes of David Douglas who was sent by the Royal Horticultural Society to gather plants in the Pacific Northwest in 1824. Douglas is immortalised in the common name of the tree many of us bring in to our houses once a year – the Douglas-fir, which he introduced into cultivation in 1827.  Whilst collecting in 1832 Douglas wrote to Kew that: "you will begin to think shortly I manufacture pines" [DC61 f.106].  Indeed his other notable introductions include the Ponderosa Pine, Lodgepole Pine, Western White Pine, Monterey Pine and the Sugar Pine. His life as a collector in North America reads like a 'Boy's Own' adventure – from meetings with native American Indians and fur traders to taming eagles and surviving canoe capsizes. The DC reveals his adventures first hand and with a real personal note. You can read his amusement, for example, when he describes how rival collector Archibald Menzies was known to the Native Americans as "the red faced man who cut the limb of man off and gathered grass" [DC61 f.112]. Conversely, feel his despair when he writes about  his canoe being wrecked "I cannot detail the labour and anxiety this occasioned in both body and mind to say nothing of the hardship I endured" and encountering a frontier town decimated by a terrible fever: "not a soul remains!! Houses empty and the flocks of famished dogs howling and dead bodies in every direction" [DC61 f.112].

It seems there was scarcely a botanical letter written in the late 1830's that does not lament Douglas's grizzly death: gored by a bull when he fell into a cattle trap whilst collecting in Hawaii. And then because the 19th century botanist is a gossiping creature in my experience, there comes the epistolary discussion: did he fall or was he pushed?

The DC team scan and read every single letter, particularly difficult when they are cross-written like this one from David Douglas. Here Douglas writes about how dangerous it was when collecting in North California "my rifle is always in my hand night and day. It lays by [my] side under my blanket and my little faithful scotch terrier, the companion of all journeys, at my feet". [DC61 f.96]
David Douglas's letters are part of the North America section of the DC: the latest part of the collection being digitised.  This content will go live soon, in the mean time Jstor is replete with the letters from Africa, Latin America and Asia, so go explore!

For more of our favourite stories from the DC check out the Kew Library, Art and Archive blog.  And if you have any questions or want more info, email us or contact us through Twitter.

NB from Toby: There is also a whole chapter on Douglas in the Kindle edition of The Plant Hunters.  

Wednesday 13 February 2013

Historic Gardens = Biodiversity Hotspots

Heres an interesting article from aka Nature of Cities and posted on the Sustainable Cities Collective website, arguing that historic gardens are not only significant in their own right as expressions of art and components of our socio-cultural heritage, but are also important reserves of biodiveristy within an urban environment (and of course rural ones, too).   

Queen Christina’s linden-tree in Grönsöö. Photo: Maria Ignatieva
The author, Maria Ignatieva, who has spent seven years researching the  historical and ecological aspects of 18  historic parks and gardens of St. Petersburg, presents a well-argued case,  illustrated with international examples from as far a part as Russia, China and Italy.  Here is a taster from the piece:

'Over the two decades heritage parks in Europe have been re-evaluated and have begun to be seen as highly valuable urban biodiversity hotspots.  Historical parks are not only witnesses of different historical art periods but also are refuges for rare flora and fauna.  Very often they contain important fragments of natural landscapes.  One of the classical examples of such a garden is Pavlovsky Park in St. Petersburg.  The foundation of the park was a local mixed conifer-deciduous forest.  This particular park was created by thinning and cutting these natural plant communities.  

Parks are also unique living examples of horticultural practices and skills from previous centuries.  In the era of unification and using material from 'global' nurseries with genetically modified plants, historical parks contain unique genetic material that could help to preserve national and cultural identity.  One of the best examples of such practices can be found in the Swedish historic park of Grönsöö.  Here the parental material for linden alleys is the old Tilia tree (Queen Christina’slinden-tree), which was planted here in 1623 during the visit to Grönsöö of King Gustavus Adolphus’s mother.'  

Do take a read of the full article.

Tuesday 12 February 2013

The historiography of landscape design and management

Now here is a conference that all landscape architects and garden historians should attend.

The historiography of landscape design and management: why is the profession so disengaged? is to be held at the University of Sheffield on Friday 20 September 2013.

For years I have been asking myself "why is garden history so ignored and unrecognized as an academic discipline?"  For no good reason I can see.  Garden history is at least as relevant as any other branch of historyGarden art should be as valued as any other art form.  But we garden historians are always the 'poor cousins' and its about time this changed.  

Garden history should be recognised as a valued as an academic discipline that takes its seat at the table, rather than be practiced under the auspices of departments such as art history, landscape architecture, horticulture or geography.

I hope this Conference will be a step in the right direction.  It is targeted at engaging the professional landscape architect (and interested parties), for as the press release points out:

'All professions are proudly self-aware of their origins and intellectual history.  All professions, that is, except landscape architecture:
  • Some practitioners question the relevance of their profession’s history and even pride themselves on their ignorance.
  • The context of their profession is often inadequately explained to landscape architecture students, who consider this as stultifying creativity.
  • Landscape architects naively wish their talent to be recognized rather than regard it as a vocation with high principles.
  • Landscape architecture, unlike some other design professions, such as architecture and art, has a paucity of historians from within its own ranks.
 So why is the official profession so resistant to acknowledging its own history?'

Good question!  The intention of the conference is to examine ways in which the profession might be more engaged with its historiography, with examples, both from outside and within the discipline of landscape architecture, looking at a range of different methodologies and how they have been, or might be, applied.  The organizers would like to explore key principles and ideas, which might help strengthen historiography of landscape architecture and raise its profile in relation to other related topics such as that of art and architecture.

The organizers welcome suggestions for papers, with abstracts of c.300 words by 15 March 2013. They may be submitted to Jan Woudstra: or to Sally O’Halloran:

The John Tradescants

John Tradescant the Elder
A great post from Early American Gardens about the father-and-son plant hunters and gardeners the Johns Tradescants  Also illustrated with some lovely images (I especially love the red squirrel!)  Take a read and learn about these pioneering and highly influential men who worked in the early to mid-17th century.

Both father and son are buried in the churchyard, or rather now the garden of the Garden Museum in London.

And for the record, posterity has cheated the Tradescants badly.  The Ark or collection of curiosities built up by them, and especially by the father was 'acquired' on the son's death by Elias Ashmole.  It subsequently became the core of what is now the Ashmolean Museum (the link offers its version of its origins) which for my money should be called the Tradescantia.  More on this injustice of history here!

Friday 1 February 2013

Painshill Conference 2013

The conference to be held at Painshill on Thursday 10th and Friday 11th October 2013 will discuss ‘Gardens of Association: the Roles and Meanings of Garden Buildings in Eighteenth Century Landscapes’.  Specifically, it will explore the ways in which garden buildings have been interpreted from their time of creation to the modern day, and how they relate to the landscapes in which they are placed.   Consideration will also be given to how such assessments can be used in the restoration and conservation of buildings in historic landscapes.

The conference will be chaired by Tim Richardson and speakers include: Michael Cousins, Oliver Cox, Dr. Patrick Eyres, Michael Gove, Dr. Richard Hewlings, Dr. Sally Jeffery, Linda Keightley, Dr. Wendy Monkhouse, Trevor Proudfoot, Dr. Sarah Rutherford, Jean Stone, Michael Symes, Richard Wheeler and David Wrightson.

Tickets on sale now: full conference: £175, early bird booking before 31st March 2013: £160 and students: £160.