Friday 31 May 2013

Garden History Online - A Review

My online garden history course begins tomorrow for its monthly run - and there is still time to sign up.  To give you a flavour of the course, Jean Cornell who took the course last month has written the following review.  The words are wholly her own.  Thank you Jean.

Having completed this course recently, I have been asked to about it. I made the fatal mistake of saying I enjoyed it.

Of course a four-week course can only scratch the surface of this vast subject, and I have numerous things to continue to explore now the course is over.  However it gives you a sound and enthusiastic introduction.

What the course does give is the context of why gardens have played such an important part in people’s lives since time immemorial.  They reflect the culture and philosophy that was important when they were created, and help us understand why gardens continue to give such pleasure.  Perhaps we overlook this today and take it for granted.

The course comprises four seminars – one a week delivered in a video and downloadable transcript.  There is a weekly assignment, which you can use either photographs of gardens included in the seminar or ones of your choosing.  There is a wealth of information to be found on the internet to provide additional information.

I have included illustrations of the gardens I used for my assignments to illustrate the variety of gardens covered.

Painting in an Egyptian tomb (TT217) in the Valley of the Nobles, Deir al-Medina, Thebes
I was fascinated by the Ancient Egyptians obsession with death and Paradise.  Paradise is a theme that runs through many of the early gardens – in Babylon and in Persia, and in Islamic gardens. 

Chahar Bagh-e Shahazadeh, Iran
To this day Islamic gardens are still designed in the way that shows a central pool with four rills flowing from it to show the four rivers of life – water, milk, honey and wine.  Water is another recurring theme in garden design and I was interested to learn how technology for using water both for irrigation and ornamental features developed.

Chateau de Villandry, France
The Italian and French Renaissance gardens show how ideas about gardening evolved to show how nature could be controlled, but were part of their surroundings.  

Croome Court, Worcestershire
 Then we have the ideas of Capability Brown and others whose gardens were “natural” and which today could be thought to be the natural landscape.

York Gate, Leeds, Yorkshire
Finally there are the Victorian ideas of elaborately designed beds filled with annual bedding plants, the reaction to this in the Gertrude Jekyll and Sir Edwin Luytens Arts & Craft gardens, and the gardens of 20th century.  

Nicholson Wall, Sutton Court, Surrey
My reasons for undertaking such a course were twofold.  First, I wanted to see whether I would be able to commit the time to study and submit the assignments.  Second, I wanted an overview of the history of gardens from the Ancient Egyptians to the present day.

Both my objectives were met.  I needed to prove to myself that I had the skill to study again as I am starting an MA in Garden History in May.  However this course caters for anyone with an interest in garden history as you have the freedom to tailor what you do to meet your own needs.  It’s up to you how much you do.

Toby Musgrave exceeded my expectations about what help I could expect.  Apart from the excellent seminars, he is happy to provide you with additional reading and constructive advice.  His enthusiasm comes across throughout the course.

So have I any criticism?  My main one is that submitting the assignment on line is a pain, in particular photographs which have to be uploaded separately from the text and one at a time.  The only time I asked for support, I never got a reply.  There is the opportunity to engage with fellow participants.  On my course, the other participant was conspicuous by her absence.

That said, I hope Toby may do a follow-up course, perhaps to cover the more recent gardens in Europe or elsewhere in the world or the plant hunters and their discoveries.