History of Garden Design

Garden design history in 10 minutes - Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, France, Germany, Spain, Britain, America. The 4000 year history of western garden design in ten minutes, helping swotters, bluffers and dummies to know about the origins and development of garden design ideas.

The first cities and the first gardens known to history were made in Mesopotamia with the Sumerian word sar meaning ‘orchard’, ‘garden’ or ‘palm grove’. In Mesopotamia they made orchard gardens, temple gardens and palaces with courtyards. Egypt is where the world's oldest surviving garden plans were drawn. The Egyptians made horticultural gardens temple gardens and palace gardens.

Small courtyard houses were the norm in Greece. In Rome, rich men's town houses had three types of courtyard: an atrium, used for domestic life, a peristyle court with a family shrine, statues and flowering plants, a hortus, used for growing the family's fruit and vegetables. Outside country villas, the Romans set aside land for hunting, as was done all round the fringes of Central Asia.

The gardens of the Middle Ages were of four types. Castles had herbers within and near their fortifications. Medieval monasteries had cloister garths near their dormitories and refectories with vegetable gardens outside the monastery. in towns, wealthy merchants had gardens, mainly for vegetables but perhaps with some herber-type spaces, like those in castles

Early renaissance gardens were made outside castles and fortified manor houses.

High renaissance gardens were designed as geometrical extensions of grand villas. Axes, sculpture collections and views became important.

Mannerist gardens were even more elaborate. They had lavish water features and cross axes projecting to views within and outside garden walls.

Early Baroque gardens continued the projection of axes - out into the surrounding landscape and, around Rome, often focusing on the dome of St Peters Basilica.

High Baroque gardens, particularly in north Europe, had a profusion of avenues often radiating from their owners' bedrooms. Versailles is the largest and most famous example.

Forest style gardens, also with avenues projecting to views, were a stage in a progression to a more relaxed design style intended for rural retirement rather than for the glitter of courtly life.

Augustan style gardens, were inspired by paintings of classical landscapes and literature from the time of the Emperor Augustus - seen as a golden age.

Serpentine style is the name I favour for the style of Lancelot Capability Brown. Its characteristic features are serpentine lakes, serpentine tree belts and serpentine paths. That's why I think serpentine a good name for the style.

Picturesque gardens, with jagged lines and highly irregular plans, became fashionable at the end of the eighteenth century. Their popularity grew from the work of William Gilpin, Sir Uvedale Price and Richard Payne Knight

The Gardenesque style, as promoted by John Claudius Loudon, used picturesque layouts with exotic plants - so that the gardens could be recognizable as works of art - and not confused with wild nature.

The Landscape style was based on the idea of creating a transition from a geometrical foreground, through a serpentine middleground to a wildly irregular background. The owner could then enjoy scenes which were Beautiful, Picturesque or Sublime.

The Mixed Style aimed to assemble plant material, styles and design ideas from all over the world. The principle was Romantic and the results were eclectic. As Humphry Repton argued, there is no more absurdity in collecting styles in a garden than collecting books in a library or pictures in a gallery.

Arts and Crafts designers, towards the end of the 19th century, sought to rescue gardens from eclecticism by rooting design in excellent craftsmanship and the principles of art.

The Abstract style developed from the arts and crafts movement, but using the principles of Abstract art and the new crafts of working with steel, concrete, glass and other modern materials.

The Post-Abstract style, also called Post-Modern, aims to go beyond abstract gardens by adding 'something more'. It's often a second design code drawn from science, history, literature, sustainability theory - or whatever else has taken the designer's fancy.