History of Landscape Architecture Through Plants

This seminar provides an innovative framework for analyzing the history of planting design as typological precedents for contemporary landscape architecture. Recent developments in the historiography of the European garden have made it possible to study the history of landscape architecture through the medium of ornamental plants. Flowers, shrubs, and trees that were central to diverse cultures – as emblems of distinction or taste, with spiritual or classical associations, as \”exotic\” commodities, and as objects of eternal or ephemeral beauty – have played a significant role in landscape design. A key concern of this seminar is the relationship of planting features to wider cultural or social developments: the bulb garden and tulipomania; or the shrubbery and Anglo-American colonial enterprise; or the \”wild garden\” and ideologies linking nature to national identity.In step with the changed historiography, the past decade has witnessed new approaches to ornamental planting design. Most notable are the hybrid styles of horticultural design informed by ecology: the New American Garden of Wolfgang Oehme and James van Sweden, the \”new perennial garden\” of Piet Oudolf and Nokl Kingsbury, and \”le jardin en mouvement\” of Gilles Climent. This rare convergence of new historical methodologies and fresh design approaches should bring historians, horticulturists, and landscape architects into intriguing dialogues. Recent commentaries in Landscape Architecture suggest that a renewed interest in planting design is emerging in the profession. For example, Kim O\’Connell writes in the February 2000 issue: \”Planting design may soon experience a resurgence, both in practice and perception.\”This seminar is structured as a sequence of case studies, beginning in Ancient Rome and concluding with a review of diverse approaches in twentieth-century planting design. In each case study, attention will be given to establishing links between historical models and contemporary theory and practice. In some instances – notably the \”enamelled mead\” of the medieval garden and the contemporary meadow gardening of Nokl Kingsbury and James Hitchmough – typological continuities extend over a period of more than five hundred years. In other instances, a complex evolution of forms will be apparent from discussions in class. Creative assignments allow for the development of personal design ideas and graphic techniques that should help history inform studio. The seminar is accessible to students of architecture and urban design as well as students of landscape architecture.