The History of Horticulture in Landscape Architecture

Recent changes in the historiography of the European garden opened up a new field of study — the history of landscape architecture from a horticultural/cultural perspective. Innovative methodologies have permitted the reconstruction (on paper and in situ) of the missing color and finesse of the Baroque plate-bande (Hampton Court) or of the Picturesque shrubbery (Painshill). Nash plantations and Nesfield \”bedding\” have now returned to London parks. At the same time, historians of social class, consumption, and gender have found the horticultural aspects of landscape history a rich resource to reconstruct cultural encounters among aristocrat, bourgeois and commoner, or between the sexes. Most recently, and inspired by Jack Goody\'s The Culture of Flowers (1993), the 2004 Dumbarton Oaks symposium was dedicated to the wider cultural agency of horticulture. Topics ranged from the impact of qat in Yemen to the \'rose of eros\' in Judaism or the visionary rose of Persian culture, and from cherry gardening in ancient Japan to the chinampas or \”floating gardens\” of the Aztecs.If botany and horticulture were central to all matters of life and death in varied historical and geographical contexts – Ancient Egypt, China, the Mediterranean region, the Islamic world, the US – how did that cultural centrality affect landscape architecture as it developed in the West? The relationship of planting design to wider cultural or economic developments has been explored in specific settings: the bulb garden and tulipomania; the shrubbery as a facet of Anglo-American colonial enterprise; or the \”wild garden\” and ideologies linking nature to national identity. But the new histories open up perspectives on medicine, religious practices, eating habits, and perfumes that now seem distanced from landscape architecture. Likewise, integrated horticultural and environmental histories offer insights on contemporary landscape architecture that are useful as the field redefines sustainability against climate change. In this methodology, the \”Little Ice Age\” becomes an unsettling agent, undermining the stasis of Baroque formality; and harvests, health, and horticulture are all seen to move in tandem with weather and climate.In step with the changing historiography, the past few decades have witnessed new approaches to ornamental planting design. Most notable are horticultural styles 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 convergence of new historical methodologies and new design approaches should bring historians, horticulturists, and landscape architects into intriguing dialogues, especially as the horticultural innovators like Oudolf cross over into the public sphere from the private domain. That dialogue is central to the seminar.The sessions are structured in a largely chronological sequence of case studies, beginning in Ancient Rome and concluding with diverse approaches in twentieth-century planting design. In each case study, attention focuses on links between the historical typologies and contemporary theory and practice. In some instances – notably the \”enamelled mead\” of medieval gardens, the \”embroidery\” of parterre and picturesque grove, and the contemporary meadow gardening of Nokl Kingsbury and James Hitchmough – continuities exist over a period of more than five hundred years. In other instances, a complex evolution of forms is apparent, as Islam and Asia, for example, contributed new impetus to Western landscape design. This seminar is accessible to students of architecture, urban design, art history, and history — assuming some prior grounding in landscape history (+ an interest in plants). But it is primarily intended for students of landscape architecture, who will have the opportunity through varied assignments to develop an innovative approach to design