The History of Horticulture in Landscape Architecture

Does horticulture have a role in landscape architecture? Did Historicism and Modernism help banish flowers? This seminar offers answers by reviewing the history of horticulture in garden art. Restoration histories show that Le Notre\’s Versailles and Brown\’s Petworth were full of flowers that vanished over time. Historians of social class, consumption, and gender reveal that botany and horticulture were central to matters of life and death in varied historical and geographical contexts: Ancient Egypt, China, the Mediterranean region, the Islamic world, and the US. Why, then, did landscape architecture in the West disengage itself from this cultural centrality of flowers? Inspired by Jack Goody\’s The Culture of Flowers (1993), the 2004 Dumbarton Oaks (DO) symposium looked at the wider cultural agency of horticulture. Topics ranged from the impact of qat in Yemen to the \”rose of eros\” in Judaism, and from cherry-tree gardening in ancient Japan to the chinampas of the Aztecs. DO\’s Botanical Progress, Horticultural Innovations and Cultural Changes (2007) thus introduces perspectives on medicine, religious practices, eating habits, and perfumes that need re-iterating within landscape architecture. Professor Laird\’s forthcoming horticultural and environmental history (including how the \”Little Ice Age\” of the 17th century unsettled Baroque formality) further contextualizes debates today: e.g., landscape architecture\’s engagement with sustainability and climate change. Contemporary case studies complement the seminar\’s historical ones. Supporting the instructor\’s 2009 Yale show Mrs. Delany and her Circle, a floral installation in Kahn\’s iconic YCBA by GSD graduate Jason Siebenmorgen offers a study of history serving design. The aim of this seminar — in written, modeling, and conceptual-design assignments — is testing how history & horticulture might serve landscape design.