The History of Landscape Architecture Through Plants

Recent developments in the historiography of the European garden have opened up a new field of study – the history of landscape architecture through the medium of plants and planting design. Innovative methodologies have permitted the reconstruction (on paper and in situ) of the missing color and finesse in the Baroque plate-bande (Hampton Court) or 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. A key concern of this seminar is the relationship of planting features to wider cultural or economic developments: the bulb garden and tulipomania; the shrubbery and Anglo-American colonial enterprise; or the \”wild garden\” and ideologies linking nature to national identity. The new histories also allow for the integration of horticultural and environmental studies. From this perspective, 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 decade has witnessed new approaches to ornamental planting design. Most notable are the various hybrid styles of horticulture 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 fresh 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.This seminar is structured as a largely chronological 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 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 (with an interest in architectural or garden history), as well as students of landscape architecture.