Design Culture

Mediterranean societies view trees as rare and prized possessions. As a result they are seldom found in towns and cities except as monuments or landmarks. Orchards and forests are cultivated away from cities and vice versa. Cemeteries are cleared, as are most sacred places. By contrast, trees thrive in Northern Europe even in the densest urban centers and rival the architecture that often imitates them. Only when their roots jeopardize public works are gigantic trees removed.

The British Isles offered a perfect stage for neoclassicism—its groves reiterated the ancient religious places of the West and absorbed the influences of the Near East, especially Persia. In the early 19th century the collapse of social institutions and norms challenged the view that public and courtly places were to be oriented toward the eternal and divine. In the arts, new ground was laid for the senses, and the human figure became as fashionable as it had been in the ancient world. This awakening had a profound impact on garden design.

Most fascinating is the “British-Italian Connection”. Artists, aristocrats and the newly rich traveled around the world, especially throughout Italy, the center of Renaissance humanism. Subsequently, radical new ideas about pictorial space, the “inhabited mind” and the manipulations of mass and void were imported to the forested island nation. The romantic movement in landscape design inspired visions of a new Arcadia, and resulted in the finest parks and gardens in the world.

By comparison, the US is a cemetery: cleared, squared and settled. Our towns became ugly, primarily through neglect. Naturally clear of trees, the fertile plains and river valleys offered the European colonists super-abundant riches—an enormous plantation state filled with slaves. Here and there, the public was permitted to be amused by imported theme gardens in small settings.

Over the last 50 years the refreshing “wilderness” movement has taken root, appropriately beginning in the treeless and garden-poor Midwest, through the legacy of Jens Jensen and others. The “open plan” of interiors without walls translated well, particularly to large gardens. The “naturalized garden” is available to the average property owner. Only in the US can so many own so much land. We should welcome all styles of garden design. The yard, rather than the house, should be the new focus of our attention.

This entry was posted on Thursday, September 20th, 2007 at 9:38 pm and is filed under Original Posts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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