Garden History

Garden History
Philosophy and Design 2000 B.C. - 2000 A.D
by Tom Turner
Spon Press, 2005.

Like the ultimate garden tour, this handsome text covers vast reaches of time and space to explore more than 150 gardens in dozens of civilizations across four millennia of western civilization.

The tour guide, garden history lecturer Tom Turner of the University of Greenwich, uses the garden visits to explain the social, geographic, philosophical and artistic motivations that underlay these beautiful landscapes. He analyzes the gardens of different eras and cultures with style diagrams outlining their compositional elements (landform, water, vegetation, horizontal structures, vertical structures, climate).

"Garden and landscape design can be defined as the arts of composing these elements to create commodity, firmness and delight in outdoor space," Turner explains.

In nine chapters divided by time periods that advance successively from the ancient gardens of 2000 - 1000 B.C. to the abstract and post-abstract gardens of 1900-2000, Turner traces the development of garden design from its roots in West Asia and Egypt to present-day expressions in the Americas.

There are few detailed records of the most ancient gardens and Turner's discussion is mostly about types of gardens (temple, palace, domestic) and their features. The earliest garden for which he has a style diagram to offer is the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut of 1450 B.C. But from the Renaissance forward to the present day, historical records, remains and visits to surviving landscapes allow for more definitive categories of style and design.

Turner's timeline categorizes the primary furrows of Western civilization's garden history as West Asian and Islamic Gardens 500 B.C. - 1700 A.D., Medieval Gardens 600 - 1500 A.D., Renaissance Gardens 1350-1650, Baroque Gardens 1600-1750, Neoclassical and Romantic Gardens 1700-1810, Eclectic Gardens 1800-1900, and Abstract and post-abstract gardens 1900-2000.

"Since the book covers a wide geographical region and a long period of time, it is sure to contain errors," Turner admits. "There is also a little guesswork."

Nevertheless, Turner has compiled an impressive statement about the history of garden design and the traditions with which both backyard gardeners and landscape professionals till their trade.

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Garden History

Pliny's Villa 100 AD

Pliny the Younger wrote about a seaside villa at Laurentum, east of Rome, and many authors have drawn garden plans based on his words. A possible site was found on Castel Fusano in 1935 and excavated. It is still marked on local maps as Villa di Plinio, and although it does not fit Pliny's words, it is of similar age and type. The site contains features that evoke Pliny's words: sea air, sandy soil, a spring, pine trees and myrtles. In 1982 Ricotti argued that the real site of Pliny's villa is on the other side of Laurentum..

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