Landscaping is a word that is often used but can mean different things to different people. If we study the history of landscaping we can learn how these different interpretations of landscaping came about. Historically, architecture and landscaping are concepts that are very much intertwined, as are sculpture art and painting. Why is there confusion over the word landscaping? Who were the most influential landscapers of all time and what influenced them? To find out we look at the history of landscaping and landscape design, but first a few modern definitions.
What are the different types of landscaping?
The broad term Landscaping can refer to any of the following disciplines.
- Soft Landscaping.
- Hard Landscaping.
- Garden Maintenance.
- Landscape Design.
- Landscape Architecture.
Soft landscapers are usually qualified horticulturists. They are skilled in areas of plant health and plant cultivation. Horticulturists are also trained in design and other aspects of landscaping construction.
Hard Landscaping as the name suggests is related to installation of the structural elements of the landscape design. Examples of these are exposed aggregate concrete paths, insitu concrete retaining walls and pergolas.
Garden maintenance is often referred to as landscaping.
Landscape design usually involves the use of CAD to layout both the hard landscaping and the soft landscaping designs. Modern landscape design also involves creating photorealist computer renderings to help the customer visualise the finished design. The use of 3D CAD is now a common part of the landscape design process. Sometimes this service is provided as a landscape design only service. The final outcome is usually better when it is a product of landscape by design rather than just moving materials around the worksite to achieve the desired look.
Landscape architects study at university to learn the theoretical skills required to design public spaces using CAD. Landscape architecture encompasses the knowledge of the physical materials, living systems and human factors. Landscape architects have both plant knowledge and strength of materials knowledge to design an effective public space by CAD. Landscape architecture also includes the environmental planning, urban design, and site planning for a landscaped site. The understanding of the main concepts of civil engineering is vital for this role. Even in the 18 century landscapes were made to detailed drawings by landscape architects like Lancelot Capability Brown and Humphry Repton.
The history of landscaping
The earliest surviving detailed garden design plan dates from circa 1400 BC. It is surprising how much of this design style is still in use in modern Mediterranean garden design. The garden was for a highly ranked official in the Egyptian Court at Thebes. The home had a main entrance with a pergola with vines growing. The garden design also included self-contained walled enclosure, rectangular water features and garden paths with tree lined avenues.
The Persians, Babylonians and Assyrians
These gardens are described in the old testament as pleasure gardens. The gardens were designed to enable cool water and shade to be enjoyed in private. The landscaping also included man made hills with terraces planted with shrubs and trees.
Greek Gardens of the Classical Period
Sport and public places were both big parts of Greek culture. Sports grounds developed into the academy and the lyceum and people gathered in these places. The public spaces in Greek life included groves of shade trees which is essential in a Mediterranean garden. Also included were some porticoes, spectator seating and the exercise ground itself. It was around this time that a courtyard garden design with rows of columns supporting roofs over covered walkway became part of the urban lifestyle. This garden design became known as “peristyle” from the Greek word “peri” meaning around (as in perimeter) and “style” which means column. It is thought that this style of architecture originated in temples like the Temple of Hera at Samos and was then adopted for domestic buildings.
Greek Gardens of the Hellenistic Period
The death of Alexander the great was the start of a new age in Greece where the country was less Athens centric. New luxurious gardens or pleasure grounds had sprung in the Greek colonies. Notable amongst these were the gardens at Syracuse and Alexandria. These gardens were more influenced by gardens in the east. Under Alexander the great Macedonia had formed a huge empire stretching from Macedonia to parts of India. Within the empire the spread of people brought architecture and landscaping to different cities. After the death of Alexander, the empire was divided, and the various kings spent money on gardens and architecture to impress their guests.
What have the Romans ever done for landscaping?
Many of the southern cities of the Italian peninsula were founded as Greek Colonies. The area was known to the Romans as Magna Graecia and to the Greeks as Megale Hellas meaning “Great Greece”. Starting with Naples in 327 BC all of the Greek cities in Magna Graecia were absorbed into the Roman Empire. The Romans adopted the Greek peristyle landscaping with small enclosed town gardens and with Roman villa gardens. Some examples still exist in the excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum which were previously very much Greek cities. An example of the adoption of this style can be seen in the Villa Adriana which is Hadrian’s grand villa near Tivoli. Another example is Nero’s Golden House in Rome. As Christianity began to spread through Europe in the later part of the Roman Empire, the peristyle courtyard garden evolved into the cloistered abbey garden and courtyard.
One of the reasons that some of the Roman building can still be seen today is the Roman use of concrete in building construction. Unlike bricks or stone construction, the concrete buildings are difficult to recycle into newer buildings. For this reason many of the buildings of ancient Rome were just left in situ with some of the concrete crumbling or becoming submerged by the increasing ground level.
Roman concrete was made more durable by the addition of volcanic ash. This has meant that many Roman buildings have survived into modern times and the became an inspiration for architects and landscapers on the Grand Tour, They were also an inspiration for High Renaissance architects. One architect that was greatly inspired by this building was a goldsmith named Filippo Brunelleschi who built the dome for the Cathedral of Santa Maria Del Fiore in Florence, Italy. Brunelleschi had spent several years in Rome studying and sketching the ancient monuments.
Roman Heated Swimming Pools
The engineering abilities of the Romans extended to more than temples, villas roads and aqueducts. The Romans also invented the heated swimming pool. It was built by Gaius Maecenas in the first century BC near Rome.
Islamic gardens or Paradise Gardens are well known for their water features. Water was precious to the desert dwelling Arabs of North Africa who we part of an empire that stretched all the way to India. Their garden designs were greatly influenced by Persian gardens. Symbology was important in these gardens with the gardens divided into 4 sections by mini canals each representing a different aspect of life. These are known as quadripartite or Charbagh and the canals represent four rivers running with water, milk, wine and honey.
The word paradise comes from the old Persian language pairi dez and means enclosed or surrounded by a wall. An outer perimeter wall or an enclosure of buildings is often a feature of these gardens. When Spain was captured the Moors, “paradise garden” became a common garden theme in the wealthy homes and public spaces of southern Spain. Therefore many of the gardens in southern Spain have the theme of four rivers and the garden divided into four parts. To create the illusion of depth in the shallow canals, dark blue tiles are used as a lining of the canal.
Another part of the symbology is the square ponds representing earth and the round fountains representing heaven. These were combined to represent the meeting of heaven and earth. The colonnade courtyards surrounding the gardens also had symbology in the surrounding columns with designs showing date palms. Some examples of this type of Islamic landscape architecture include the Alhambra in Granada.
The Island of Sicily
The Islamic influence also spread to another colony in the Mediterranean. The island of Sicily had parks built by the Saracens using the Islamic garden themes. When the Normans conquered the island in the 11th century, they maintained the gardens much as they were with walled enclosures containing canals, lakes and citrus groves. It was not just the gardens which came into the Norman hands, there was also a wealth of knowledge recorded in Arabic and Greek texts. This transfer of knowledge in the fields of mathematics, science, astronomy and medicine, which occurred in Spain, Sicily and the Levant, helped to spark the 12th century renaissance. One enduring legacy of the Islamic garden is the garden patio.
Italian Renaissance Gardens
The Italian garden renaissance began in the 15th century near Florence. Medieval enclosures that were earlier necessary for defence began to open up into a system of villas with a coherent house and gardens. In Rome, the design of Italian renaissance gardens on the hillsides became the role of architects. Famous renaissance architect, Donato Bramante, designed a significant garden linking the Papal palace with the Villa Belvedere. The villa had been built by the previous pope as a place to catch summer breezes during the hot summer in Rome. Bramante had studied painting prior to studying architecture and was skilled in the use of perspective. The hard landscaping for this design incorporated a system of stairways and garden stairways and was named Belvedere meaning beautiful view. The Belvedere garden also revived the Roman tradition of adorning the garden with ancient statues. Bramante is probably better known as the architect who designed St Peter’s Basilica in Rome we see today and for his disagreements with sculptor Michelangelo. To finance the building of St Peter’s, the church began to sell papal indulgences which in turn lead to the Reformation and years of war and religious persecution in Europe.
Bramante was really a central figure in High Renaissance Architecture. This style of architecture is characterised by its use of proportion and symmetry and most notably for the influence through the study of antiquity. Bramante’s work that first ushered in the High Renaissance was the Tempietto which is designed as a circular temple inspired by the remains of the ancient Temple Vesta.
Another influential architect of the High Renaissance was Andrea Palladio, who was chief architect of the Republic of Venice. Palladio was greatly inspired by the architecture of Greece and ancient Rome. His teachings in I quattro libri dell’architettura (The Four Books of Architecture) extended his influence to most of Europe and covered everything from materials to Town Planning. William Kent, the British architect and landscaper was heavily influence by Palladio’s books.
Palladio’s Rural Villas
Palladio’s design of rural villas for the Venetian nobility with a strong centre and symmetrical side wings became the design theme for Italian villas and for the country estates of the British nobility. This style of architecture which strongly adheres to the principles of classical Roman architecture, became known as Palladian Architecture.
Rome and the gardens of the Cardinals
Between 1550 and 1600 there was a huge increase in garden construction in and around Rome. The most powerful people in Rome at that time were the cardinals, who each though of themselves as a potential pope. The pope was one of the most influential persons throughout Europe.
New popes were chosen for their culture, influential and wealth. The way to demonstrate this to the other cardinals was to create an inspiring and remarkable garden. Geometry, order and harmony were key features of these garden designs. The aim was to demonstrate the influence and cultured sophistication, not just of the cardinal but of the cardinal’s family dynasty.
Symbology in Renaissance Gardens
Symbology, such as family crests, and control of water flow was nearly as important as the aesthetic beauty. The cardinals employed the best architects in an attempt to outdo each other and to increase their influence.
Symbology in renaissance gardens including rare garden bulbs were part of these gardens during the renaissance period, but this is less noticeable today. Jasmines, crocuses, lilies, box topiary but these became overgrown when this style of garden was out of fashion. The shortness of the flowering seasons for the flowers that were available then, meant that flower beds could not be relied upon to be the principle garden feature. Trimmed herbs, box, lavender and rosemary were used to divide garden beds into geometric compartments. Decorative contrast was given to stonework and brick walls with the use of ivy. Laurel, cypress pine and ilex.
Hadrian’s Tivoli Villa Adrianna the inspiration for Renaissance gardens
Outside Rome, the ruins of Hadrian’s Tivoli Villa Adrianna was an inspiration that lit the spark for renaissance gardens. Hadrian travelled more than any other emperor and was inspired by gardens throughout the Roman empire,
The Canopus with its columns was visited by the renaissance architects visited to discover how to create water flows into pools. They also learnt about how an aqueduct carried water and the design ratios and the use of symbolism within the garden. The garden is a metaphor for the Roman empire with Greece represented by the row of caryatids on the right. These statues are replicas of the statues forming the Porch of the maidens in the Erechtheum in Athens. A statue of a crocodile represents Egypt.
Villa d’Esti in Tivoli
Nearby in Tivoli the garden Cardinal Desti created a garden with fantastic use of water. Villa d’Esti.
Pirro Ligorio created these incredible water features by taking a third of the town’s water supply. The use of water in this garden is astonishing and is achieved without using any pumps. Symbology and coded messages are embedded throughout this garden . Within this garden, Ligorio created a model Rome in his palace garden complete with a statue of Romulus and Remus. The dramatic and theatrical were now starting to replace the peace and harmony of earlier gardens. Surprise and delight were not the aims of renaissance architecture. Power culture and wealth were demonstrated by the creation of gardens that are really in your face.
The French Gardens of the 17th Century.
Once again it was conflict and invasions that drove the interchange of cultures. This time it was the French who invaded Italy towards the end of the 17th Century that were influence by the gardens of the conquered. The Italian wars 1494 1559 were a series of violent wars that had a massive impact on Renaissance Europe. These wars were fought largely by Spain and France, but there were other armies involved. In 1494 French king Charles VIII invaded Italy, which triggered the wars. After 64 years of sporadic fighting the French just managed to hold the fortresses at five Italian cities. An early example of the Italian influence on French gardens and architecture was the Château of Anet in the Loire valley (Département of Eure-et-Loire). Little remains of this building as it was mostly destroyed after the French Revolution, but it was used in the filming of the James Bond movie Thunderball.
French Baroque Gardens
The baroque gardens of the French were based on the Italian renaissance gardens, but were flashier and with even more emphasis on complex geometry. French landscape architect André Le Nôtre later designed a garden at the château Vaux-le-Vicomte south west of Paris. The garden is regarded as an early example of the baroque French classical style.
The Garden that left a deep impression on the King
The château and gardens at Vaux-le-Vicomte were so impressive that King Louis XIV confiscated the house and threw the owner in jail. Le Nôtre then went to work for the king and went on to work on the design of the gardens at Versailles. Some of the other notable landscape designs include Sceaux, Saint-Cloud, and Chantilly. Fontainebleau, Tuileries and the Grand Trianon. In his art collection André Le Nôtre had a sculpture by Michelangelo, so there is a good chance he was a fan of the Italian renaissance. On both Versailles and the château Vaux-le-Vicomte he had worked with painter and designer Charles Le Brun who had design the classic statues for Versailles. Charles Le Brun had spent several years in Italy as part of his artistic development.
Dutch Gardens of the 17th Century
The conflict sparked by the reaction to the reformation lead to the arrival of Protestant refugees into the Dutch republic. The arrival of skilled craftsmen from other parts of Europe helped to start the Dutch Golden Age. In 1685 King Louis XIV made Protestantism illegal in France which lead to a further 200,000 Huguenots fleeing France. Amongst these refugees was Daniel Marot from Paris. He was a skilled designer, engraver and architect and soon found himself working at the Palace Het Loo in Apeldoorn.
Het Loo was owned by Willem Hendrik Prince of Orange who through his marriage to Mary Stuart later became King William III of England, Ireland and Scotland. The design of Het Loo was inspired by the work of Charles le Brun and Jean Bérain at Versailles. When Prince Willem Hendrik became King William III, he took Daniel Marot with him to London and appointed him as a court architect and Master of Works.
English Baroque Gardens
Charles II spent most of his exile at the palace of Versailles south of Paris. His long stay there would have influenced his choices after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. In the short time Charles II was King, he helped to revive English tradesmen’s skill as put into place new measures aimed at the preservation of excellence in the arts.
French and Dutch influences in English Landscaping
Charles and his architects introduced French and Dutch influences in an attempt to produce new architectural order to England. It was during this time that architect Christopher Wren spent a long time in Paris to learn from the achievements of modern French Architects. During his time in Paris, Wren met with Italian sculptor and architect Gianlorenzo Bernini, who was the leading sculptor in the baroque style. Bernini was in Paris to complete the palace of the Louve. Wren also met with Francois Mansart, who introduced Italian classicism into baroque architecture. Mansart’s architectural designs, where he integrated the landscape and the building in harmony were an influence on garden designer André Le Nôtre. Wren’s trip to Paris and meeting with the great architects of the day were to have a profound influence on his later architecture. This can be seen in the design of St Paul’s in London with a renaissance style large central cupola.
William and Mary Gardens
After the Glorious Revolution William and Mary ascended to the throne of England. They brought with them to England skilled craftsmen and architects from the Dutch Republic and Europe. The furniture from this period is known as “William and Mary” style. Many of the finest buildings in England were commissioned during this time. These include Greenwich Hospital, Kensington Palace and Hampton Court Palace.
Wren was commissioned to remodel and extend Hampton Court Palace with a new courtyard and apartments for the King and Queen. The great fountain garden was created by architect Daniel Marot, who had been brought over from Het Loo.
English Formal Gardens
There are many English gardens of this style that are open to the public. The photographs below are just a few of what is on offer.
Landscaping Georgian English gardens
The Georgian era was one of great change in Europe and in England in particular. The huge growth in international trade and the emergence of middle-class wealth were chief amongst these. This led to more people wanting lavish landscaped gardens and the rise of the Grand Tour as a sort of gap-year for mostly young wealthy men. Starting in Dover, the Grand Tour would set out for Italy often via Paris. The trips could be as long as 3 or 4 years and the main destinations were the great Italian cities of the renaissance as well as the excavations of the Roman civilisation at Pompeii and Herculaneum. The influence of the Grand Tour on the young aristocrats of Britain often left them with architectural tastes for Neoclassical, based on the remains of ancient temples or Palladian base on Palladio’s interpretation of a Roman villa construction.
The taste for Neoclassical architecture that was brought from the grand tour was a hit for public buildings all around the world and the influence lasted for many years. Many well-known buildings in Melbourne were designed in this style including the Victorian State Parliament house in Spring Street East Melbourne. Some other great examples of this architectural style include The State Library of Victoria in the Melbourne CBD and the Shrine of Remembrance in King’s Domain close to South Yarra. Other noteworthy Melbourne Buildings in the neoclassical style include;
- Eldon Mansion in Grey Street St Kilda,
- Richmond Town Hall in Bridge Road Richmond
- St Kilda Town Hall on the corner of Carlisle St and Brighton Road, St Kilda
- Port Melbourne Town Hall in Bay Street Port Melbourne
- Fitzroy Town Hall in Napier Street Fitzroy
In addition to the public buildings there are some Neoclassical or Palladian style homes in the Melbourne Suburbs of Toorak and Brighton.
Chief amongst the early Georgian Architects was William Kent. Kent is credited with introducing the architecture of Italian Architect Andrea Palladio into Britain. The naturalist landscaping style with serpentine lakes in place of straight canals was a hallmark of Kent’s landscaping. Kent had spent 10 years in Rome copying the paintings of the old masters and developing the skills of engraving and etching. Whilst in Italy Kent met the Third Earl of Burlington, Richard Boyle. It was Lord Burlington who gave Kent a series of commissions in Britain that kick-started Kent’s career as an architect and landscaper. Kent’s experience in Italy helped him to tap into the market for architecture amongst aristocrats nostalgic over their time on the Grand Tour.
Landscape Design of William Kent
Kent was a pioneer of the English naturalistic landscaping that began in the early Georgian period. Landscaping became more naturalistic. Instead of the formal rococo or baroque gardens of the French and Dutch, we see vistas that have been carefully crafted to take your eye to a picturesque garden focal point or building. Kent’s garden focal points included garden follies such as artificial ruins, grottoes, pagodas and temples. Stowe in Buckinghamshire has some great example of the work of William Kent.
Amongst Kent’s focal points are the hermitage, the temple of Venus, the Elysian fields, the Temple of British Worthies and the Temple of Ancient Virtue.
Kent at Rousham Park
Another example of Kent’s work can be seen at Rousham Park, where the garden has become a place of pilgrimage for fans of the landscaping of William Kent. One of the landscaping design features used by landscapers of this era was the ha-ha or sunken fence.
With the Ha-Ha landscaping design feature the landscaper could separate the landscaped grounds of the estate from the areas where the farm animals grazed without a fence interrupting the view. The Ha-ha was also used by landscaping genius Lancelot “Capability” Brown.
Lancelot “Capability” Brown the greatest Landscaper of all time.
Lancelot Brown is probably the most famous landscape designer in English History and is widely known as England’s greatest gardener. He is also known as the father of Landscape Design. In his younger years he worked on some projects to drain some of the Fens and it is widely believed that this is where he developed his knowledge of hydrology and how to apply it to landscaped design.
When it comes to the design of water features such as lakes, streams and ponds, Capability Brown was a genius. It is hard to imagine how the shear volume of work being undertaken by Brown was achieved in a time when not everybody was literate. In a time before the railways, Brown criss-crossed the country to supervise his huge landscaping projects.
Over 250 landscapes have been attributed to Capability Brown and his list of clients include the King, the Prime Minister and several members of the House of Lords. Landscapers like Kent and Brown were the “Rock Stars” of their era. Their well connected list of contacts ensured they were in prime position for the high end landscaping projects.
Brown’s English landscapes totalled around 52,000 Hectares. To put this in perspective, it would be like landscaping the whole area of Toorak 120 times without any machinery.
Landscaping on a Grand Scale
Brown’s landscaping included moving villages or churches, manually digging lakes and moving large trees to different locations. Like Kent, his landscaping style was towards naturalistic landscapes with views of buildings or focal points framed by trees. The landscape was designed to reveal a view of the main home only when it was close enough to give it the “wow” factor.
As with William Kent, Brown worked on the landscaped gardens at Stowe. Brown also manage a stint as Royal Gardener to King George III at Hampton Court Palace, but it is for his achievements at gardens like Blenheim Palace that he is best known.
During Brown’s first years as a gardener at Stowe, he was involved in many of the landscape construction projects on the estate. This gave the young Lancelot Brown the opportunity to learn more about landscaping and constructions. There is little doubt that he was heavily influenced by the landscaping work of William Kent and perhaps to a lesser extent by the architecture of James Gibbs.
Early in his time at Stowe, Brown was involved in the construction of a gothic church folly designed by James Gibbs. Brown later designed a gothic church for the landscape at Croome which bears some similarities to the James Gibbs design.
Croome Court Home and Landscaping
After leaving Stowe, Brown had a major landscaping project at Croome Court. Croome Court is around 12 km east of Great Malvern and upstream from the confluence of the rivers Severn Avon. This area, just north of Tewksbury, known for its flooding and Marshy land, so Capability Brown was the right landscaper for the job. The project involved a redesign of both the house and Landscape. The house was redesigned by Browne in the Palladian style and the marshy landscape cleverly drained into an artificial serpentine river. This was a landscaping project where Capability Brown was able to use his drainage skills learnt in the fens of East Anglia.
The landscaping at Croome now looks entirely natural but it is in fact totally man made.
On a small hill on the property, Brown designed a classical rotunda as a place from where the landscape could be admired.
The Lake at Croome Court took hundreds of men more than 10 years to complete by hand.
The lake constructed by Brown looks like a natural river. It winds through the parkland for a distance of just under 3 kilometres with the end just out of sight around a bend. This helps create the illusion of a river.
There are more than 18 drainage culverts built by Brown as part of the landscaping. Most of these are brick lined and still function as a drain to remove water from the land and channel it to the lake.
Capability Brown created a gothic church on some high land in the park. There are great views of the estate from this position.
One of Browns lasting legacies was the the massive tree plantings on his landscaping projects. Some of his landscapes were second only to Kew Gardens for biodiversity. The full impact of Brown’s landscaping prowess would not have been apparent for generations after the initial construction. The Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani) is a member of the Pinaceae family and is regarded as one of Brown’s signature trees. It is now often seen in many British Grand Estates including Brown’s landscaping at Compton Verney.
Capability Brown at Compton Verney
The upper bridge over the lake may have been designed by architect John Adam, but it was constructed during Brown’s time at Copton Verney.
Repton was a landscaper in the same style as Capability Brown and saw himself as the successor to Brown. He was able to design landscapes with the naturalistic appearance of Brown, but with landscaping of the “Picturesque” added to the mix. Amongst Repton’s famous works is Sheringham Park in Norfolk. Repton invented the term “Landscape Gardener” and was known for showing his landscape clients illustrated before and after views in his landscaping “Red Book”. Repton’s first commission was for a landscape at Catton Hall north of Norwich. This landscape included a gothic cottage with a thatched roof.
Lord Berwick at Attingham
In 1797 Lord Berwick commissioned Landscape Gardener Humphry Repton to make improvements to the landscaping of his property Attingham near Shrewsbury. Repton’s landscape designs were illustrated in his “Red Book” which was presented to Lord Berwick for his library.
Landscape Design Only
In contrast to Capability Brown, Repton’s services were provided as landscape design only and he did not oversee the construction of his landscape designs. Repton’s landscape designs were handed to the client as his famous Red Book. In this book, Repton pioneered the “before and after” landscape design concept that many landscaper designers use today.
Humpry Repton at Stoneleigh Abbey
Some properties like Chastleton House in Oxfordshire have been attributed to Repton and is listed by the Nation Trust as a possible Repton Landscape.
To be continued…..
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