Ten thoughts about garden design and landscape architecture

This chair is near the spot where it was washed ashore, perhaps from a shipwreck, leading to ten thoughts about garden and landscape design:

  • Gardens are enclosed. Landscapes are un-enclosed.
  • Designers use the materials of nature to express ideas about Nature.
  • Gardens make us think, as well as making us comfortable.
  • Poetry and painting normally begin on a white surface.
  • Garden and landscape design begin on a contextual surface.
  • Land existed before history and land will exist after history.
  • Landscape architects and garden designers think about what happened in the past, about the near future and about the far-distant future.
  • Garden and landscape design are four-dimensional arts.
  • Yet the best designs have a fifth, spiritual, dimension. They embody unprovable beliefs.
  •  One gardens in time, with time and for a long time.

25 thoughts on “Ten thoughts about garden design and landscape architecture

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      This is a neat sentence and I like it, with the reservation that ‘sculpt’ implies that gardens are primarily works of art.
      The OED states that the noun sculpture was ‘Originally, the process or art of carving or engraving a hard material so as to produce designs or figures in relief, in intaglio, or in the round. In modern use, that branch of fine art which is concerned with the production of figures in the round or in relief, either by carving, by fashioning some plastic substance, or by making a mould for casting in metal; the practice of this art.’
      Gardens certainly can be works of art but they can also be living space and places to grow food. Your account of garden design works best with the post-1967 use of ‘sculpt’ meaning ‘to shape, form, mould’.

  1. Christine

    Tom in the sense you use history is it a human construct or does it have some relationship to time? See point six and ten above.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      I am using ‘history’ in the way it was used in the title of this book: S. N.Kramer, History Begins at Sumer: Thirty-Nine Firsts in Man’s Recorded History (1956) though, unfortunately, I have the title implanted in my memory as History began at Sumer. I can’t understand why historians use the present tense for past events. So I am using ‘history’ in the narrow sense of ‘history as deliberately recorded by humans’.

  2. Christine

    Thinking of the human aspect;
    [ http://www.sculpturebythesea.com/Home.aspx ] Contemplating the idea of scultpure and landscape – the obvious artistic ploy/question arises – if the landscape was to be enclosed or captured, however, ephemerally would it then become a garden?

    Thinking of the nature aspect;
    Sea gardens are another interesting phenomenon which question the definition of gardens…[ http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f3/Grotto_at_Petrified_Sea_Gardens.jpg ] and
    [ http://www.atrailingthought.com/2010-03-29/petrified-sea-gardens-something-rich-and-strange ]

  3. Christine

    Tom, of course the seagarden doesn’t fit the definition of history which is your frame, and neither would that most famous of gardens – the Garden of Eden!

  4. Tom Turner Post author

    The Petrified Sea Garden does not satisfy many of the criteria for a ‘garden’ but it does illustrate a useful point. We have a ‘duty of care’ for places like this and excavating the stone to use as aggregate for concrete making would be WRONG.
    The common feature of designed landscapes and gardens is that they typically involve the composition of five elements: landform, water, vegetation, vertical structures (eg buildings) and horizontal structures (eg pavements). Conceived and defined in this way, ‘landscape architecture’ is a pretty good name for the activity.

  5. Tom Turner Post author

    It is difficult for a non-specialist to comment on anything relating to the interpretation of the Bible. Wiki dates its composition to the first millennium BCE and the events it describes probably took place in the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age (maybe 1500-1200 BCE), in the Israelite period. If this is when the Uzza garden existed then it is not the oldest garden site known. There were older gardens in Mesopotamia and older garden sites are known in Egypt. The oldest tree planting positions are in the grounds of Mentuhotep’s mortuary temple. He reigned 2046 BCE – 1995 BCE.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      The Wiki article on Chinese gardens is better than most books on Chinese gardens. This makes me regret that the material is provided anonymously. My main reservation about the article is that it treats the CLASSICAL CHINESE GARDEN as though it was something invented 3000 years ago and hardly changed since then. You are right about the distinctions and there is another key distinction between food gardens, temple gardens and palace gardens. Ignoring these distinctions is like writing about the history of ‘architecture’ without noting the differences between fortifications, religious sites and domestic sites.

  6. Christine

    Yes. There is even dispute, as there is with the idea of the garden starting with the first known planting, as to what is the first known architecture – could it be adaptations or decorations of caves? [ http://gogreece.about.com/b/2010/04/07/theopetra-cave-oldest-man-made-cave-structure.htm ] and [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kents_Cavern ]. Perhaps these structures predate the more formal uses of caves for worship etc? [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_rock-cut_architecture ]

    There are other forms of architecture which are more ephemeral.
    [ http://www.aboriginalculture.com.au/housing.shtml ]

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      The names ‘stone age’ and ‘caveman’ led me to think, for far too long, that humans lived in caves before they learned how to build ‘houses’. I then imagined that the first gardens must have been outside caves – and in fact published this guess in a book. Stupid. They surely did use caves but they were nomads and they cannot have been enough caves for them to have been anything but occasional cave dwellers. So they lived in ‘tents’, probably made of branches and skins. Would these count as ‘architecture’ of did this begin with the type of buildings on this list? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_the_oldest_buildings_in_the_world It does not mention the stone temples and houses built c10,000 BCE.

  7. Christine

    Theory is just that, theory so it is always plausible that they may have lived in caves and planted gardens.

    It is not clear where Adam and Eve lived once they left the Garden of Eden after all Adam lived to 930!

    Hmmm, in biblical acounts: Cain was a farmer and Abel was a shepherd? Since Cain killed Abel, God cursed him and his crops failed and he became a ceaseless wanderer. Cain left God’s presence and went to live east of Eden in the land of Nod. Cain, however, had a son Enoch and founded a city which was named after him. [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bereishit_(parsha)#Adam_and_Eve ] Although latter some of Cain’s descendents are said to have lived in tents. At least one academic theorises that the word ‘city’ in this context most probably means fortified house.[ http://nabataea.net/eden8.html ]

    Noah however, was a descendent of Adam’s third son Seth. Can we assume that only Seth’s descendents survived the flood?

    So…literary accounts and physical evidence?

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Indian muslims, if not the Koran, say that paradise is a garden and Kashmir is both a garden and a paradise. Well, this is where I am writing this post from. The scenery is definitely paradisaical but every driver’s habit of blowing their horn every 20m on the Boulevard somewhat diminishes the sensation. Also, if you look at the view there is a real risk of putting a foot in mud-filled rut or worse.

  8. christine

    Wow! Kasmir, one of the places that I have always wanted to visit. I am feeling rather envious! Hopefully it is safe and peaceful? Yes, it does seem to have a dual nature…[ http://www.hindustansite.com/jammu-kashmir/Photos/Bahu-Fort-Jammu-Kashmir.jpg ] But from all accounts, and yours too no doubt, is one of the most remarkable places on earth. [ http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-0VXoOpB7g3M/TWO_8L3BB_I/AAAAAAAAAck/8V5us1uU4LA/s1600/Paragliding_in_Jammu_and_Kashmir_tourism.jpg ]

    In the Koran apparently:
    Man was created in Paradise (‘janna’),1 not on Earth (first couple later banished to Earth, e.g. Koran 2:36). Carnivory (and thus death and suffering) apparently integral to life on the created Earth from the first. The Koran (6:142, 16:5, 40:79) says that cattle were created for man to eat. The Koran speaks of Adam’s (and his wife’s) nakedness becoming apparent to them after they sinned (20:121; also implied by 7:22), yet also implies that they were wearing some kind of raiment prior to the Fall (Koran 7:273).

    Perhaps someone who is familiar with the Koran could comment?

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      A shrine burned down in Kashmir the day before I arrived and much of the city was closed off. It is a good place to know about the Muslim view of creation. My hotel had a very-loud speaker outside the window which did a 1 hour muezzin from approx 3.30 to 4.30 am. Good conditions for thinking about the problem!

  9. christine

    Seyyed Hossein Nasr is a Muslim who it is said embraces the mystical dimension of Islam known as Sufism and a scientist who went through the halls of learning at Harvard University and M.I.T. He argues;

    “…that man is a pontifical creature who serves as a bridge between the terrestrial and the celestial worlds. Neither angel nor animal in the absolute sense, man is more than what scientific knowledge knows about him. His intellect, his psyche and his spirit have endowed him with attributes and capacities that go beyond the wildest dreams of the scientific community.”

    Apparently the Muezzin is something of an art form. [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muezzin ] So perhaps it is like listening to Georgian chant at a similar time!

    Gregorian chant is sung in the Office during the canonical hours and in the liturgy of the Mass.

    “The heart of the Office is in the singing/saying of Psalms and the Lord’s Prayer. The Psalms attest to the Jewish cycle of prayer, three times a day; or seven times, and at midnight. The New Testament speaks of the Apostles going to Temple for prayer at the third hour, the sixth hour, and the ninth hour.”

    The Benedictines had nocturn vigils which included prayers at 2am…[ http://deevans.net/xtian/office.html ]

    So nocturnal prayers are known in all three Abrahamic traditions. Perhaps it was a little monastic preparation for your journey to Ladakh?

    Perhaps if the world’s religious communities all contributed funds to the rebuilding of the mosque some good would come from the event in Kashmir? [ http://dailypioneer.com/nation/77359-dastgeer-sahib-shrine-to-be-restored-in-30-months-omar.html ]

  10. Christine

    Yes the timing and loudness of auditory stimuli, even music, can determine whether it is enjoyable or not.

    The topic raises a broader issue. This article about church bells in Scotland suggests that objections to the broadcasting of church bells are related to religious prejudice rather than other criteria. [ http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/scotland/glasgow_and_west/7658798.stm ] There should be some way of distinguishing between the two very different motives in such instances.

    Are you aware whether the guidelines on bell ringing in the UK have been effective? [ http://www.cccbr.org.uk/pubs/guidelines/gdlnComplaints.php ] It seems there are also questions of compliance with EU law when bells are rung outside daylight hours. [ http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1410405/Church-bells-are-silenced-in-fear-of-EU-law.html ]

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      I don’t know much about bell-ringing but I think it is generally done by hand in England and by machines in the rest of Europe. To me, hand-ringing is much more acceptable.

  11. christine

    There are other forms of bellringing other than church bells worthy of consideration clock bells, school bells, sheep bells and door bells. The quality of the sound of the bell is its most important attribute. It is said that bells originated in China before they were introduced into the monastic tradition of Europe.
    [ http://www.china.org.cn/english/features/FbiCh/78687.htm ]

    So perhaps you will be more uptodate on the intracacies of bell ringing after your stay in Ladakh than most!


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