The Garden Guide

Alberti, Leon Battista

Born - Died : 1404 - 1472

Italian architect, scholar and author. Leon Battista Alberti produced a revised version of Vitruvius' Ten Books on Architecture [De re aedificatoria] (1452, 1485) which included a section on country houses which discusses gardens. It drew upon what he could learn of Roman gardens and advised siting a villa on a hillside site for climatic reasons and to benefit from the view. This was in sharp contrast with the enclosed gardens of medieval Europe. Leon Battista Alberti can be regarded as the inventor of the High Renaissance style of garden design. The illustration is from Vasari's Lives and shows 'Florence commending the image of Leon Battista Alberti to Britannia'. [See Gothein on Alberti]

Various remarks on gardens and views, from Alberti's Ten Books:

I do not think it necessary for the Gentleman' s House to stand in the most fruitful Part of his whole Estate, but rather in the most Honourable, where he can uncontrolled enjoy all the Pleasures and Conveniencies of Air, Sun, and fine Pro− spects, go down easily at any Time into his Estate, receive Strangers handsomely and spaciously, be seen by Passengers for a good Way round, and have a View of some City, Towns, the Sea, an open Plain, and the Tops of some known Hills and Mountains. Let him have the Delights of Gardens, and the Diversions of Fishing and Hunting close under his Eye. 

City is not built wholly for the Sake of Shelter, but ought to be so contrived, that besides mere civil Conveniencies there may be handsome Spaces left for Squares, Courses for Chariots, Gardens, Places to take the Air in, for Swimming, and the like, both for Ornament and Recreation. Nor should Space be wanting for Gardens and Meadows, for the moderate Re− creation of the Mind, but not for administring to Pleasure. If all these Precautions are taken, it will be best to have them out of the Way of a Concourse of People. The Cloysters for both Sexes therefore cannot be better placed than without the City; that the Attention of their Thoughts which are entirely dedicated to Holiness, and the calm and settled Religion of their Minds may not be disturbed by too many Visitors. But then I would have their Houses, whether they are for Men or Women, situated in the most healthy Air that can be found out; that the Recluse, while they are wholly intent upon the Care of their Souls, may not have their Bodies, already impared, by constant fast− ing and watching, oppressed likewise with Weakness and Diseases. 

We should be sure to have a good Court−yard, Portico, Places for Exercise, and some Garden.

It is certainly a Point of great Importance what Statues we set up, es− pecially in Temples, as also whereabouts, in what Number, and of what Materials: For no ridiculous Figures are to be admitted here, as of the God Priapus, that is usually set up in Gardens to scare away the Birds; nor of fight− ing Soldiers, as in Porticoes, or the like; nei− ther do I think they should be placed in close Nooks and mean Corners. 

The Ancients used to dress the Walls of their Grottoes and Caverns with all Manner of rough Work, with little Chips of Pumice, or soft Tyburtine Stone, which Ovid calls the living Pumice; and some I have known dawb them over with green Wax, in Imitation of the mossy Slime which we always see in moist Grottoes. I was extremely pleased with an artificial Grotto which I have seen of this Sort, with a clear Spring of Water falling from it; the Walls were composed of various Sorts of Sea−shells, lying roughly together, some revers− ed, some with their Mouths outwards, their Colours being so artfully blended as to form a very beautiful Variety. In that Apartment which is peculiar to the Master of the Family and his Wife, we should take Care that nothing be painted but the most comely and beautiful Faces; which we are told may be of no small Consequence to the Conception of the Lady, and the Beauty of the Children. Such as are tormented with a Fever are not a little refreshed by the Sight of Pictures of Springs, Cascades and Streams of Water, which any one may easily experience; for if at any Time you find it difficult to compose yourself to rest in the Night, only turn your Imagination upon such clear Waters as you can remember any where to have seen, either of Springs, Lakes or Streams, and that burning Drowth of the Mind, which kept you waking, shall presently be moistened, and a pleasant Forgetfulness shall creep upon you, till you fall into a fine Sleep. To these Delicacies we must add those of well−disposed Gardens and beautiful Trees, together with Porticoes in the Garden, where you may enjoy either Sun or Shade. To these add some little pleasant Meadow, with fine Springs of Water bursting out in different Places where least expected. Let the Walks be terminated by Trees that enjoy a perpetual Verdure, and particularly on that Side which is best shelter− ed from Winds, let them be enclosed with Box, which is presently injured and rotted by strong Winds, and especially by the least Spray from the Sea. In open Places, most exposed to the Sun, some set Myrtles, which will flourish extremely in the Summer: But Theophrastus affirms,  that the Myrtle, the Laurel, and the Ivy rejoyce in the Shade, and therefore directs us to plant them thick, that they may mutually shelter one another from the Sun by their own Shade: Nor let there be wanting Cypress− trees cloathed with Ivy. Let the Ground also be here and there thrown into those Figures that are most commended in the Platforms of Houses, Circles, Semicircles, and the like, and surrounded with Laurels, Cedars, Junipers with their Branches intermixed, and twining one into the other. Phiteon of Agrigentum, though but a private Man, had in his House three hundred Vases of Stone, each whereof would hold an hundred Amphoras, or about fifteen of our Hogsheads. Such Vases are very fine Ornaments for Fountains in Gardens. The Ancients used to make their Walks into a Kind of Arbours by Means of Vines supported by Columns of Marble of the Corinthian Order, which were ten of their own Diameters in Height. The Trees ought to be planted in Rows exactly even, and answering to one an− other exactly upon straight Lines; and the Gardens should be enriched with rare Plants, and such as are in most Esteem among the Physicians. It was a good agreeable Piece of Flat− tery among the ancient Gardeners, to trace their Masters Names in Box, or in sweet−smel− ing Herbs, in Parterres. Rose−trees, intermix− ed with Pomegranates and Cornels, are very beautiful in a Hedge: But the Poet says:

Your Hedge of Oak with Plums and Cornel made,
To yield the Cattle Food, the Master Shade.