The Landscape Guide
AMERICA:  Contents

American examples of garden styles

Pre-colonial European styles Colonial gardens: Spanish, French, English and DutchLandscape gardensMixed style Italian revival Gardenesque style Arts and crafts style Abstract style


Examples of Historic Garden Styles in America

Spanish settlers in California found climatic conditions resembling their home country. English and Dutch settlers in Virginia and New England made gardens like those they had known at home. Copies of Gerard's Herbal (1597, reprinted in 1633) travelled with the settlers and guided them in planting for medicinal and culinary purposes. Williamsburg became the capital of Virginia and a centre of gardening activity. The protestant community remembered England in the reign of William III (1688-1702) and admired the Dutch Style as it was employed in Holland and in England. Loathing autocracy and living in what they saw as an untamed wilderness they had no enthusiasm for the French Style or the emerging Augustan Style. The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg has a Wren building with a formal garden and topiary. When Governor Alexander Spotswood was appointed, in 1710, he built a large garden for the Governor's mansion, with hedges, parterres and a canal. Williamsburg ceased to be a capital during the War of Independence and when a Virginian became president he introduced Palladianism and the Serpentine Style to America. The Mixed Style became popular during the nineteenth century, under the influence of Downing and Olmsted. Its popularity extended into the first half of the twentieth century, known as the Country Place Era (c1820-1920). The profession which practiced garden design in America adopted the name Landscape Architecture. As in Europe, designers were influenced by the Arts and Crafts Style in first half of the twentieth century. During the century's second half American designers, including Church and Kiley, developed some excellent gardens in the Abstract Style. El Novillero, in Sonoma County, is rightly described by the Oxford Companion to Gardens as 'one of the most significant gardens of the twentieth century'.

Pre-colonial European styles

North America has many interesting re-creations of European styles. The J Paul  Getty Museum at Malibu in California is one of the best places to see a Roman courtyard garden. There are examples of re-created Cloister gardens at Fort Tyron Park (12 miles north of midtown Manhattan) and the Franciscan Monastery Gardens in Washington DC.. The Villa Vizcaya, in Miami, is an Italian renaissance garden which incorporates many features obtained from gardens in Italy.     Top

Colonial gardens

Early colonisation of North America was dominated by Europe's maritime powers: Britain, France, Holland, Spain and Portugal. Like all colonists, they brought design styles from their home countries. In California, this led to the foundation of Spanish missions with enclosed and planted courtyard gardens, drawing more from monastic traditions than from renaiassance gardens. Since they were engaged in a struggle for survival, courtyard space was planted rather than kept as a cloister garth. French Canadians looked to the the style of seventeenth century baroque gardens. English and Dutch settlers remembered the style of William and Mary.

Colonial Williamsburg has examples of gardens dating from the reign of William III. George Washington's garden, at Mount Vernon, is perhaps best understood as an example of the Augustan Style. Like Chiswick, Rousham and Stowe, it has both rectilinear and serpentine elements.     Top

Landscape gardens

America joined the mainstream of western garden design in the course of the eighteenth century and was fortunate that the second president had even more enthusiasm for gardens than the first president.  Thomas Jefferson was also a talented designer. Work on his estate, at Monticello (Charlottesville, Virginia), began 1768. When an ambassador in Paris (1784-9), Jefferson toured French and English gardens Work at Monticello continued until his death in 1826, by which time it had become an example of the Landscape Style.     Top

Mixed style

North America proved to be exceptionally fertile ground for the eclecticism of the Mixed Style. This was the style of Andrew Jackson Downing and its influence continued long after his death. William Randolph Hearst's estate at San Simeon is a prime example. Halifax Public Gardens, in Nova Scotia have a distinct Victorian character and Montreal Botanic Garden has 30 areas of distinct character.       Top

Italian revival

Like Britain, America enjoyed an Italian revival in the nineteenth early twentieth centuries. Villa Vizcaya, in Miami, is an example. Filoli, at Woodside in California, as a very suitable landform and climate for the style. Longwood  Gardens at Kennett Square in Pennsylvania was started in 1902 and designed by the owner, Pierre DuPont.      Top

Gardenesque style

J C Loudon's idea, of using exotic plants in picturesque compositions, became the dominant compositional principle for America's botanic gardens. Loudon invented the name Gardenesque  Style for this idea. America has examples at the Arnold Arboretum, the Winterthur Garden in Delaware.       Top

Arts and crafts style

There are many examples of this style in America, by owner-designers and by professional designers. Beatrix Farrand was a leading professional exponent of the style. The finest example of her work is at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington DC. She also worked at Dartington Hall in England. Old Westbury Gardens at Long Island in New York is a fine example of  the style, though more in the manner of Blomfield than Jekyll.        Top

Abstract style

Fletcher Steele was attracted by Cubism, Art Nouveau and Art Deco. There is a fine example of his work at Naumkeag (Stockbridge, Massachusetts). In Thomas Church and Dan Kiley, America has two of the world's leading exponents of the Abstract Style. Many of Church's gardens were for private clients and are not easy to visit. Many of Kiley's projects were for corporate clients, including the Oakland Museum. Lawrence Halprin also worked in the Abstract Style.       Top

Details of public gardens and parks in the United States and Canada can be found from the following publications:

GardenNet  This website includes a review of garden literature and a state-by-state guide to gardens open to the public. 

The web site for the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta has a comprehensive listing of botanic gardens.

The iCanGarden website has information on Canadian gardens, and other aspects of gardening.