A Project of the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art
History of Early American Landscape Design

Landscape gardening

[http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/research/casva/research-projects.html A Project of the National Gallery of Art, Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts ]
Revision as of 21:26, February 1, 2016 by B-zweig (talk | contribs) (→‎History)


The phrase landscape gardening referred either specifically to the irregular mode of laying out gardens that originated in England in the early eighteenth century or, more generally, to the art of designing ornamental grounds. The phrase came into currency at the same time that the theoretical basis of the art of landscape and garden design was being examined and that the modern, or natural, style was on the rise. Therefore, the style and the art were often conflated so that it was not unusual for the phrase “the modern style of landscape gardening” to be used. This modern (or natural) style was often contrasted with the “geometric or ancient style of gardening,” which was characterized by some critics as the primitive style that predated the theorization of garden design as a fine art (see Ancient style, Geometric style, and Modern style).1 The practice of landscape gardening in this sense resulted in the landscape garden that, according to John J. Thomas (1848), was “composed of trees, lawns, and sheets of water.” In general, it was an approach intended for extensive grounds that incorporated a park into the scheme (see Park).

Benjamin Henry Latrobe’s 1798 statement that landscape gardening is what “the art of decorating Grounds is called in England” is somewhat ambiguous. It remains unclear as to whether he meant to define landscape gardening as the English style specifically or as the concept of designing ornamental grounds generally (see English style). The second, more inclusive sense of landscape gardening was formulated by practitioners like J. C. Loudon and A. J. Downing, who promoted it as a liberal art akin to painting or music. In An Encyclopaedia of Gardening (1826), Loudon explained that landscape gardening was a practice with a theoretical framework that had been developing since the early eighteenth century: “[T]he art of arranging the different parts which compose the external scenery of a country-residence, so as to produce the different beauties and conveniences of which that scene of domestic life is susceptible.” This included both the geometric and natural styles. Downing, in his Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening (1849), presented landscape gardening as a fine art, and as an ideal that resulted in “beautiful” and “picturesque” effects [Figs. 1 and 2].

Loudon and Downing argued that landscape gardening, whether in the geometric or modern style, was an art of imitation built on principles and not an art of facsimile, that is, the pure replication of natural scenery. Downing attributed the phrase “landscape gardening” to William Shenstone but added that it could be applied retroactively to the classical or ancient garden style. Even these theorists periodically slipped into the more exclusive usage at times, considering only the irregular modes, or rather, the modern style garden as landscape gardening (see Picturesque).

The stricter definitions of landscape gardening stipulated that this fine art depended solely on the “modern,” or natural style. George Watterston, for example, in 1844 wrote pointedly, “Landscape Gardening, is a modern art. Previous to the last century, it may be said scarcely to have existed.” John J. Thomas (1848) contrasted the larger landscape garden made up of trees, lawns, and sheets of water with the style of the flower garden laid out in geometrical lines. A specific meaning of landscape gardening as a particular style and not a more general discipline was clear in several citations where an author wrote “landscape or picturesque gardening.” That “landscape garden” as a garden type and “landscape gardening” as the professional practice that produced it were being used synonymously is clear.

Thomas Jefferson was intrigued both theoretically and experimentally by the landscape gardening movement. In this period Thomas Whately’s Observations on Modern Gardening (1770) was considered the most mature writing about landscape gardening, and it was with this book in hand that Jefferson toured English gardens with John Adams in 1786. Whately’s comments on color, meaning, association, and function in the landscape garden are reflected in Jefferson’s notes made during the latter’s visits to several of the most famous English gardens. A comparison of these notes to his instructions for Monticello gives evidence of the profound impact of that trip on his sense of landscape aesthetics. Jefferson was particularly interested in flowers and shrubs that brought a great deal of color and variety to his garden. Although he used the phrase “the art of gardening” or simply “gardening” when discussing the subject, Jefferson was clearly considering the recent version of the art form “in the perfection to which it [had] been lately brought in England.” Jefferson also referred to landscape gardening as “the style of the English garden.”2

The broader meanings of the phrase “landscape gardening” as a fine art continued to be used into the nineteenth century. Edgar Allen Poe described two types of landscape gardening, the natural and the artificial in his short story, “The Landscape Garden” (1842). For William H. Ranlett (1849), landscape gardening was formerly practiced in the ancient or geometric style but succeeded in recent times by the modern or natural style.

-- Therese O'Malley






Retrieved from "https://heald.nga.gov/mediawiki/index.php?title=Landscape_gardening&oldid=18040"

History of Early American Landscape Design contributors, "Landscape gardening," History of Early American Landscape Design, , https://heald.nga.gov/mediawiki/index.php?title=Landscape_gardening&oldid=18040 (accessed February 2, 2023).

A Project of the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts

National Gallery of Art, Washington