Home Garden Design: A Short History

Apr 18 2012

Almost as far back as when civilized people first moved out of caves and into man-made homes, they have enjoyed decorating their outside living space with purposely planted trees, flora and other ornamental growth. Once mainly an activity of the wealthy, home garden design has evolved over the years from enormous landscapes that required a large staff to maintain to smaller and simpler, but no less beautiful, home gardens that may be enjoyed by anyone.

The history of home garden planning and landscape design reveals insight into the world’s political and social histories as well. You can discover a lot about what was happening at a particular point in history and the people living at that time by looking at their gardens.

Ancient Garden Design Styles

In the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Rome and Greece, gardens were usually large, elaborately planned spaces. Most were tied to either religious buildings or the homes of royalty. The most common types of garden during ancient times are discussed below.
  • Egyptian temple gardens, which existed primarily for the use of the Pharaoh’s and priests, were elaborately designed as a way to explain man’s understanding of how the world worked.
  • Ancient domestic gardens used by the Pharaoh’s in their private residences were fully enclosed spaces used for relaxation.
  • Hunting parks originated in Mesopotamia as a place where royalty and nobles could practice their hunting skills.
  • The paradise garden was a walled style used in ancient Greece and Persia as a way for wealthy city dwellers to escape the noise and crowds of city living.
  • In ancient Greece and Rome, wealthy landowners built villas surrounded by gardens, walkways and outbuildings to stroll through.

Garden Design from the Renaissance to the mid 19th Century

A number of different garden styles and designs characterized this period of time. Often, style, size and function were influenced by the garden’s geographic location, its owners’ social status and considerations of what was popular at the time. Sometimes, popular garden styles overlapped in time. The most common are explained below.
  • Early Renaissance ornamental gardens developed as conflicts eased and it was safe for nobility move to move from fortified castles into their own homes. Most included walled outdoor spaces for gathering or relaxation.
  • In the later Renaissance period, gardens finally came out into the open as wealthy landowners built fine outdoor spaces that were exposed to the surrounding countryside and its views. Graduated terraces and collections of statues and fountains were common.
  • By the late 1600s, gardens were designed to amaze and impress. Nowhere was this trend stronger than in France, where it was common for large gardens to have canals, large fountains, sculptures and ornate plantings.
  • One-hundred years later, gardens were designed to display the owners’ collections of exotic plants and showcase the love of travel, adventure and return to the wilderness popular among the wealthy at the time. Gardens were wilder, more open and less sculptured than ever before.

Garden Design in Modern Times

In more recent times, garden design became less about the owner’s wealth and status and more about personal preference and a desire to get back to nature. Gardening became an acceptable pastime for all social classes and even modest homes could boast a garden that featured beautiful flowers, interesting plants and even edible items.

More and more in modern times, gardens became an extension of the home, with outdoor areas designed to encourage outdoor games, leisure activities and friendly gatherings. Larger gardens often included both planned and “wild” areas that allowed owners to display various collections of plants, outdoor art, and sections dedicated to the growing of vegetables and fruits for eating. While the largest estates might still employ an outdoor staff to maintain the landscape, most garden owners spend at least some time working the land themselves.

About the Firm: Architectural Gardens is the best in class garden and landscape design firm servicing greater Chicago land and surrounding suburbs.

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