Designing for History
The dimension of time is something that I find extremely interesting and challenging in relation to garden history.
In many other fields, the goal of 'restoration' is to return something to the state in which it existed at the time of its creation. The creator of a house, a painting, an article of clothing, etc. may expect that certain changes will inevitably occur over time, but these are generally viewed as incidental.
By contrast, the designer of a garden knows that one of the primary media in which he or she is working -- plants -- will change dramatically over time, and somehow takes that into account in the design. The history pros out there will correct me if I'm wrong (I hope), but my sense is that when when we talk about 'restoration' of a garden, we are rarely talking about returning the garden to the time of its initial design and planting; instead, we are referring to some later point in the maturity of the garden when the design is judged to be fully realized.
The topics of renewal and restoration usually require us to think backward in time. I thought it might be fun to shift gears and try to think, historically, about how the forward march of time has been viewed by garden designers and accounted for in their gardens. By 'garden designers,' I do not mean to limit the field of inquiry to well-known historical figures and gardens; residential gardens and landscapes are equally germane.
Here are some of the questions I've been thinking about, in no particular order:
-- Did the designers of estate gardens such as Dumbarton Oaks, Winterthur and Fioli have a sense (even if the estate owners didn't) that these would someday become gardens visited by the public in large numbers? Did they account for that in their designs?
-- In doing a period restoration of a garden, how is the target date selected? Is there some type of generally accepted standard -- e.g., 10 years following orginal installation -- or is this a case-by-case decision? What factors are taken into consideration?
-- Is it not ironic that some of the features of historic gardens that can be the most distinctive and enticing (e.g., large trees, tall boxwood hedges) are those which most certainly did not exist in this form during the lifetime of the original designer and/or owner of the property?
-- What features of your own garden, if any, suggest that the garden designer was planning for the future history of the garden?
-- Is there a notion of planned obsolescence in garden design? How have designers past and present approached this issue? (On the LD forum, I've often seen the figure of 20 years cited as the appropriate time period to bear in mind when considering mature size of plants and trees. It's made me wonder what happens to these gardens after 20 years. Are we assuming that there at least one new owner, and a desire to change, by then?) There is currently a discussion on the LD forum concerning the drawing of trees on landscape plans that touches on related issues.
-- What happens when a garden outgrows its original design? One of the earliest posts on this forum concerned how to 'restore' a garden designed by Umberto Innocenti in which, over time, the large trees featured in the design proved to be incompatible with the other plantings. I'm attaching a link to that thread below for those who may not have seen it; I thought both the question and the responses raised interesting issues that merit further discussion.
Will you join me in ruminating on the forward march of history and its role in the history of gardens?
Here is a link that might be useful: Innocenti restoration discussion