Book Review

The History of Landscape Design in 100 Gardens

by Linda A Chisholm, 2018
Time Press, Oregon
Reviewed by Valerie Joynt

The author teaches the history of landscape design at the New York Botanical Garden. Her selection of 100 gardens is intended ‘to illustrate the history and principles of landscape design and to answer the question of why a particular style became dominant at a specific time and place in history’. For Chisholm, the answer lies in social and military history, the progress or regression of religion and the Industrial Revolution. She focuses on ‘developments from around the world that have been most influential in North America and the United Kingdom’, thus over half of the gardens are from the English-speaking western hemisphere.
The chosen gardens are collected chronologically into seventeen chapters each of which is introduced with an essay by the author placing the sites within a certain theme such as: ‘Piety & Protection’, ‘Augustan & Arcadian’, ‘Placemaking’. These are fairly predictable but the gardens under ‘Gaiety & Gloomth’ or ‘Searching for Earthly Paradise’ are a more confused selection. Chisholm admits that she did not visit all of the gardens which may account for the unbalanced treatment of some sites. She was clearly entranced by Rousham and Sissinghurst but her source for Wrest Park appears to be the English Heritage guide book and the inclusion of Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh seems more of a tourist attraction than a landscape design marker. But for UK readers it is a delight to have such a wide range of American gardens described and explained in context. The Sources and Further Reading are surprisingly dated; I would have expected this author to have used more recent scholarly sources for much of her research.
The book is over 500 pages of text and quality photographs. Unfortunately the photographer must have visited during one of the UK’s typically grey summers; most of the English gardens are under cloudy skies but that does give a credence to the images! Sadly the least impressive photo is the one chosen for the cover.
This is an desirable book to own as a compendium of important gardens. Linda Chisholm brings the development of landscape design in the US into the context of our own garden history and encourages the reader to think more deeply on the social and cultural elements involved in design.