Book Reviews, Landscape History

Book Review: European Gardens: History, Philosophy and Design by Tom Turner

June 25, 2012

“The Tuileries Gardens”

European Gardens: History, Philosophy and Design by Tom Turner

(Routledge, London and New York, 2011)

In this richly illustrated book, landscape architect and garden historian Tom Turner ambitiously traces the evolution of European gardens throughout a 12,000 year period. More than 400 pages in length, European Gardens: History, Philosophy and Design provides a comprehensive introduction to the social, political and artistic ideas that nurtured this unique art form.

Following a design philosophy summary, the book is divided into nine historic periods, beginning with garden origins and cultivation (10,000 – 1,000 BCE) and concluding with abstract and post abstract gardens of the last century and current design trends (1900 – 2000).

Each chapter contains a historic critique, followed by an analysis of garden plans depicted as style diagrams. References to gardens by notable figures, such as Pliny, are included as well as quotes from contemporary garden and landscape authors, creating a richly structured narrative. Attention is directed to individual gardens and the context in which they were built, including settlement patterns, urban design principles and regional planning.

Turner has perfected a graphic system that portrays the six key elements of a garden; landform, water, vertical structures, horizontal structures, vegetation and climate, in a clear and consistent format. The style diagrams are used liberally throughout the book and are beautiful in their simplicity, while serving as a useful tool for revealing the precis of each garden plan.

A strength of the book is the manner in which the style diagrams combine with text and photographs to provide a synopsis of individual gardens. The clarity and consistency of the visual information makes it easy to remember, adding value as a reference guide.

European Gardens: History, Philosophy and Design includes almost 1,000 historic and contemporary color images and the text is presented in a highly readable, direct format. Turner provides an overview of key concepts, styles, examples and garden terminology throughout, often as outlines. By nature of its comprehensive scope, the book serves purely as an introduction to key themes and gardens as only one or two paragraphs are dedicated to individual sites. For a more detailed analysis of a particular garden or period, additional research will be required and fortunately for the reader the book is extensively notated.

Turner concludes the history with a series of questions inquiring, “What Next?” noting, “From 50 centuries, we can learn about the close relationship between garden design and urban design because both arts involve the composition of buildings with paving, landform, water, vegetation and climate.”

An on-line companion guide to the book can be found on a comprehensive website, where there is information on garden history, tours, designers and products. The site includes access to more than 200 articles and 20 on-line book reviews.

The review appeared in Leaflet A Massachusetts Horticultural Society Publication, June 2012.

Copyright © 2012 Patrice Todisco – All Rights Reserved

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