In landscape gardening an overall aesthetic effect is sought, usually to enhance dwellings, public buildings, and monuments and to integrate and beautify parks, playgrounds, and fairgrounds. Formal landscaping involves artificial modifications of the terrain and emphasizes balanced plantings and geometrical design; the naturalistic style incorporates plantings with the natural scenery.
Ornamental gardening and landscape gardening are ancient arts. The Egyptians built formal walled gardens, and the Mesopotamians constructed private parks and terraced gardens—usually on artificial mounds or supported by columns, as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The Persians were especially skilled in using water for decorative effects; the Moors carried Middle Eastern styles to Spain. In the East the planting of sacred groves was spread by the Buddhists from India to China and set a style there for naturalistic gardens, in which the beauty of the natural scenery was accentuated by distributing plants so as to allow them free growth and set off their colors and fragrances to best advantage. The Japanese adopted this principle and elaborated it into a distinct style of highly disciplined arrangements of plants and their settings with the object of achieving subtle beauty based on economy and simplicity. The Japanese art of bonsai gave rise to the unique miniature gardens and dish gardens.
In Europe landscape gardening was highly developed under the Roman Empire; formal gardens, often terraced and adorned with statuary and fountains, were designed by architects. The Crusaders brought back from the East new gardening techniques that gave great impetus to horticulture in Western Europe. During the Renaissance the classical style was revived in Italy; the Italian gardens, planned by leading artists, sometimes went to extremes of formality and decor, among them those employing elaborate waterworks displays (see fountain). The Italian style was widely imitated. In Spain the Italian influence was modified by Moorish features. In turn, the Spaniards and the Portuguese introduced their ideas in the Americas, where these techniques were combined with the already well-developed Aztec and Inca traditions. The Dutch, famous for the development of the nursery, were noted also for their topiary work, an art practiced earlier by the Romans. France became the leader in formal landscaping; the work of André Le Nôtre is exemplified in the gardens of Versailles. In the 18th cent. England inaugurated a revival of the naturalistic trend under such leaders as William Kent, Capability Brown, and Humphrey Repton.
The 19th cent. brought a partial reversion to formal landscaping and an interest in horticulture as well as in design. American landscape artists generally followed the example of the English masters. Landscaping, especially of public parks and buildings, was stimulated by the work of A. J. Downing, Calvert Vaux, and F. L. Olmsted and his son. Today landscape gardening stresses practical as well as aesthetic design, selecting from a wealth of gardening traditions and emphasizing casual, naturalistic effects.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.