Histories of Garden Conservation – Case-studies and Critical Debates

Posted on January 20th, 2010 by Charles Boot

Michel Conan, José Tito Rojo and Luigi Zangheri (eds), Histories of Garden Conservation – Case-studies and Critical Debates. Proceedings of the Colloquio Internazionale sulla Storia della Conservazione dei Giardini (Florence: Leo S. Olschki, 2005), 449 pp., illus. in colour and black-and-white, €39.00, ISBN 88-225-54309

This book contains the proceedings of a conference held in Florence in 2003 organized by the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno, the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and the University of Granada; it is published as the twelfth volume of the ‘Giardini e Paesaggio’ series by Leo S. Olschki. The conference revolved around examples of garden conservation, demonstrating different approaches to the field and which could provide the outline for a multifaceted history of garden conservation. The volume is neatly structured in three parts: the first, ‘Noted Gardens’, focuses on the conservation history of nine historic gardens of different geographical areas; the second, ‘Gardens into Cultural Heritage’, deals with the link between conservation action and the perception of historic gardens within defined styles; and the third, ‘Legal and Philosophical Perspectives for Garden Conservation’, presents an essay on legal aspects and nature conservation and another on the connection between garden and cultural conservation. Michel Conan’s introduction, as well as his conclusions, offers the manifesto of this important initiative, emphasizing the call for a multicultural history of garden conservation and providing the structure for the diverse contributions. Title and text are in several languages (English, Italian, Spanish and French essays followed by English or Italian summaries). Useful biographical notes on the authors are included at the end of the book.

Undoubtedly, the first part forms the bulk of the volume and includes major essays on case studies from China, Mexico, Italy, France, Sweden, England and Germany, and is by far the most captivating, as each case provides a window on the history of lesser-known yet interesting sites. All contributions deserve careful reading, as they are rich in well-documented information, and analysis is made by authors who have direct knowledge of the sites, and had time to think about specifically related conservation aspects. The opening essay by Yinong Xu, ‘The making and remaking of Cang Lang Ting’, is remarkable for the subject-matter it presents and richness of sources, as well as depth of analysis. It presents the history of the Cang Lang Ting garden in Suzhou over a millennium, and, at the same time, illustrates an approach to conservation that can be called ‘Chinese’. According to the view that emerges through the Cang Lang Ting case, there is more concern in preserving the site as a location, rather than its physical components or any of its historical designs. This is the outcome of cultural memory, transmitted through celebrative poetry and the identification with values impersonated by the makers of the garden, viewed as glorious historical characters. Thus, the making and remaking of the Cang Lang Ting garden at different times was largely inspired by the very existence of celebrative poems, which preserved the memory of the site rather than providing precise evidence for restoration. The Western reader can only be but thankful for Yinong Xu’s generosity in reporting and translating into English primary Chinese sources, to which we would be unlikely to have access otherwise.

Saúl Alcántara Onofre offers an account of the fascinating history of the Chapultepec Park in Mexico City, today the most visited urban open space (277 hectares), in spite of poor maintenance, neglect, pollution and erosion. Located on top of Grasshopper Hill, the site boasts a natural forest of Taxodium mucronatum and the presence of water springs and canals traditionally used to supply the gardens and the city. It boasts a longstanding history of garden-making associated with the hill in pre-Hispanic, as well as in Colonial and post-Colonial times. Archaeological evidence has outlined the Teotiihuacanos (450–500 BC) as the first-known land developers, mainly concerned with the building of a network of water canals and gardens. The Aztecs (fourteenth–early sixteenth century) built their capital Tenochititlan here, whereas Moctezuma I created his palace and gardens on top of the hill (c.AD 1440–69), a sacred mountain which became associated with water gods and where stone, monolithic statues representing the kings were found. The Spanish conquest in 1521 marked the beginning of Colonial gardens, which were influenced by European traditions, particularly by Leon Battista Alberti’s principles, though much of the water system from the Aztec gardens was maintained or rebuilt by Viceroy Don Antonio de Mendoza (c.1535–50) and by his successor Don Luis de Velasco. The place was abandoned hereafter until the second half of the eighteenth century, and reconstruction of the palace and pleasure grounds was initiated again after the destruction in 1784, only to be interrupted in 1787. The task was resumed in 1833–41 when it became a military academy, and afterwards in 1864–67 under Emperor Maximilian and Charlotte, who brought along the culture of Austrian late Baroque gardens as well as head gardener Wilhelm Knechtel, author of a diary describing the grounds. The subsequent and major transformation occurred at the beginning of the twentieth century, thanks to De Quevedo and Jean Lous Forestier, who created an extensive public park based on concepts of urban planning and hygiene (1901–28), which incorporated the Chapultepec Hill and was meant to cater for the modern needs of the growing city. Surely, this is a summary of the history of an outstanding place, and the information may stimulate further reading. However, one may have expected a more analytical approach and some discussion on the relationship between the history of the site and its conservation. It seems the author’s priority is to call for urgent first measures to preserve the park at risk, by including it amongst the UNESCO world sites. Furthermore, it would have been interesting to know more about the restoration work carried out by the author himself, which is not mentioned at all in the text, but indicated in the captions of a number of photographs showing recently restored parterres.

Manuel Casares-Porcél’s contribution on the history, conservation and renovation of the El Generalife Gardens in Granada is an outstanding essay, well researched, neatly structured, rich and concise. It selects the Patio de la Acequia, the oldest and still extant part of the complex, as representative, and outlines related historical events as reflecting conservation approaches in time. The factors that have contributed to the preservation of the Patio de la Acequia and its surroundings from the thirteenth century are, primarily, a combination of a mental attitude and a special legal framework. In fact, the Christian conquerors explicitly wished to maintain the character of the site after the fall of the Reign of Granada in 1492, through the employment of Moorish gardeners and waterworks experts. This situation at the Generalife lasted at least until the end of the sixteenth century, even after the expulsion of the Moors from Spain in 1573. Furthermore, the site, though owned by the Royal House, was given in right of use to Granada Venegas, a family of Moorish origin, on the condition that an annual amount of money was provided for its maintenance. Thus, it remained in private hands until 1912 and this special status preserved it more from the upheavals of neglect and drastic transformation than in the nearby Alhambra. The structure of the Renaissance Generalife gardens was a combination of terraces, pergolas, complex water features and courts with parterres, some sunken with respect to the footpath level; the Patio de la Acequia had a central canal along its longer side. The planting was formed by evergreen shrubs, citrus trees, pomegranate, jasmines and roses. The Patio de las Arrayanes, the old name for the Patio de la Acequia, was called after a special kind of African myrtle (Myrtus communis), which had a primary role in the formation of topiary, along with Artemisia canescens, until boxwood was introduced here c.1850 for the same use. Nineteenth-century visual representations of the Generalife indicate the presence of cypress topiary arches surmounted by a pinnacle over the water canal (1800–32), alternating in time with shaped cypress columns (1836–44), restored into arches, running parallel and across the water canal (1850–90), disappearing entirely following neglect (1890–1900), re-introduced as parallel arches by Leopoldo Torres Balbás (1925–36), to be cut again into columns c.1940, and finally disappearing (between 1950 and 1960). Thus, planting shaped in topiary seems to have been characteristic of the Generalife gardens, with myrtle primarily identified with Islamic gardening, largely replaced by boxwood in the nineteenth century. As for cypress topiary, though mentioned in De Herrera’s treatise Agricultura general (1513), evidence on its use at the Generalife (and nearby Alhambra) seems to exist mainly for the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

This situation is more pronounced, yet similar to horticultural trends in Italian Renaissance gardens, where myrtle was primarily used for clipped hedges and topiary in central Italy in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century gardens, whilst boxwood was despised, though it eventually took over in later times (from the midto late eighteenth century onwards) following French influence and, fundamentally, as it proved hardier and long-lived. The use of cypress for topiary seems to have been brought by expatriates re-inventing Florentine Renaissance gardens (in the third quarter of the nineteenth into the early twentieth century), and it characterizes La Gamberaia’s green theatre and entrance, as well as most of Cecil Pinsent’s gardens. It seems to have been essentially a revivalist phenomenon, and far-fetched as it may be, possibly influenced by the mid-nineteenth-century ‘Granadine style’. Even if it is not possible to establish a definite history for the introduction of cypress topiary, there is no doubt that this plant is not apt for this use, as it reacts poorly to pruning heavier than trimming, and it tends to strip down where not fully sun-exposed. Thus, the alternating arches transformed into shaped columns at the Generalife and their frequent disappearance due to short periods of neglect is hardly surprising. Yet, it would be interesting to enquire further into the motivation for its use, which seems to have been rooted more in an ideal pursued image, than in practical horticulture.

The question of the theoretical construction of the Hispanic-Moslem garden style is addressed in the second part of the volume by José Tito Rojo, whose essay is closely related to that by Casares- Porcél. The author’s main claim is that Granada’s gardens were remade based on a theory of the contribution of the nineteenth- and twentiethcentury Hispanic-Islamic garden style to Hispanic culture rather than the research necessary to carry out correct restoration work. According to Tito Rojo, this theory was the outcome of sheer invention, as little was known on the composition, design, planting and hard landscape of Medieval Spanish gardens (despite information on the Patio de la Acequia in the Generalife). The perception that Andalusian and Medieval Moorish gardens are one and the same emerged during the nineteenth century, and was then combined with Orientalism, which contributed to the fame of Granada architecture and gardens throughout Europe. Most Andalusian gardens of the time have been destroyed or are in poor condition, and this essay, therefore, focuses on the Alhambra Patio de Leones, which was perceived as planted (though there was little evidence for it) and hence transformed into a garden (c.1810–12). During the second half of the nineteenth century Spain witnessed the rise of national as well as regional distinctive movements, which in Grenada became identified with orchards and cypresses, and in Seville with azulejos and oranges. The restoration of the Alhambra followed the reconstruction trends of the period, with an attempt to make the gardens as Moorish as possible, even when it involved the introduction of false period details. In addition, the fame of the Moors as expert horticulturists certainly contributed to the lavish planting of the Alhambra and Generalife in new gardens connecting them, as well as in the private orchards and vineyards in the area. Jean Claude Nicholas Forestier (1910–20) tried to codify the character of these Hispanic-Moslem gardens as a combination of geometric design with crossing footpaths, pavilions and waterworks, detailed hard landscaping, sunken parterres with informal planting mixing edible plants with herbs and flowers, trellised roses and evergreen topiary made of cypress, myrtle, boxwood, and laurels. From the mid-twentieth century to the present day, however, research methods have also included the study of Islamic gardens by Arab scholars, especially in Algeria and Morocco, the adoption of archaeology, and the analysis of ancient agricultural treatises.

Carmen Añon Feliu’s essay on the history of garden conservation in Spain is an account of the main figures who worked at developing the image of Spanish gardens. These include the painter Santiago Rusiñol, architect J. C. N. Forestier (who worked in Seville and Barcelona), his disciple Nicolás Maria Rubió I Tudurí and Javier de Winthuysen, who founded the first association for historic gardens in Spain (1931) and was responsible for numerous garden restorations. This contribution provides the general historical background complementary to Porcél and Rojo’s essays.

Leaving Spanish gardens for Italian ones, there are two important contributions included in the first part. Giorgio Galletti’s essay on transformations at the Boboli gardens in Florence after the extinction of the Medici in 1737 throws light on lesser-known chapters of its history. It focuses on the attempts to transform the sixteenth-century gardens into a landscape park during Napoleonic times and the interventions commissioned by Pietro Leopoldo and Ferdinand III of Lorraine during the nineteenth century. Other episodes mentioned are the parterres de broderie in the upper green theatre, the remodelling of the Forcone fountain and the replanting of formal multi-species hedges towards the end of the eighteenth century, which are largely still extant today. The other contribution on Italian gardens is Giuseppe Rallo’s essay on nineteenth-century interventions at Villa Pisani in Strà, near Venice, based on his long-standing historical research and technical knowledge as a curator and promoter of the restoration of the park and greenhouses over the past twenty years. The essay concentrates on nineteenth- to early twentieth-century transformations. The first major intervention took place in 1807, following Napoleon’s acquisition of the site, and was essentially conservation of the Baroque framework. This was aimed at preserving Girolamo Frigimelica Roberti’s (1722) design, though with some simplification, and the opening of one large allée. In this period, the Citrus Garden had been created, only to be completed between 1848 and 1849. In 1815, the Austrian Aubsburg house took charge of the villa and undertook an even more conservative strategy, which retained the transformations made by the French, but was fundamentally based on management. The exotic plant collections were enhanced, focus being on the greenhouses, with some minor interventions occurring later on inspired by romantic landscape views, including the creation of an ice-house on a hill (1840), a tepidarium in the Citrus Garden (1847) and another hill (1853). The villa passed into Savoy House hands for a brief period (1856–58), was unsuccessfully put on the market between 1874 and 1882, and finally become part of Italian State properties. This change corresponded with a period of extreme financial and managerial difficulties, which witnessed the selling of the majority of the plant collections and progressive impoverishment of the park. The only major intervention was the creation of the oblong fishpond on the main axis (1911–13), commissioned by Max Ongaro, which had scientific as well as associative purposes. In 1931, a major, well-documented restoration of the garden occurred before a meeting at the Villa Pisani between Mussolini and Hitler.

Luigi Zangheri’s essay is a learned overview of the history of landscape conservation in the period between the unification of Italy (1861) and the Second World War (1939–45). He recalls that interest in Italian gardens was largely revived by Anglo-Saxon garden literature at the turn of the century (by authors such as Edith Wharton, Inigo Triggs, Audrey Le Blond, Julia Cartwright, Janet Ross, Charles Latham, Harold Donaldson Eberlein, Arthur T. Bolton, Shepherd and Jellicoe), though it occurred against the background of British debates on the natural versus the formal garden. Foreign influence was dominant in the recreation (viewed as restoration) undertaken at the Medici Careggi Villa by Joseph Sloane (1848–71), and at Villa La Gamberaia, near Florence, by Rumanian princess Catherine Jeanne Ghicka (1898–1900), as well as in other parts of Italy, such as at Villa Rufolo in Ravello and at Villa Sciarra in Rome. This, in addition to the numerous period gardens created by Pinsent and J. Scott, who worked in Florence between 1912 and 1942 (e.g. Villa I Tatti, Villa Le Balze, La Foce); they all contributed to the revisitation of Renaissance Italian gardens in what can be generalized as a British perspective of formal geometric design, boxwood and topiary playing a major role. If this was the prevailing trend, it would have been useful to add that not all expatriates conformed to it as there were exceptions, such as F. Stibbert’s landscape park in Florence, which owed a debt to the picturesque and neo-Egyptian taste. The most interesting interventions on landscape at the beginning of the twentieth century were associated with archaeology, and particularly with the figures of Giacomo Boni, Antonio Muñoz and Raffaele de Vico, who worked at providing suitable settings for archaeological sites and used topiary planting to complement missing architectural features, working in Rome on the Forum (1898–1925), the Temple of Venus (1925), the archaeological park on the Oppio Hill (1926) and many others. The Mostra del Giardino Italiano (Exhibition on the Italian Garden) held in Florence in 1931 had the ambitious purpose of demonstrating the uniqueness of the Italian garden tradition, but it really offered only the final codification of the modern Italian garden as a revivalist Renaissance creation, making the distinction between new and historic gardens rather bland. Interventions of that period conform to this approach, such as the invented recreation of the hanging garden in the Ducal Palace in Urbino carried out by Luigi Serra (1924–30), or Savonuzzi’s tennis club attached to sixteenth-century Marfisa d’Este in Ferrara (1935– 38), which was rich in arches, trellises, pergolas and formal hedges. Within this very same trend, one could add the creation of the formal garden (1935) at Ludovico il Moro’s Palace and in the Diamanti Palace courtyard in Ferrara. This is an example of the link between garden-making and Fascist emphasis on Italy’s glorious past, which began to erode modernist ideas after 1931. Along with citing known sources on historic gardens, Zangheri publishes for the first time provocative garden plans, such as Giovanni Michelucci’s winning garden project in the 1931 Exhibition – a private garden with swastika parterres – as well as Maria Teresa Parpagliolo and Giovanni Meccoli’s proposed garden plan for a similar Exhibition held in 1939.

The starting point of Michel Baridon’s most interesting discussion on the transformations at Versailles after the death of Louis XIV revolves around the observation that the vista from the main terrace, which corresponds to the east–west axis ideally connecting the Palace and the Ile de France, is the same as that conceived by Louis XIV. It was probably preserved as it was the strongest design feature of the gardens, but also because it still provides a sense of unity – the prevailing style is undoubtedly influenced by André le Nôtre. As a result, modifications and additions undertaken in later periods are located off the main axis, a sort of lateral allowance, which preserves the first and dominating impression. Amongst such changes the author mentions the creation of the Petit Trianon under Louis XV and Marie Antoinette’s Hameau under Louis XVI, as well as the simplification and redesign of a number of bosquets, the destruction of the labyrinth and of the water theatre, together with the introduction of picturesque features such as very fine rocailles and a wider selection of trees.

Yet another interesting paper is Magnus Olausson’s on the history of the interventions on the Swedish Royal garden of Drottnigholm, a Baroque garden designed in 1681 by Tessin, which was never completed and which quickly posed conservation problems (from 1715). Throughout the eighteenth century the Royal House faced recurrent problems of managing an unfinished garden in an old-fashioned style – Gustav III (1777) wished to complete the great perspective with a belvedere inspired by sixteenthcentury Jean de La Vallée style, to be located on an embankment close to the rear boundary of the garden. The king’s taste for ancient style was expressed in his study of old architectural drawings and in the restoration and creation of formal gardens, and was probably the outcome of his absolutist political ambition, though he also created at Drottingholm a modified form of the English landscape garden, filtered through French models of the jardin anglais. However, he had to fend off the ideas brought by Swedish architect Fredrik Magnus Piper, who returned from England (1780) as William Chambers’s follower and proposed a radical transformation of the Baroque gardens into a landscape park – which would have wiped out the majority of formal structures. Piper’s plan was largely rejected, except for minor alterations of water features in the landscape garden and the disappearance of the seventeenth-century garden enclosure in 1785. Piper made several proposals for modifications, all inspired by a freer planting style with some regularity, but none was accepted – even by the king’s successor, Gustav Adolph IV in 1809. The author then discusses Bauer’s restoration (1950– 60) as inspired by Swedish Modernism – ignorant of historical data – and defines the result as a pastiche. From the photographs provided, it seems that Bauer simplified the parterres de broderie by grassing them over, a choice which could be acceptable if dictated by maintenance constraints.

Kate Felus’s essay on three centuries of intervention at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire focuses on interventions by Sir John Vanbrugh, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown and the 9th Duke of Marlborough. Vanbrugh designed the palace (with Nicholas Hawksmoor), as well as the gardens in conjunction with Henry Wise, starting in 1705, for John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough. In 1709, he made efforts to preserve the medieval hunting lodge at Woodstock Manor and transform it into an important focal point within the landscape, as a conscious attempt to emphasize a link with the past; but his efforts proved unsuccessful due to the first Duchess’s opposition. In the 1760s, Brown was commissioned by George Spencer, 3rd Duke of Marlborough, to redesign the landscape, where he maintained some of the existing formal pleasure grounds, but added the great lake as a unifying feature, as well as inserting a number of Gothick garden buildings to reiterate the association of Blenheim with its medieval history and to comply with the fashion of his time, which viewed Gothic architecture as a component of national pride. Charles Spencer-Churchill, 9th Duke of Marlborough, started major restoration work in 1892 following years of neglect. He had about half a million trees planted in forty years, the northern part of the palace restored to its Baroque facade, and a new formal garden created on its eastern side, designed by Achille Duchêne (1909), who also designed the famous water gardens on the western side, inspired by the duke’s own vision (1925). The duke carefully photographed each phase of intervention, providing valuable material for garden historians.

Gert Gröning’s paper on the Berlin Viktoria Park is an interesting contribution, which successfully merges history and conservation issues. The park was created on a 30-metre hill in the city (which is itself 66 metres above sea level): the site had been used for centuries as a sand pit, the cultivation of vineyards and military training, and also incorporated a Tivoli brewery. The core of the park was developed around a monument celebrating the victorious battle against Napoleon in 1821 designed by Shinkel in a Gothic style, its tower surmounted by an iron cross; this potent landscape feature became known as Kreuzberg (Mountain of the Cross). Hermann Mächtig designed a waterfall, meant to recall a site in nearby mountains, and the wolf’s ravine, inspired by C. Maria von Weber’s opera, first performed in Berlin in 1821. These elements formed the core of the old park and were to assume a romantic and beautified aspect, particularly after Brodensen’s creation of a landscape garden. Important modifications were the addition of a children’s playground in 1914, and a track, field area, and another playground in the 1920s to cater for new social needs and the gymnastics movement. During the Nazi period there was a grand plan to connect the monument to a large square attached to Templehof airport, within Speer’s urban plan, but it was never carried out. After the war, the park, which was used mainly for festivals, art exhibitions and bicycle races, was not perceived as historic and hence suffered from severe neglect and depletion. Improvements started after the reunification of Berlin and the wolf ravine was restored in 1996, although there are difficulties in carrying out full restoration of the landscape park, which today is used as a football pitch. The author’s call for conservationists not to be ‘royalists’ and to tackle social issues and the needs of modern society is also taken up by other scholars such as Hennebo, Wolschke-Bulmahn and Tessin.

For those interested in further reading on more general conservation issues, the contributions of Tom Williamson on the survival of geometry in landscape parks, Juan Calatrava on the garden of the Enlightenment, and David Jacques on post-war conservation approaches are recommended. Further, more philosophical aspects are discussed in Lucien Chabason’s paper on the crisis of nature protection and Massimo Venturi Ferriolo’s essay on the garden as the site of cultural conservation and heritage.

To conclude, this volume is a fine and rare collection of diverse contributions springing from multiple experiences and traditions, a multifaceted spectrum particularly apt for those who wish to gain a partial yet wide overview rather than to focus on one region or style. Reading this thick volume takes time, but it is certainly worth the effort, as this summary can only give a flavour of the contents. Certainly, the formula of this publication leaves the door open for future similar volumes offering a different selection of sites; scholars can only hope that this will happen in the future.

Ada V. Segre

34:1 (Summer 2006)

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