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Landscape as Rhetoric

Hidcote Manor is a garden in the United Kingdom, located at the village of Hidcote Bartrim.

The garden has its own rhetoric, or language, in its wonderful separate rooms.

Hidcote Manor Garden

Landscape architect Anne Whiston Spirn in her book The Language of Landscape wrote “Landscape is a play with many actors–flowers, people, trees, rocks–who come and go across the stage, some staying a day, a week, a season, others remaining for eighty to two hundred or a thousand years.”

That became one story of American gardening.

If we look at English landscape style as a play, the drama began in all seriousness in the 16th century and evolved over the next three hundred years.  The form of the 18th century, the picturesque,  Americans adopted in the 19th century, largely through the encouragement of the American seed and nursery companies of that time.

America’s own Andrew Jackson Downing played an important role by encouraging that design.

Spirn writes: “Like myths and laws, landscape narratives organize reality, justify actions, instruct, persuade, even compel people to perform in certain ways. Landscapes are literature in the broadest sense, texts that can be read on many levels.”

In the 1862  March issue of his garden magazine Gardener’s Monthly Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan wrote “All of our readers have heard of the excellence of English gardening.”

Since by then the English had been writing about landscape gardening for decades,  the world looked to the English garden as a model, or a form of rhetoric that appealed to others.  The English wrote about their view of landscape, based on the way they used land and plants.

How do you describe your garden, your landscape?  What is your rhetoric of the garden?  How do use space and plants around your home? What story are you telling by your garden?

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