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Plant collecting is something that most gardeners enjoy. Some gardeners even refer to their garden as a ‘collection.’
We gardeners are sometimes haunted by the question whether a collection of plants can really be an example of landscape as an art form.
Garden writer and artist David Stuart in his book Garden Triumphant: A Victorian Legacy discussed the same issue.
Beginning in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries but reaching its peak in the nineteenth century. the English coveted plants from Africa, Asia, and the Americas. That habit of collecting plants, however, was to have a devastating effect on the classic English garden design.
Stuart writes: “Throughout the eighteenth century, new plants began to flood the country [England] from all the Americas and most of Asia. By the end of the century they were flooding in even faster, yet there was nowhere to put them, no way to integrate them into the garden…They [gardeners] hankered after a mode of gardening that would allow them to show their wonderful plants to the world.”
In that decision to show them off, the garden took on a new look, that of a collection.
He concludes, “Consequently, by the end of the eighteenth century, the landscape garden was quite clearly doomed.”
The classic landscape garden featured the lawn, the curved pathway, minimal or no flowers at all, and shrubs. It was the garden as designed by eighteenth century gardener to the King Lancelot Brown.
Since gardeners wanted to display new plants, they had to make room for them. The garden became a collection of plants.
Today the same question seems to face every gardener.
How do you respond?