What’s on : Lectures

Gardens in History: A Political Perspective

3 May 2016
Start time
7:30 PM
Tempest Anderson Hall
Louise Wickham

Event Information

Gardens in History: A Political Perspective

A lecture by Louise Wickham


In my lecture relating gardens and politics, I look at four key themes:

Demonstrating political power

The luxury of a garden, decorative rather than productive, was one reserved for those with wealth and political power. The ability to control nature re-enforced the garden owners’ status.

Re-enforcing state policy

Political leaders wanted to control nature and the population. The Romans created the first public urban parks, an idea taken up with great enthusiasm in Britain in the 19th century. Gardens could also be used to manage the economy through the tactical use of botanic gardens.

Creating political legitimacy

Two of the largest Empires, Islamic and Roman, used gardens as a means to consolidate their conquests through a process of cultural assimilation.

Promoting political ideas

The fact that 18th century designed landscapes in Britain became a battleground for political parties is well known.  Other political organisations have used gardens such as the socialists and their role in the 20th century conservation movement.

Member’s report

Using such examples as the gardens at Emperor Hadrian’s Villa, Mughal Emperor Babur’s Garden of Fidelity, King Louis XIV’s Versailles, and many others, the case was made for the representation in garden design of central political power and control. The ownership of land, the control of water, the transplanting of exotic species from around the world, further demonstrated the status and power of the garden maker. These notions first emerged in ancient Assyria and Mesopotamia, spread to Greece and Rome and re-emerged in Renaissance Italy. In Japan and India there were similar ideas. In Britain country estates offered the same opportunities for display, but the development of botanical gardens, public parks, modest private gardens, and garden festivals began to represent an arguably more benign form of control.

Carole Smith