Botanica Atlanta | Landscape Design, Construction & Maintenance


Atlanta Garden Design

Lessons From Stowe

Posted by Stuart DiNenno on May 3, 2011 at 10:42 PM

Image: Steve Johnson


Earlier this week I was flipping through a landscape history book and I was reminded of an eighteenth-century English garden that still has much to offer to today’s gardeners. Elizabeth Barlow Rogers’ book, Landscape Design, was once my college textbook, but it now serves me as an excellent resource for both historic perspective and design inspiration. The garden, or – as such outdoor spaces were called at the time – the “landscape park,” was being successively designed, constructed, and redesigned by England’s most influential landscape designers more than half a century before a certain colony declared its independence from England.


The succession of famed designers included Charles Bridgeman, John Vanbrugh, William Kent, and even Capability Brown. What these celebrated designers collectively achieved was a landscape that was not only beautiful and lushly planted, but also a creative work that told stories, conveyed meanings, and even inspired emotion. The entire property is a network of paths, plantings, open spaces, water features, and – perhaps most notably – architectural follies that come together to employ what Rogers calls a “metaphorical program.”



Images: Nigel Green and Nigel Coomber


If you have heard the term “architectural folly” used before you may know that it is a loose term used to describe any structure that is built primarily for the purpose of decoration. In other words, a folly is a large-scale conversation piece. At Stowe, the landscape included more than a dozen of these structures, including a pantheon of celebrated politicians, Roman and Greek temples, and sham ruins of a Gothic cathedral. Each of these structures served to enrich a view, spark curiosity, and, as is the case with many of them, celebrate a British cultural theme.


Now, you may or may not have a few hundred acres and a royal budget to create your own personal landscape park, but you certainly have a story that you wish to tell. Think of your life, your personality, and your family, and ask yourself what symbols you might incorporate into your garden to represent themes that define your life. Many contemporary gardens are adorned with classic sculpture, found objects, or beautiful artwork.



Images: Sam Valentine, Jim Watkins, Marcos Filesi, and Mike Mariano.


Garden objects are essentially nothing less than smaller architectural follies. Consider the infinite range of options that are available to you, including items already in your possession, off-the-shelf retail products, and specially commissioned artwork. Incorporating these items into your garden will not only increase the aesthetic beauty of your landscape, but they will also help you to create a richer, more meaningful outdoor realm.


Author: Sam Valentine, BLA, LEED AP

Categories: Gardening, Landscape Design

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