Productive Gardens

There is an often assumed idea that the garden is a place of a singular function, a place for trees, flowers, ornament, vegetables or fruit. Our understanding stems from the manner in which garden history is presented. From the earliest periods of recorded history, we see that the garden was a multi-purpose space that provided cut flowers as well as fruit, shelter from the sun and food for the table. A painting from the tomb of Amenhotep III in Thebes (c.1350 BC) presents a complete plan of a villa. It shows a geometric layout with avenues shaded with date palms, pomegranates and myrrh trees. There are formal beds of flowers; these were used as herbs, medicine and decorations for the villa and religious ceremonies. In the centre of the garden, a large grape vine covered arbour provided food, shelter and the basis for wine. There were numerous fish pools planted with the sacred lotus flower; fish for food, and the edible root of the lotus. This early example demonstrates that even in our oldest civilisations, plants were used for as much for function as they were for ornament. The garden has always been a productive and multi-functional place, a place for pleasure and relaxation.

Horace Walpole observed in The History of Modern Taste in Gardening that, over time, the word “garden” has had various meanings in different countries. It began with the idea of kitchen-garden and orchard, but even this is oversimplified when he refers to the gardens of Alcinous in the Odyssey with ‘a small orchard and vineyard, with some beds of herbs and two fountains that watered them, inclosed within a quickset hedge. The whole compass of this pompous garden inclosed-four acres. The trees were apples, figs, pomegranates, pear, olives and vines’ (i). Homer described the garden as the ideal of paradise, full of year-round fruit and beauty:

Tall thriving trees confess’d the fruitful mold;
The reddening apple ripens into gold.
Here the blue fig with luscious juice o’erflows,
With deeper red the pomegranate glows.
The branch here bends beneath the weighty pear,
And verdant olives flourish round the year.
****
Beds of all various herbs, for ever green,
In beauteous order terminate the scene. (ii)

Walpole’s comment on the garden being pompous relates to his obsession with the idea of the natural landscape, rather than the controlled and ornamented garden. But the nature of these ancient gardens was one of control, where order not only allowed for easier management of the garden, often in small spaces, but it also represented the idea of beauty.

Garden excavations by Wilhelmina Jashemski in the Roman sites of Pompeii, Torre Annunziata and Herculanium present a similar form of enclosed gardens containing fruit trees and vines, as well as ornamental plants and features such as fountains and statues. Within Herculanium, there was a small orchard and even the smallest gardens or spaces seemed to provide places for growing herbs such as rosemary or bay. Jashemski found that earlier gardens tended to be informal with nut and fruit trees, including olives. She refers to a small house and garden (I. xii II) across from the House of the Ship Europa in Pompeii as being different to anything that had been found. ‘It had obviously been planted with small shrubs laid out in a very formal design….In the center of the garden was a small statue-base framed by the plantings which were undoubtedly evergreen, most probably clipped box. It was by now quite certain that that many old houses in Pompeii continued their informal, old-fashioned plantings until the city was destroyed in A.D. 79. But there were also more formally laid out gardens.” (iii)

The peristyle garden, that is an enclosed garden partly surrounded by a covered walkway, combined utility and function-plants that produced food, dyes, and medicine as well as beauty. This layout became the pattern of garden for the centuries that followed as the enclosure afforded protection from both the elements and from theft. The plan for the great monastery of St Gall (c.900) shows the divisions within the monastic compound according to the function of the buildings. The main cloister is central to the settlement, but it is also the form of various other gardens. Marie Gothein refers to the garden adjacent to the infirmary, or the physic garden, as being planted with 16 raised straight beds that would require careful tending. She refers to the plants in the cloister gardens as ‘roses and lilies, and then sage, rosemary, and other herbs that look pretty and are aromatic. Thus this little garden gave not merely healing medicines to the sick, but also a very charming view to the convalescent’. (iv)

Separating the garden of fruit and flowers began in the Renaissance; by the 18th century, fruit and vegetables were normally confined to the kitchen garden as they were considered inappropriate to the visual taste of the time. Gardening developed as ornament to buildings and lifestyle; colour, form and pattern impressed the visitor with a spectacular show of wealth and taste, while fruit and vegetables were grown out of sight. The idealised natural landscape of the English Style dictated the distancing of fruit and vegetables from view. While they were hidden in the estates of the wealthy, they were still an integral part of the cottage garden which remained closer to the necessities of life.


Revival of Interest

In one sense, home grown fruit and vegetables has been in decline as populations have become more urbanised; however there has been a resurgence of interest in these plants, especially within the urban environment. This can be attributed to a number of factors including our concerns about mass production with the use of herbicides, pesticides and artificial chemicals. Many home-grown varieties have a short shelf life and are not commercially viable for a number of reasons, yet these often have a better flavour. There are other reasons for increased interest such as historic varieties and growing methods, and on a sustainability level, it is about maintaining the genetic pool.

Through EGHN, a number of gardens have been identified that provide some of the best examples in northwest Europe. These are all larger gardens with many facets, but each offers something for the individual to consider what they might do and how they can develop their own garden or even communal garden areas. The iconic Jardin Potager, based on Du Cerceau’s engravings of 16th century gardens, at Villandry (F) continues to impress and inspire all gardeners and garden designers who aspire to growing fruit and vegetables in an ornamental manner. There is no doubt that tomatoes eaten straight from the plant, or apples from the tree, offer a taste experience beyond anything achieved from the local supermarket. Some of these gardens are traditional while others start to look towards the future in terms of alternative energy through the production of plants for bio-mass.

Over the past few years some of the kitchen gardens of Tatton Park (UK), an 18th century estate, have been restored. Within the 2¼ hectare kitchen garden, there is a fully working vegetable garden. The fruit garden has been recently re-planted and it is interesting to see how such a garden would have looked in its early days. The newly reconstructed 36 meter Pinery, or pineapple house, in the fruit garden was opened in August 2006 and is one of the few in existence. Referred to as the ‘King of Fruits’, the pineapple was one of the most exotic and difficult fruits to grow; it was the centrepiece on the dining table. Pineapples will be produced in a traditional manner using pre-1911 varieties. Sam Youd, Head of Gardens, said that the Pinery is the last piece of the historical jigsaw at Tatton. In addition, there are houses for figs and orchids, as well as a vinery.

One of the finest kitchen gardens to be found anywhere in Europe is at Castle van Gaasbeek near Brussels (B). Opened as a museum in 1998, there has been sufficient time for the plants to develop, particularly the fruit trees. This is substantially different from the Tatton garden which is run on modern lines; whereas, the fruit trees at Gaasbeek are managed and trained in the most amazing forms imaginable - pyramid, circles, spirals, diagonals, candelabras, etc. The trees are rare, historic varieties - primarily apple, pear and plum. The museum is experimenting with pruning techniques as well as growing different varieties of pears inside decanters which are then exported to France and filled with brandy. Vegetables, herbs and flowers are grown within the garden as well. Gaasbeek provides a demonstration of ancient pruning and management techniques, valuable training for gardeners and horticulturalists, and the conservation of rare plants.

Using traditional methods and plants, Painshill (UK) has replanted part of the vineyards that Charles Hamilton had developed in the 18th century. Overlooking the lake, the vineyards were in operation for over 40 years until 1790. As with so many features, these disappeared but the vineyard was replanted in 1992-93 with Chardonnay, Seyval blanc and Pinot noir. Similarly to this, at the Jugendhof Rheinland near Koningswinter (D) the EGHN-partner Landschaftsverband Rheinland has re-established forgotten vineyards overlooking the Rhine. As part of a much larger estate and parkland which is now abandoned, the vineyard has several varieties of grapes, with modern varieties to the top side and traditional varieties to the lower slopes. This is small scale, specialist production and it is labour intensive as the traditional varieties are pruned, layered and harvested in a traditional manner.

Schloss Dyck (D) is landscape that moves beyond re-instatement of a garden; it has moved forward and addresses modern ideas as well as experimentation. Unlike visiting patterns in England and France where the peak season is in the summer, Schloss Dyck has its busiest time in October and November due to its apple crops. In addition, the ‘farm shop’ sells seasonal vegetables and the racks needed for saving apples over the winter can also be found here. Within the grounds are a series of small scale ornamental gardens which also include fruit, vegetables and herbs; these demonstration plots provide examples for the public for their home gardens. Opposite the main grounds, there is the Miscanthus garden that contains not only a series of demonstration gardens and sculpture, but the Miscanthus itself which is now harvested as a fuel source. Schloss Dyck is living up to its title as ‘Centre for Garden Art and Landscape Culture’.

Show gardens, similar to those of Schloss Dyck, are also found at Kijktuinen (NL) and at Bridgemere Garden Centre (UK) where they have rebuilt their prize winning designs from the RHS shows at Chelsea and Tatton. Some have used their show gardens as a basis for developing education centres such as Schloss Dyck and Kreislehrgarten Steinfurt (D) where seminars and courses are available.

Within all of the EGHN regions are various forms of botanic gardens: Botanischer Garten Rombergpark in Dortmund (D) and the Botanic Garden of Münster University (D) or Ness in Cheshire (UK), just to mention a few. They are not only about public displays of plants, but many are responsible for introducing new varieties of plants, as well as conserving older varieties. Botanic collections are also found in historic parklands and particularly within the parks and gardens of spa towns. Gardens were an intrinsic part of health and well being where fresh air, long walks and relaxation formed part of the treatments. As a result, towns like Bath (UK) have some of the most important landscape spaces and magnificent tree specimens ever created and have been recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Eminent designers were used to develop the plans for the spas. Johann Georg Kahl created the rose garden (1872) at Bad Salzuflen Spa Park, a parkland of 126 hectares and a constantly expanding plant collection. In the 1850s, Peter Josef Lenné designed the Kurpark for Spa Gardens in Bad Oeynhausen (D); even today, new features have been added to his 19th century design. As a result of the Landesgartenschau 2000, the Aqua Magica (Magic Waterland) has been added - a combination of nature, technology, health and art. These parks and gardens, whether managed formally or informally, provide a rich source of plant species but they are also important in defining the character of a region as well as aiding its economy.

At another scale is the small producer and in many cases the private owner who produces or hybridises specialist plants. There are specialist clubs for vegetable growers as there are for flower growers; many of these growers exhibit their prize produce at local and regional shows. There is a long history of these societies that have developed rules and criteria for their fruit, flowers and vegetables. Where land is in short supply, or here many live in apartments, allotments have fulfilled the need for people to grow their own plants as well as feel connected to nature. King’s Lane Dawson Allotments, Wirral (UK) has proved such a success that it now opens for tours with the admission charge going to charity. There is a waiting list as allotments as the demand for them has increased in recent years. Similarly, the well maintained allotments along the Ruhr, e.g. the Kleingartenanlage at Castrop-Rauxel (D) close to Haus Goldschmieding is entirely different from its English counterpart which is essentially utilitarian. The German version, similar to the ones found in Holland and Belgium, are gardens in miniature with immaculately maintained flowers, vegetables and fruit trees. Many have small structures where families spend the day, and even overnight on occasion. Most of the specialist growers and societies are small and hence it is impossibly to gain a comprehensive picture across northwest Europe.


Product Range

It is misleading to think that production is entirely about fruit and vegetables as much of the economy of northwest Europe is supported by the garden industry. It is estimated that gardening is worth € 6.3 billion per annum in the UK alone. In part, this is due to demographics with an ageing population, but it must also be attributed to increased leisure time combined with a growing interest in healthy living. Trees, shrubs, groundcovers, flowers - annual and herbaceous - are grown on a vast scale throughout the region as commercial businesses. There is a large range of associated products including compost, fertilizer, paving, furniture, lighting, sculpture and related products such as drainage, wiring, concrete, etc. Supporting these products are the manufacturers, transporters, and marketing industries and many others. The ‘garden’ is not only a major economic driver, but an integral part of our economic, social and cultural lives.

EGHN has identified parks and gardens as part of a regions soft-infrastructure, that is, those things that enhance the quality of life. Gardens are difficult to quantify in absolute financial terms; perhaps the difficulty is applying standard economic methods and models to something which in itself is far from easily defined. Gardens are celebrated, as well as promoting their products, in major regional/national events. Garden festivals and major flower shows provide an unrivalled venue for both ideas and products. Garden festivals, usually held on ten year cycles in the UK and on two year cycles in Germany, are a means of economically regenerating areas and are subject to a great deal of political intervention in terms of when and where they take place. These festivals provide the long term reclamation and infrastructure for post-festival redevelopment.

At a different scale are the regional festivals, lasting from a few days to several weeks. Chaumont (F) has a reputation for cutting-edge design, while the Royal Horticultural Society’s Tatton Flower Show has a heavy emphasis on plants and design, but it also acts as an outdoor hypermarket for all garden related products. Schloss Dyck saw major new gardens created during the Landesgartenschau EUROGA 2002+ in 2002.

These events give a public arena for parks and gardens, a means of promoting not only products but how people can become involved with gardens, and how they can enjoy them. Advice is easily found, enthusiasm easily encouraged as people collect, nurture and grow their plants. However a garden is not about plants, but it is about life and it is meant to be enjoyed.

Consider the advice of John Lawrence who wrote of the garden ‘It makes a great part of a wise man’s pleasure and diversion, to have always something to do, but never to much’. (v)

Author:
Prof. E M Bennis, Manchester Metropolitan University
for EGHN, 2006

References:
(i) Walpole, Horace The History of Modern Taste in Gardening Ursus Press, New York 1995 (1782), S.19
(ii) Ibid, S. 20
(iii) MacDougall, E & Jashemski, W (Ed) Dumbarton Oaks Colloquium on the History of Landscape Architecture VII; Chapter The Campanian Peristyle Garden by Wilhelmina Jashemski, Dumbarton Oaks, 1981, S. 39
(iv) Gothein, Marie L A History of Garden Art Dent, London 1928 (1913) Vol.I, S.173
(v) Lawrence, J The Clergy-Man’s Recreation: Shewing the Pleasure and Profit of the Art of Gardening Lintott, London 1717, S.19