While studying botany at University, I discovered that while plants are really interesting, the history of plants and gardens are also fascinating (I know, it sounds strange). It is amazing some of the topics that I stumble upon.


Turns out people have been gardening for a lot of years. While garden history may be slightly outdated and in need of a scholarly update, I discovered a fascinating and complex tapestry behind the arrangement of plants in the ground.

I decided to examine the design and function of gardens in seventeenth-century England. Sounds odd, a little too specialized? One way to understand my topic is to consider the popularity of gardens today. Well, in the seventeenth century they existed in the same profuse amounts but there were more varieties. Most gardens today are ornamental. But in the past, they supplied the house with produce, the housewife with perfumes and decoration, they also served as outdoor rooms and places to entertain guests.

As part of my research, I explored how and why gardens were planted, the uses for which these gardens were created, and attempted to explain the larger context of conspicuous display.

Understanding Gardens:
An Analysis of Seventeenth-Century Culture


Seventeenth-century gardens are cultural artefacts. The form and function of the various gardens of this period reflect contemporary perceptions of man’s place in nature. A form of conspicuous display, the design and content of a garden were organized to reflect the owner’s place in society. Gardens and gardening were important cultural and social activities that reflect contemporary ideologies and beliefs. The changing designs and the transference of gardening knowledge reflect the political and religious turmoil Englishmen and women experienced.

The printed texts of this period contain a wealth of information on gardening and garden design but these texts have more to offer than information on contemporary practice. Printed texts also encapsulate the struggles for truth and authority writers underwent in establishing the material in printed texts as knowledge. Illustrations, found in both texts and in paintings, are reproductions of actual gardens. How these images were presented by the artists and read by contemporary audiences further explains how gardens functioned in seventeenth-century English society.

For the curious, a copy of the bibliography for my thesis.

What's next?


Taking a step back from the larger picture, there are patterns underlying the interest in gardens in the seventeenth century. Who was gardening? Why were they gardening? Tracking down the individuals who are doing the gardening, those that speak of it in letters, have paintings commissioned, make money from, etc., etc.

Step 1

Create a catalogue of people who stand out in the literature. Biographies mention gardening as a hobby or interest. There are famous love stories and romances - no surprise when it comes to gardens (considering the whole secret garden theme from the monastic sources).

Step 2

Track these people, what are their interests? When did they start gardening? Why did they start? What did they build?

All this data will contain patterns/trends. Reflections of social history, political history, religious inclination, etc.


Considering the actual physical hours needed to accomplish some of the garden designs. The manhours spent designing, building, maintaining and preserving these natural environments suggest that the interest must be strong. The time must be there, the individual who starts the project must have the correct resources in place in order to carry out their plan.

Also, there must be continued interest and involvement. Time spent involved with the garden was not time spent doing something else.

Step 3

Analyze the design trends and the patterns in the gardens themselves. What do these trends suggest about the culture of the time? What do they tell us about how nature was understood in the period? Gardens are examples of symbolism in the natural world.

These are notes I made about gardening. See more gardening notes