Hot Debate Coming Up:  Do Gardens Qualify as Art?

Hot Debate Coming Up: Do Gardens Qualify as Art?

Spread the love

The Royal Hort Society is holding a debate I’d love to hear.  The topic is: “Are Gardens Art?” and get a load of the line-up of debaters — a critic, a designer, a plantsperson and a philosopher:

  • Andrew Wilson (Chair of the debate panel) – Award winning Garden Designer, lecturer and writer
  • Anne Wareham – Editor of ThinkinGardens, garden critic and creator of the garden at Veddw House. Anne is campaigning to have gardens returned to their place amongst the fine arts of British Culture
  • Kathryn Aalto – A professional garden designer, historian, writer and speaker. Kathryn is concerned with both strong, contemporary design and an analytical view of garden history
  • Dr. Noel Kingsbury – Garden writer, reader, lecturer and teacher. Noel is an occasional designer, concerned with naturalistic and sustainable planting design who makes decisions based on science and evidence
  • Professor David Cooper – Emeritus Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Durham. David is the author of A Philosophy of Gardens (2006) which discusses the position of gardens as art or nature. Booking is recommended but not essential. 

The debate is being held at the RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey.  BUT, according to Anne Wareham, the could be made public (via Youtube, etc) if we show a little interest in it – by email.  So if you’d like to hear these folks go at it, email to say so:  (Wisley contacted us to say they’re unable to film the debate, so could we remove this encouragement of emails to that end.)

Photo of Monet’s Giverny by Juergen Kurlvink.  Posted by Susan Harris

Posted by

Garden Rant
on June 17, 2014 at 1:40 pm, in the category But is it Art?.

    • admin
    • 1st January 1970

    Interesting, but how can it be a debate when all of the panelists are involved with gardens? Shouldn’t there be some artists or art experts who are not gardeny?

    • Mary Gray
    • 13th May 1981

    That’s what I was thinking. Later there will be a debate about “Does God exist?” by a panel of Catholic priests.

    • skr
    • 18th August 1983

    I’m guessing Dr. Cooper will be playing the Devil’s Advocate.

    • skr
    • 9th April 2002

    I’ve sent my email.

    • Vera
    • 4th February 2017

    That sounds really interesting! And Giverny would be an interesting study case – we visited the garden a month ago ( and I was thinking about how hard it must be to be a head gardener in a garden that people do not want to change in the slightest. Yet part of the beauty of gardens is their continuous evolution and in my view by trying to keep the garden static, it loses some of its charm. Would love to hear the debate!

    • admin
    • 4th March 2017

    Yes… keeping a garden in stasis is kind of a defeat of the point. I overheard client and friend of mine whose garden was recently on tour tell a visitor that viewing the garden on one particular weekend in the year wasn’t really doing it justice – “a garden isn’t a snapshot” she said “it’s a motion picture!”.

    • admin
    • 23rd March 2017

    This is a topic I am passionate about. I majored in art in college and spent a lot of my formative years learning the basic constructs of what we consider “art”. From a design aspect, garden as an art form is rather profound… it utilizes all the principles of design that are expected in 2 and 3 dimensional composition – balance, form, texture, unity, scale, color, etc., but it also incorporates time and movement as a design feature similar to dance and drama.
    The dynamism of garden also includes the viewer as participant similar to many works of installation art.
    As an art student I was charged to constantly be asking the question “what is art?” Although its kind of like Jesse Helms definition of pornography – “I don’t know what it is, but I know it when I see it”, I have come to believe that true art is a kind of communication that expresses the inexpressible and that good design and an acknowledgement of beauty are a kind of language that affirms wholeness. (Its why we perceive nature as beautiful).
    Garden, in my opinion, is a legitimate art form that encompasses all that the art world strives for and it would be a breakthrough in thinking (and even perhaps funding) if the attitudes about it could shift away from its also utilitarian definitions. We know how to separate “painting” as in painting a house from “painting” as in van Gogh… so it shouldn’t be a stretch.
    Its a shame that this debate is absent thinkers from the art world. I think they would be open and receptive to the concept of garden as art.

    • Evelyn Hadden
    • 30th July 2017

    David, do you have any of your writing published anywhere? I would love to read it.

    • nwphillygardener
    • 4th September 2017

    Of course there can be no debate which can answer the proposed question vis-a-vis garden-making as an art form since there’s so little agreement on the purpose of Art, whether as a personal mode of self-expression or as a conscious means to communicate a specific idea/feeling to an audience. But it seems so clearly advantageous for us all to help promote gardening as an art form. Just as anyone can pick up a pencil and draw, the same goes for trowels and planting. What really makes the “Art of Gardening” so difficult is it’s dynamic nature over time, whether that’s the tenure of the gardener, the impact of changing seasons, daily weather and sunlight conditions.

    • Garden Rant
    • 6th September 2017

    Sorry, folks. Wisley wrote to tell us they were unable to video the event and we should remove any mention of that from this post, so as not to disappoint people. So we’ve updated per their request.

Leave a comment

Recent Posts

A Growing Trend in the U.S.: Food Forests

Mound-forming alpine strawberries (Fragaria vesca) tolerate a range of soil and climate conditions and produce small fruits intermittently throughout the growing season. Upstart food forests — designed landscapes incorporating perennial and woody ...

Read More

One size fits all?

Both images courtesy of Shutterstock (Image at right is St. Paul, not St. Cloud, closest I could get) What do St. Cloud, Minnesota and Westerly, Rhode Island have in common? Westerly is ...

Read More