The origin of landscape design is impossible to determine. It didn’t start with a particular person or movement: like all design, it came to meet the needs of people organically throughout history. No one suddenly decided that we needed to scrupulously plan where to place our trees and flowerbeds – landscape architecture was developed to make an aspect of our lives even better, and has played this role excellently throughout our past.
Although the first mention of the incredible combination of gardens and design was undoubtedly the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, there is some controversy about their historical correctness. Although their Characteristics and status as one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World are attractive, we really don’t know where to separate history from mythology. Although many experts have detailed the function, design, and creator of Hanging Gardens, there is still no Babylonian information to document them first hand, and there is no archaeological evidence that unquestionably proves their existence – so we will have to look elsewhere for a more useful place to start.
Possibly the first appearance of what we consider modern landscaping arose during the rise of the Roman Empire. The Romans lived in a more urban environment than anyone else until that time in history, and they needed a refuge in the city from their busy social life. As a goal, the ancient Roman gardens developed a reassuring combination of ornamental plants, mosaics, and fountains – the gardens were also charged with religious symbolism.
This closely designed landscape design contrasted with the landscape design to be developed in the east, where Chinese and Japanese gardeners would try to make their landscape as discreet and undesigned as possible. Landscape design also took a big step forward in Persia, where remarkable underground aqueducts were designed to keep luxurious gardens alive in the arid environment. In fact, there is some evidence that Roman gardens were profoundly influenced by Persian gardening techniques.
These are just a few examples of the many forms landscaping has taken over the years, but it really seemed to enter its adolescence in the 19th century. The term “landscape architecture” was coined by Gilbert Meason in his book “On The Landscape Architecture of the Great Painters of Italy”, where he wrote about Italian masterpieces of landscape painting. The meaning of the term has changed somewhat since its inception, the transformation helped with the use of an expression in the winning work for the design of Central Park in New York City. In the mid-20th century, landscape designers were called “landscape gardeners,” but Frederick Olmsted denied this limiting name and adopted the name “landscape architect.
In recent times, there has been a movement towards Landscape Urbanism, which is mixing an urban environment with nature. With more and more people living in urban environments, landscaping has to fit and work together with urban planning, causing some exceptional combinations of asphalt and mulch. This change of attitude is undoubtedly a modern phenomenon, but in reality, it is not so unique. Think of those Ancient Roman Gardens: when avant-garde landscapers use a combination of design, gardening, and an urban location, they are doing the same as the Romans.