European Gardens: History, Philosophy and Design

Cover - European Gardens

by Tom Turner
(Routledge, London and New York, 2011)

Reviewed by Patrice Todisco

In this richly illustrated book, landscape architect and garden historian, Tom Turner ambitiously traces the evolution of European gardens throughout a 12,000 year period. More than 400 pages in length, European Gardens: History, Philosophy and Design provides a comprehensive introduction to the social, political and artistic ideas that nurtured this unique art form.

Following a design philosophy overview, the book is divided into nine chapters beginning with garden origins and cultivation (10,000 - 1,000 BCE) and concluding with current design trends and abstract and post abstract gardens (1900 - 2000). Although centered on the European tradition, the evolution of gardens in the Fertile Crescent and twentieth century gardens and landscapes in North and South America are described.

Each chapter contains a historic assessment, followed by an analysis of garden plans depicted as style diagrams. References to gardens by notable figures, such as Pliny, are included as well as quotes from contemporary garden and landscape designers. Attention is directed to individual gardens and the context in which they were built, including settlement patterns, urban design principles and regional planning.

Turner has perfected a graphic system that portrays the six key elements of a garden; landform, water, vertical structures, horizontal structures, vegetation and climate, in a clear and consistent format. The style diagrams are used liberally throughout the book and are beautiful in their simplicity. These style diagrams, combines with text and photographs, provide a synopsis of individual gardens that is quickly understood by the reader. The clarity and consistency of the visual information makes it easy to remember, adding value as a reference guide.

The Tuileries in 2012

European Gardens: History, Philosophy and Design includes almost 1,000 historic and contemporary color images and the text is presented in a highly readable format. Turner provides a summary of key concepts, styles, examples and garden terminology throughout, often as outlines.

Comprehensive in scope, the book is mainly as an introduction to key themes and gardens as only one or two paragraphs are dedicated to individual sites. For a more detailed analysis of a garden or period, additional research is necessary. Fortunately for the reader, the book is extensively notated.

Turner concludes with a series of questions inquiring, "What Next?" noting, "From 50 centuries, we can learn about the close relationship between garden design and urban design because both arts involve the composition of buildings with paving, landform, water, vegetation and climate."

An on-line companion guide can be found on the website, The site also includes information on garden history, tours, designers and products and provides access to more than 200 articles and 20 on-line book reviews.

European Gardens: History, Philosophy and Design is the perfect accompaniment to a day spent in the garden and merits consideration by anyone with an interest in garden history and planning.