GARDEN HISTORY is a unique and fascinating course, available by home study and online learning. Understand the influence past designs have had on present day design.

Course Code: BHT329
Fee Code: S2
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 100 hours
Qualification Statement of Attainment
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Reasons for studying garden history

If you are to get the most enjoyment out of a painting, then some knowledge of painting techniques and styles will assist you. Likewise, to fully appreciate a game of cricket then a basic grounding in the rules and tactics of play is important. In a similar way, it can be argued that in order to fully understand garden design and the role of gardens in today's world, an appreciation of the evolution of garden history is extremely beneficial.

Nurture your understanding

You may know how being in a particular garden makes you feel in terms of being relaxed, stimulated, and so forth, but without understanding what it is about the components and layout of the garden that triggers those feelings, you are likely to lack some insight. Through knowledge of how garden trends have developed over time it is possible to gain a more informed understanding and appreciation of gardens. As with anything in life, the past informs the present.


The history of the garden is also an important adjunct to the history of civilisations around the world. For instance, the ancient Egyptian gardens provide insight into the values, ideals, and beliefs of that society. The first gardens were an extension of religion and were often annexed to temples. They represented man's perception of an earthly paradise. Water, a scarce resource, was highly valued and was incorporated into these gardens to symbolise the 'river of life'. These gardens were owned by the wealthy and water was brought to them by slaves. Gardens at this time were also useful as well as idealistic. They were designed to incorporate a ready supply of fruit and vegetables for their owners. Gardens were typically walled to protect them from marauders and the harshness of the desert to provide sanctuary and shade.

Throughout the course of history gardens have adapted to changes in the social environment, politics, and ideals. In the UK, for example, gardens have been influenced over the centuries by invasions of different races. Gardens from the Roman era introduced vines, chestnuts and topiary. During the Dark Ages, walled monastery gardens provided refuge for monks. These gardens were self-sufficient and supplied food through vegetables, herbs, fruits, and fishponds as well as an area for contemplation and meditation. Saxon gardens are widely regarded as the origin of the cottage garden. The emphasis was on security and it was not until the Tudor period that this emphasis was relaxed and the garden became an extension of the house. The inclusion and exclusion of nature in the garden has vacillated over time. By studying these different fashions and needs, the garden historian is able to understand the significance of gardens and the importance of their design.  

In today's world, as with years gone by, gardens represent man's attempt to come to terms with his surroundings. These gardens also correspond to ideals and desires and are indicative of the values of our societies today. For city dwellers they are perhaps the only means by which many people can interact with nature and express their creativity. Gardens provide a refuge from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, technology, and industry, and afford their owners the opportunity to find equilibrium in their lives. In order for gardens, whether communal or private, to provide satisfaction in the way that gardens from the past did for their owners, it is important to know why certain garden elements were utilised and to either remove them or adapt them to their surroundings to represent the thoughts and ideals of today's world.

Lesson Structure

There are 8 lessons in this course:

  1. Introduction -A summary review of garden history; Reasons for studying garden history, Scope and nature of garden conservation today
  2. Development of Private Gardens -The historical development of parks and gardens to the present day; identifying key factors such as wealth, status, war, travel and function, and the influence they have had on styles of gardens and designed landscapes.
  3. Development of Public and Commercial Landscapes (Parks, Streetscapes, Commercial landscapes) The historical development of parks & gardens to the present day; identifying key factors such as wealth, status, war, travel and function, and the influence they have had on styles of gardens and designed landscapes.)
  4. Great Gardens and Gardeners of the World - Key individuals such as designers, horticulturists, plant hunters and writers who have influenced horticulture. Study of range of gardens and designed landscapes such as landscape parks, botanic gardens, public parks, private gardens etc, Study examples of gardens and designed landscapes associated with individuals and illustrate the association both from historic and contemporary perspectives.
  5. People who Influenced Gardens -Gardeners, Plant Collectors and Writers (not designers). Key individuals such as designers, horticulturists, plant hunters and writers who have influenced horticulture. Gardens and designed landscapes such as landscape parks, botanic gardens, public parks, private gardens etc. Examine examples of gardens and designed landscapes associated with individuals and illustrate the association both from historic and contemporary perspectives)
  6. Globalisation of Gardens -How different garden histories and cultures are being adapted & applied in modern gardens all over the world today See arange of gardens and designed landscapes such as landscape parks, botanic gardens, public parks, private gardens etc. Examine examples of gardens and designed landscapes associated with individuals and illustrate the association both from historic and contemporary perspectives.
  7. Scope and Nature of Modern Garden Conservation
    • The value of gardens and designed landscapes in terms such as education, heritage, leisure, tourism, plant conservation, economy and conservation of skills. Study
    • threats to these landscapes, available mitigation measures including legal, safeguards, planning policy, planning law and planning bodies.
  8. The Role of Organisations in Garden Conservation -The role of "English Heritage" and it's equivalents in promoting and protecting significant landscapes; and the role of the Register of Parks & Gardens of Special Historic Interest. Learn the role of other organisations such as CABE Space, Local authorities, Historic Houses Association, Garden History Society, National Trust,Council for conservation of plants, and private owners of gardens



The English garden has developed by absorbing successive waves of influence from invasions from the East over the centuries. In each case, that which has emerged has been expressed as being very much English.

During Roman England various plants were introduced such as topiary, vines, and sweet chestnuts, but it is unlikely that the Romans contributed to garden design in England. The ensuing Dark Ages were a time of unrest and barbarism and the only gardens were confined to being behind the walls of monasteries. Within, the monks were able to practice the arts and maintain self-sufficient gardens to serve the dietary needs of the community in the monastery. These gardens were a refuge for meditation and simple in design. They included fishponds, fruits, herbs, and vegetables and were typically sited in fertile valleys. Given the international nature of the Orders, it is likely that the first foreign influences were borne in these gardens. The Saxon cottage gardens of the same period are also thought to be the origin of the cottage garden.

Mediaeval castle gardens and other secular gardens behind the defensive walls and moats also began to emerge. Again, these would have been used to grow food plants but perhaps also some fragrant flowers. At this point in time, gardens were small and enclosed. They had to be secure. The gardens did not relate to the buildings they annexed and were usually asymmetrical. Henry VII was able to impart some sense of peace around the land and so walls were gradually replaced with thorn bushes and wattles which still offered some protection, but which were less imposing. Later these were replaced in turn by pleached trees or trellis. Garden beds which contained herbs and flowers were sometimes mounded and turfed. In fact, turf seats were often incorporated into the garden. Returning Crusaders introduced the concept of decorative water features which link the oasis gardens to the mediaeval cloister and which was usually a well or fountain placed at the intersection of crossing paths. Arbours became popular for growing plants to provide shade. Mounts were introduced from which one could safely view the outside world. 

Some town gardens also started to appear around this time but it was not until after the Wars of the Roses in the Tudor period that people really begin to feel secure enough to develop gardens further. During this time, the ensuing sense of peace meant that the defensive walls were relaxed and gardens became larger. As foreign trade followed there was an influx of wealth and of skilled craftsmen and so gardens and their components became more intricate. Topiary was used frequently and knots replaced plain garden beds. Knots were formed out of intricate patterns of evergreen hedging, sometimes reflecting Celtic design, in between which were stones, coloured earth or flowers. Mazes were common in larger Tudor gardens.

This period also witnessed the emergence of the country house and the break down of the monasteries led to estates. The garden became an extension of the house and no longer needed to be hidden behind defensive walls. Orchards were almost always included within the design. Paths were used to link the forecourt to the house in a much more open way.

There was some French influence in English garden design during the Restoration period of Charles II, but less influence from Italy. However, copying these styles only worked well if done in moderation due to the differences in the natural landscapes of England and France. Gardens which mimicked the French style were very large and lacked intimacy, so much so that hidden gardens or ‘giardino segretos’ were introduced within to provide an area for privacy. Wilderness gardens were also added to embrace nature. Knots were transformed into vast parterres and fountains became water allées. It was, as in France, a time of discovery and of intellect, however in England the aristocracy were more concerned with their country estates than the influences of the king’s court. Gardening reached out into the countryside, woods were planted on estates and thorn hedges used as boundaries. Man tamed the countryside and by the seventeenth century forests had all but disappeared. At the beginning of the eighteenth century Dutch influence added a sense of formality with topiary, and shaped bay and orange trees.

The English Landscape Garden
Landscape gardens emerged as a backlash against the formal garden. Although the emphasis was on the natural landscape, creating these gardens involved man’s intervention as much as, if not more so, than the formal garden. The landscape garden was England’s first truly indigenous garden style. This style is very much at one with the local climate and existing landscape. For the first time the aristocracy were able to express themselves freely through their gardens. There was a shift back from controlling nature to embracing it. No longer did man consider himself superior but rather he viewed himself as a part of nature. The landscape style was an idealised natural landscape interlaced with the surrounding countryside, incorporating architecture and statuary of French and Italian Palladian influence. They were, in short, the English interpretation of the oasis or paradise garden, known as Elysiums.

At the end of the nineteenth century there was a return of the formal garden.     


Some people study garden history because they love history; and others study it because they love gardens. If either is your passion, that may be all the reason you need to take this course.

For anyone who works as a landscape or horticulture professional though; the benefits of this course will take on a completely different perspective.

Gardening is, and has always been influenced by fashion. Like art, clothing and architecture, garden styles change constantly. Gardens in one era may be influenced more by formality, and at another time, influenced by informality, Warm, bright colours may become trendy; then go out of fashion, being replaced by cool colours. These different influences and others, come and go; then return again, throughout history.
As you study different gardens throughout history, you can become aware of the dominant influences upon design at different points in time.
A study of garden history helps you to better appreciate and understand what ideas underpin different types of gardens, in different places, and at different points in time. By developing such an understanding, your ability to create different types of gardens, will expand.
Anyone who attempts to renovate or maintain an old garden in particular, must understand garden history.

 This course will change the way you look at gardens; particularly gardens that are well established. You will value the integrity of the design in their original creation, and will understand the significance of anything you do to renovate, maintain or change an older garden.

Member of the International Herb Association since 1988

UK Register of Learning Providers, UK PRN10000112

Our principal John Mason is a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Horticulture

Accredited ACS Global Partner

ACS Distance Education is a member of the Australian Garden Council, Our Principal John Mason is a board member of the Australian Garden Council

Member of the Nursery and Garden Industry Association since 1993

ACS is a silver sponsor of the AIH. The principal, John Mason, is a fellow. ACS certificate students are offered a free membership for this leading professional body.Provider.

Member of the Permaculture Association

Member of Study Gold Coast

Institute of Training and Occupational Learning (UK)

Principal John Mason is a member of Parks and Leisure Australia since 1974 and a fellow since 1998

Principal John Mason has been a member of the International Society of Horticultural Science, since 2003

Recognised since 1999 by IARC

Course Contributors

The following academics were involved in the development and/or updating of this course.

Rosemary Davies (Horticulturist)

Rosemary trained in Horticulture at Melbourne Universities Burnley campus; studying all aspects of horticulture -vegetable and fruit production, landscaping, amenity, turf, aboriculture and the horticultural sciences.
Initially she worked with the Depart

Bob James (Horticulturist)

Bob has over 50 years of experience in horticulture across both production sectors (Crops and nursery) and amenity sectors of the industry.
He holds a Diploma in Agriculture and Degree in Horticulture from the University of Queensland; as well as a Maste

John Mason (Horticulturist)

Parks Manager, Nurseryman, Landscape Designer, Garden Writer and Consultant.
Over 40 years experience; working in Victoria, Queensland and the UK.
He is one of the most widely published garden writers in the world; author of more than 70 books and edito

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