Earthly Paradise–A History of European Gardens: A Four-Part Course with Dr. Alette Fleischer

Earthly Paradise–A History of European Gardens: A Four-Part Course with Dr. Alette Fleischer


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The English philosopher Francis Bacon wrote in 1597 that “God Almightie first Planted a Garden. And indeed, it is the Purest of Humane pleasures. It is the Greatest Refreshment to the Spirits of Man”. The Garden of Eden has inspired more gardens than any other in Western history. Bacon states that gardening is pleasurable, and it provides nourishment for the body and the soul.  This is still the case today: flowers and kitchen herbs grown in pots on a windowsill satisfy our need to garden in modern times.

Throughout our four sessions, we will dive into 800 years of garden history. From the thirteenth to the sixteenth century, we’ll explore how a garden reflected the idea of a Biblical paradise—a walled hortus filled with beautiful, edible, and medicinal plants. During the age of exploration in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, we’ll discover how exotic flowers and fruits were introduced to the European garden—vast geometrically-shaped spaces, with manicured lawns and clipped hedgeswhich symbolized human control over nature. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, we’ll see the rise of the English landscape garden. Garden architects replicated nature’s true essence in meandering paths, waterways, and garden follies, giving the visitor the feeling of walking in a landscape painting. Culminating with the twentieth century, we’ll learn how garden design was influenced by Modernism, and then finally giving way to a more organic way of gardening, where a gardener followed nature, rather than vice versa.

Led by a passionate expert on garden history, Alette Fleischer, this in-depth course will give an overview of garden history in Europe. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with an increased knowledge of the difference in garden styles and that gardening still is the Purest Human Pleasure.

 

Lecture 1: Gardens of Eden

In our first lecture, we will visit monasteries and castles to discover the gardens of the Middle Ages. Here, the walled garden protected plants and flowers from animals and enemies. It was a space for a physical and spiritual retreat. Renaissance gardens evolved from these walled gardens and focused on the collection and study of God’s Creation: nature.

Lecture 2: Baroque Gardens

In our second session, we will travel to France and visit Versailles’ precursor: the gardens of Vaux-le-Vicomte. We’ll also explore the botanical developments and technological inventions in Dutch and French gardens, when gardeners controlled all aspects of nature: shifting earth, redirecting rivers, growing fruits out of season, and making exotic flowers come to bloom.

Lecture 3: The Genius of the Place

English landscape gardens were designed according to the idea that every site had its local divine Genius. In our third session, we’ll learn how gardeners needed to respect and highlight the local divinities by constructing garden grottos, temples, ruins, and other follies. We’ll discover how this natural-feeling garden is very human-made.

Lecture 4: Modern Nature

We’ll conclude our time together in the twentieth century. Modernist garden architecture, with its geometrically compartmentalized plantings, reflected new ideals of housing for the middle classes.

Amsterdam-born Alette Fleischer has a degree in Art History and a PhD in 17th Dutch History, focusing on gardens, science, and technology. She has curated several exhibitions, publishes articles, presents lectures, and a proud Context Expert. For Context Travel, Alette has led the Rijksmuseum tours many times. Motto: staying curious is key for being a good historian.

 

How does it work?

This is a four-part series held weekly and hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule for the specific dates and times for each lecture.

Is there a reading list in advance?

Though the course is open to participants with no background on this topic

there are suggested readings for further investigation. You will receive this soon after course registration.

How long are the lectures?

Each lecture is 90 minutes long with time for Q&A.

How much is the course?

The course is $140 for four lectures.

Is a recording available?

Yes. If you need to miss a lecture, you will be sent a recording after the event.

This course is suitable for all ages

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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