Re-inventing gardens: A study in garden theory

Kyung-Jin Zoh, University of Pennsylvania


With the rising interest in landscape and nature in the late 20th century, gardening has experienced a renewal in various fields of contemporary culture. This condition calls for a reinterpretation of gardening within a contemporary context. This study investigates three themes in gardening: the contemporary context of gardening, the approaches, both historical and contemporary, of constructing "garden," and the various meanings that are inherent to gardens. The thesis presents a critique of three popular assumptions: first, that the garden is obsolete as a symbolic form; second, that gardening is simply a matter of form and technique; and third, that contemporary gardening is merely a practical activity which lacks value beyond that of "scenery," and "object." First, this study discusses how gardening has been rediscovered both as a significant art-form and as a popular leisure and re-creational activity in the late 20th century. The revitalization of gardening is shown to be a particular evolving cultural force that ought to be characterized as "postmodern." Second, the reinvention of traditional garden making techniques is discussed in an attempt to criticize current emphasis upon design and construction as either excessively aesthetic or instrumental. The revitalization of the reciprocity between mimesis and genius loci is intended as a way of granting meaning to garden making. Third, this study discusses four meanings generated by gardens as "ordinary experience," "sensuality," "liminality," and "metaphor." Designing landscapes with an attention to meanings in contemporary practice will be discussed as an alternative design strategy as opposed to the prevalent convention of formalist design. The thesis argues that gardening is always staging and binding the duality between word and image, immediate experience and metaphor, imagination and reality. Through mediating and reconciling conflicts between culture and nature, creative garden making can pose the possibility of ethical living. A sustained theoretical inquiry suggests that reading/writing/(re)making should be the modes for reinventing garden and that garden theory/history should be restored as the core of landscape architectural theory and practice.

Subject Area

Architecture|Urban planning|Area planning & development|Fine Arts

Recommended Citation

Zoh, Kyung-Jin, "Re-inventing gardens: A study in garden theory" (1994). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9521153.