A designed garden

Archaeologist uncovers origins of garden design

A University of Exeter archaeologist has revealed the origins of modern garden design in a new book. Dr Oliver Creighton’s book Designs upon the Land: Elite landscapes of the Middle Ages traces the beginnings of designed landscapes back to the Norman period.

The phrase 'designed landscape' is generally associated with the great parks and gardens of the post-medieval period, with grand country houses surrounded by parkland, such as Chatsworth and Longleat. However, this book explains how the people began to create designed landscapes in the Middle Ages. Local sites featured include Okehampton Castle in Devon and Restormel Castle in Cornwall.

This book offers the first full-length survey of designed medieval landscapes, not just the settings for castles, but for palaces, manor houses and monastic institutions. Gardens and pleasure grounds gave their owners sensory enjoyment; lakes, ponds and walkways created routes of approach that displayed residences to best effect; deer parks were stunning backdrops and venues for aristocratic enjoyment; and peacocks, swans, rabbits and doves were some of the many species which lent these landscapes their elite appearance.

The book is illustrated with plans, maps and photographs showing the evidence that we can still see today.

Dr Oliver Creighton says: “Historic parks and gardens are among the nation’s foremost tourist attractions, but many people will be surprised at how far back in time we can trace the idea of altering the landscape to make it beautiful and pleasurable”

Oliver Creighton, who lives near Exeter, is a landscape archaeologist and medievalist who specialises in the study of medieval castles, towns and elite landscapes. He has a particular research interest in the impact of status and authority on past landscapes.

Designs upon the Land: Elite landscapes of the Middle Ages is published by Boydell & Brewer. It can be purchased online from the publishers and from some bookshops.

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