WARNING: This blog post has a lot of cool images!

Rösel von Rosenhof, August Johann et al. Historia naturalis ranarum nostratium: in qua omnes earum proprietates, praesertim quae ad generationem ipsarum pertinent, fusius ennarrantur. Nürnberg: gedrucht bey Johann Joseph Fleischmann, 1758. Print. – Frontispiece.

 “Humans have long turned to gardens—both real and imaginary—for sanctuary from the frenzy and tumult that surrounds them. Those gardens may be as far away from everyday reality as Gilgamesh’s garden of the gods or as near as our own backyard, but in their very conception and the marks they bear of human care and cultivation, gardens stand as restorative, nourishing, necessary havens.”

  • Robert Pogue Harrison Gardens: An essay on the human condition.
The Florist and Pomologist: A pictorial monthly magazine. London: Journal of Horticulture Office, 1872. p.15,16.
Austen, Ralph. A Treatise of Fruit-Trees… Together with The Spiritual Use of an Orchard… Oxford: Printed for Tho: Robinson, 1653. Print.

What is it about gardens that so attracts us? They have been the subject of poetry, literature, and religion. From the beginning of civilization, gardens have been in every city, every culture, and every era of history. Gardens are all around us, they provide shelter, food, amusement, and medicine. They are places for prayer, for celebration, for love, for learning, for pleasure, for communion with nature, and for contemplation. And throughout literature, in every culture, they serve as symbols for the circle of life and death, reflecting ideas of nature and nurture.

Falda, Giovanni Battista. Li giardini di Roma, disegnate da Giovanni Battisto Falda. Nuovamente dati alle stampe con direttione di Giov. Giacome de Sandrart… Norimberga: Giov. Giacomo de Sandrart, 1686. Print.

Taking a deep dive into the Sutro collection, gardens of every type reveal themselves – from book bindings to title page vignettes to photographs to the myriad works on gardens, horticulture, and industrial agriculture, its universality is unmistakable. Humans are intrinsically tied to gardens. In The Gardener’s Year, Czech author and social critic Karel Čapek holds, that to the gardner, gardening is not a subset of life, but rather life is a subset of gardening.[1] His book is not only a literary Czech masterpiece and practical guide to gardening, but a passionate discourse on his tending to his garden over the course of a year. Where the seasons and nature constantly change everything in the garden, and the author indulges in the drama wrought.

[1] Robert Pogue Harrison. Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2008. Web.

Giovanni Battista. Li giardini di Roma, disegnate da Giovanni Battisto Falda. Nuovamente dati alle stampe con direttione di Giov. Giacome de Sandrart… Norimberga: Giov. Giacomo de Sandrart, 1686. Print Li giardini di Roma, disegnate da Giovanni Battisto Falda.

Looking through the Sutro stacks, many species of gardens start to emerge: pleasure gardens, working gardens, public gardens, artists’ gardens, kitchen gardens, home gardens, imaginary and literary, as well as medicinal. They have been the backdrop of the most profound human drama, from the biblical Garden of Eden to some of the most memorable scenes in literature. The famous scene in Romeo and Juliet takes place in an walled garden orchard where even the words used to profess their love for each other reflect nature: “This bud of love, by summer’s ripening breath, May prove a beauteous flower when next we meet.”

Shakespeare, William, and Charles Knight. The Works of William Shakspere [sic] : Containing His Plays and Poems, from the Text of the Editions by Charles Knight; with Glossarial Notes; and Facts Connected with His Life and Writings, Abridged from “William Shakspere [sic], a Biography”. London: H.G. Bohn, 1862. Print.

Gardens of Literature

Schedel, Hartmann, and Georg. Alt. Das buch der Croniken vnnd geschichten mit figuren vnd pildnussen von Anbeginn der welt bis auff dise vnsere Zeÿt. Augsburg: Johann Schönsperger, 1496. Print.

Cultivation of natural resources is essential to our existence. The Earth provides the basic things we need to survive, but without human cultivation civilization would not exist as it does, with numerous food staples having gone extinct. And while we physically rely on some form of gardening and agriculture, its symbolic nature is equally as powerful. Perhaps no garden has more notoriety than the Christian Garden of Eden. In Christianity, not only is the earthly garden the place where humanity falls from God’s grace, but Paradise is itself described as pleasure garden, where the righteous go in the afterlife.

Part of frontispiece of Salmon, William. Botanologia, the English Herbal : or, History of Plants. London: H. Rhodes, 1710. Print.
Baldelli-Boni, Giovanni Battista. Vita di Giovanni Boccacci. Firenze: C. Ciardetti e comp., 1806. Print.
Darwin, Erasmus et al. The Botanic Garden : a Poem, in Two Parts : Part I. Containing The Economy of Vegetation : Part II. The Loves of the Plants : with Philosophical Notes. London: Printed for J. Johnson, St. Paul’s Church-Yard, 1791. Print.

The word Paradise actually derives from the Persian word for walled around garden or park, pairideiza and in Greek, παράδεισος – pronounced parádeisos, which was an enclosed park for animals. Similar forms of the word appear throughout various cultures to describe some kind of enclosed space or garden.

Salmon, William. Botanologia, the English Herbal : or, History of Plants. London: H. Rhodes, 1710. Print.

In ancient Greece, philosophers and schools were also creating gardens. Epicurus taught that the ultimate goal for humans is to attain “spiritual tranquility,” and similarly to tending to a garden, nurturing the soul allows it to grow and thrive. To that end, Epicurus had his students tend to a garden. 

Ancient Greek philosopher Plato, had Academic gardens near a grove dedicated to the hero Academas. His “decision to plant his school in a park on the margins of Athens – removed enough to listen to the voice of reason, close enough to stay within earshot of the citizens set a pattern for the future history of academia in the West.”[1]

[1] Robert Pogue Harrison. Gardens: an essay on the human condition. University of Chicago Press, 2008, 39.

Ebers, Georg, Clara Bell, and Samuel Birch. Egypt, Descriptive, Historical, and Picturesque . London ;: Cassell, Petter, Galpin and Co., 1881. Print.

In the world of ancient Egypt there were three types of gardens: sacred, produce, and domestic/pleasure gardens. For the the Royal Garden of Thotmes III, attached to the Temple of Karnak, Queen Hatshepsit sent people to collect insense, myrrh and trees for her fathers temple. And within the many sacred gardens, ritual regeneration and fertility were on display. In addition to this, ancient Egyptians had herbal gardens. A 2700 BCE work by Imhotep contained 300 herbal remedies – with plants for medicines, cooking, cosmetics, and perfume.[1]

[1] Linda Farrar. Gardens and Gardeners of the Ancient World: History, Myth and Archaeology. Oxford: Oxbow, 2015. Web.

Stieler, Karl et al. Italy from the Alps to Mount Etna . New York: Scribner, Welford, & Armstrong, 1877. Print.

Along with Persia, Egypt introduced gardens to Rome around 60 BCE. The above image shows a peristyle garden, a style that provided privacy in overcrowded Roman cities as well as green space, light, and space for entertaining.

Stieler, Karl et al. Italy from the Alps to Mount Etna . New York: Scribner, Welford, & Armstrong, 1877. Print.

During the Middle Ages the biblical Garden of Eden influenced the creation of two designs: a pleasure garden and an enclosed one.[1] Professors at the time would teach Anatomy, Surgery, and Botany. And during this period, gardens were planted for “observing and admiring nature.”[2]

[1] Amy L. Tigner. Literature and the Renaissance Garden from Elizabeth I to Charles II. Taylor and Francis, 2016. Web, 4.

[2] Arthur W. Hill. “The History and Functions of Botanic Gardens.” Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 2.1/2 (1915): 185-240. Web.

Falda, Giovanni Battista. Li giardini di Roma, disegnate da Giovanni Battisto Falda. Nuovamente dati alle stampe con direttione di Giov. Giacome de Sandrart… Norimberga: Giov. Giacomo de Sandrart, 1686. Print.

Monastic gardens credited to Charlemagne, are cited as laying the foundations of modern botanic gardens. Physic gardens and simple gardens were enclosed for planting medicinal herbs.[1]

[1] Ibid.

William Salmon. Botanogia, the English herbal: or, History of plants. London: H. Rhodes, 1710.

One of the first types of gardens to be printed were ones about herbal gardens. An example in Sutro’s collection is this 1710 copy of the English Herbal by William Salmon, a successful physician in Restoration-era London. His specialty was mixing exotic ingredients to make drugs to treat patients. At the time doctors would cultivate “medicinal plants in order to safeguard the Practioner against the Herbalist and to enable him to have a correct knowledge of the plants which were the source of the drugs he himself would have to compound.”[1]

[1] Ibid.

Miller, Philip. The Gardener’s Dictionary : Containing the Methods of Cultivating and Improving the Kitchen, Fruit and Flower Garden, as Also the Physick Garden, Wilderness, Conservatory and Vineyard. London: Printed for the author, and sold by C. Rivington, 1731. Print.
Withering, William. A Botanical Arrangement of All the Vegetables Naturally Growing in Great Britain : with Descriptions of the Genera and Species, According to the System of the Celebrated Linnaeus … . Birmingham: T. Cadell, 1776. Print.

Moving through the Renaissance into the Enlightenment, the motivation to try to create classification systems to document plants, flowers, trees, etc., increased. “From the late sixteenth century and throughout the seventeenth century, we see the beginning of intense horticultural study, the development of the botanical garden, and the use of these scientific gardens as a means of both understanding the expanding world and expressing colonial aspirations.” With collection and cultivation of plants come also the interest in their description and illustration.”[1]

[1] Victoria Emma Pagán, Judith W Page, and Brigitte Weltman-Aron. Disciples of Flora. Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2015. Web, 6.

Edwards, Sydenham, and Robert Sweet. The Ornamental Flower Garden and Shrubbery : Containing Coloured Figures and Descriptions of the Most Beautiful and Curious Flowering Plants and Shrubs Cultivated in Great Britain . London: G. Willis …., 1852. Print.

From an early age Carl Linnaeus love the natural world. Considered the father of taxonomy, he introduced the framework and naming system of genera and species. His first publication in 1735, Systema Naturae (“The System of Nature”), gave birth to the universal use of the Linnaean system. Classification, was shown in this work to be based on whether something was animal, vegetable, or mineral. Linnaeus is a giant in world of biology, influencing generations of scientists. Prior to Linnaeus, naming practices were not uniform. ” The need for a workable naming system was made even greater by the huge number of plants and animals that were being brought back to Europe from Asia, Africa, and the Americas. After experimenting with various alternatives, Linnaeus simplified naming immensely by designating one Latin name to indicate the genus, and one as a “shorthand” name for the species.”[1]

[1] https://ucmp.berkeley.edu/history/linnaeus.html Retrieved 07/09/2021

Herbarium of Lord Petre collected by John Bartram before 1742.

Sutro’s collection also includes the herbarium of Lord Petre which was collected by John Bartram in America before 1742. John Bartram is one of the first American botanists and in 1728 founded the botanical garden in Philadelphia. He began collecting specimens and soon had a business selling specimens to individuals abroad.

Versailles and Trianon. Paris?: [publisher not identified], 1870. Print.

Gardens in France during the eighteenth century were everywhere. Apart from the famous gardens of the palace of Versailles, Marie Antoinette had her own garden for just her and her friends – away from the scrutiny of the court called Petit Trianon. Her reputation was damaged by rumors of trysts and nighttime walks in the garden causing a public scandal.

Versailles and Trianon. Paris?: [publisher not identified], 1870. Print.


A quick look at Japan. Sutro library has a large collection of resources on Japan. Japanese gardens developed over a 2000 year period. They are naturalistic, while also being steeped in symbolism. The four main themes are “awareness of the power of nature, Buddhist teaching, literature, and the tea ceremony.”[1]  Sand represents rivers, while rocks represent river gods.

[1] Seiko Goto, and Takahiro Naka. Japanese Gardens. London: Routledge, 2015. Web, 1.

Unprocessed collected of Japanese woodblock prints.

An aspect central to Japanese gardens is designing a garden as a “miniature” of a real world landscape. “In addition to miniaturization, the elements of a Japanese garden often have a double meaning (mitate) to suggest a story or philosophy with the given scenery.”[1]

The tea ceremony which developed in 1392-1573 BCE is another unique aspect of Japanese gardens. “The Japanese tea ceremony is not merely an occasion for drinking a cup of tea, but a refined artistic moment in which to experience aesthetic beauty.” It was part of every individuals’ life, no matter what social strata one occupied.[2]

[1] Ibid.,3.

[2] Ibid.,9.

Unprocessed collected of Japanese woodblock prints.

Above is an image from Sutro’s copy of the Tale of Genji in an accordion fold. Written in the 11th century by a Japanese noblewoman, it reveals insights into aristocratic customs and values of the time. “The scenes of the novel were painted on picture scrolls and recreated in gardens.” Seventeenth century Japanese Prince Toshihito “designed the garden not only to recreate a pictorial image from Tale of Genji, but to create a world with a view of the island and the sound of pine trees where he could play the role of Genji.”[1]

Unprocessed collected of Japanese woodblock prints.

The Japanese tea ceremony, called chanoyu or sadō is secular and sacred, and depending on how it is practiced is seen as “an inner, or spiritual, experience of human communication similar to Zen meditation, which involves finding oneself by experiencing nature.” The ceremony is represented by wabi and sabi (synonymous with purity and serenity) – central concepts to the design of tea houses and their adjoining gardens.[2]

[1] Ibid.,26.

[2] Ibid.,27.

Industrial revolution to the Present

Vizetelly, Henry. A History of Champagne : with Notes on the Other Sparkling Wines of France . London: Southeran, 1882. Print.

With urbanization and the swelling cities of concrete, civic leaders and governments realized that designated green spaces were necessary for health and sanity. And in both Germany and Britain efforts were made “to solve social problems and build new communities through urban agriculture.”[1] Urban gardens, parks, and other green spaces are now an essential element in just about every modern city. Even public transportation beautifies its concrete and mechanical by planting trees and other natural elements.

[1] McNeur, Catherine. “Food and the City: Histories of Culture and Cultivation Ed. by Dorothée Imbert (review).” Buildings & Landscapes 24 (2017): 120-22. Web.

Rockridge Bart Station Oakland, CA 94618 – taken by Sutro Librarian Diana Kohnke

And in a 1998 report by University of California, Berkeley, “together with what it costs to groom other planted areas in the state, such as parks and schools, all told a whopping $9.7 billion is spent annually in California on “environmental horticulture”: potted plants from Home Depot, fertilizer, tools, water and everything else that goes into making yards, schools and parks beautiful.”[1]  Sutro’s collection shows the breadth of what gardens mean to our humanity and to our survival. If you take the time to look, you’ll notice that gardens exist all around us – symbolically and physically.

[1] https://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/98legacy/11-23-1998a.html, retrieved 6/28/2021

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