Hot Debate Coming Up: Do Gardens Qualify as Art?

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The Royal Hort Society is holding a debate I’d love to hear.  The topic is: “Are Gardens Art?” and get a load of the line-up of debaters — a critic, a designer, a plantsperson and a philosopher:

  • Andrew Wilson (Chair of the debate panel) – Award winning Garden Designer, lecturer and writer
  • Anne Wareham – Editor of ThinkinGardens, garden critic and creator of the garden at Veddw House. Anne is campaigning to have gardens returned to their place amongst the fine arts of British Culture
  • Kathryn Aalto – A professional garden designer, historian, writer and speaker. Kathryn is concerned with both strong, contemporary design and an analytical view of garden history
  • Dr. Noel Kingsbury – Garden writer, reader, lecturer and teacher. Noel is an occasional designer, concerned with naturalistic and sustainable planting design who makes decisions based on science and evidence
  • Professor David Cooper – Emeritus Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Durham. David is the author of A Philosophy of Gardens (2006) which discusses the position of gardens as art or nature. Booking is recommended but not essential. 

The debate is being held at the RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey.  BUT, according to Anne Wareham, the could be made public (via Youtube, etc) if we show a little interest in it – by email.  So if you’d like to hear these folks go at it, email to say so:  (Wisley contacted us to say they’re unable to film the debate, so could we remove this encouragement of emails to that end.)

Photo of Monet’s Giverny by Juergen Kurlvink.  Posted by Susan Harris

Posted by

Garden Rant
on June 17, 2014 at 1:40 pm, in the category But is it Art?.


  1. admin 23 July, 2017 at 21:35

    Interesting, but how can it be a debate when all of the panelists are involved with gardens? Shouldn’t there be some artists or art experts who are not gardeny?

  2. Vera 28 July, 2017 at 17:08

    That sounds really interesting! And Giverny would be an interesting study case – we visited the garden a month ago ( and I was thinking about how hard it must be to be a head gardener in a garden that people do not want to change in the slightest. Yet part of the beauty of gardens is their continuous evolution and in my view by trying to keep the garden static, it loses some of its charm. Would love to hear the debate!

  3. nwphillygardener 29 July, 2017 at 15:44

    Of course there can be no debate which can answer the proposed question vis-a-vis garden-making as an art form since there’s so little agreement on the purpose of Art, whether as a personal mode of self-expression or as a conscious means to communicate a specific idea/feeling to an audience. But it seems so clearly advantageous for us all to help promote gardening as an art form. Just as anyone can pick up a pencil and draw, the same goes for trowels and planting. What really makes the “Art of Gardening” so difficult is it’s dynamic nature over time, whether that’s the tenure of the gardener, the impact of changing seasons, daily weather and sunlight conditions.

  4. kermit 29 July, 2017 at 16:38

    Hmm. Garden art would be the opposite of a building designed to be (or later chosen to be) a container for art – an art museum… Perhaps my garden is just a really fancy presentation of my one simple, concrete, Japanese lantern.

  5. Amateur Bot-ann-ist 29 July, 2017 at 16:58

    Alan is correct in noting that there are no art experts. This is because gardening is not considered fine art. It is design. To an art historian it falls under the category of craft, as do many other beautiful things such as the best cuisine in the world. Chefs are not Artists, but there have been Artists who’ve gardened. Gardening does not make one an artist in the same way that being a fantastic amateur cook does not make you a Chef or even a Sous Chef. These titles are earned. That is why we call garden and landscape professionals Garden Designers or Landscape Architects and not Garden Artists. Design is a craft and only the best of any design may be called art. (I believe in my canonical art history text from my undergraduate years André Le Nôtre, Monet’s Giverney, and Capability Brown all made appearances.)

  6. skr 29 July, 2017 at 17:00

    Landscape architecture is a relatively recent delineation within the realm of architecture. As such I think we can look at architecture to see if both landscape architecture and architecture fall within the scope of fine art or as it had been called for a much longer time ‘high art’. In that case, it most definitely is fine art as architecture has been considered one of the high arts as long as there has been a classification of ‘high art’. Of course back then the only high arts were painting, sculpture, and architecture. Take that photographers ;p.

  7. skr 30 July, 2017 at 07:48

    Oh, and if you want a semantic argument the art school I went to lumped furniture, landscape, architecture, and land art under the singular rubric of ‘environmental art’ as in the three dimensional human environment.

  8. kermit 30 July, 2017 at 11:00

    Tsk. I wasn’t aware that “artist” was a regulated title that people had to qualify for. Surely it is a different category from chef, dentist, and lawyer.

  9. Anne Wareham 30 July, 2017 at 13:29

    Doctor Cooper will be playing devil’s advocate, I gather – and I understand you have all been effective and that it will be filmed. All being well..

  10. Mark Lozier 30 July, 2017 at 16:30

    Well if it is art, I’ve identified it’s first critic. Since early this morning my friend and nemesis Sammy the Squirrel has been showering my garden with twigs and other detritus as he builds another nest in the Sycamore tree that overhangs both my deck and the garden. Talk about a negative review. Ugh!

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