'The Authentic Garden', verslag van het symposium gehouden naar aanleiding van het 400-jarig bestaan van de Leidse Hortus Botanicus


  • Corinne J. Sieger





Centuries old gardens, witnesses of sometimes millennia old cultures threaten to vanish all over the world. Since the still remaining gardens gradually meet with appreciation, further research has to be executed to preserve and restore them in a responsible way. Recognition of the garden's authentic parts hereby is essential. Mixing of cultures, decay and injudicious restoration changed many of these gardens into a distorted shadow of the past.

Approaching the art of gardens from different scientific angles the symposium had to reveal artistic and botanical exchanges by different cultures. One of the central themes was the restoration of the Hortus of Clusius at Leiden which has been created in 1593 by the cosmopolite Carolus Clusius, a typical representative of late Renaissance humanistic Europe. Through Clusius scientific contacts many new species like the tulip, the hyacinth and the narcissus were imported from Turkey by way of complex trade routes.

A definitive botanical nomenclature only was laid down in 1753 in Linnaeus' Systema Natura. Clusius' descriptions of the structure of plants however are almost poetic, considering the plant a reflection of God's creation and universal harmony. Many of his discoveries were beautifully rendered by the painter Jacques de Gheyn ll, which water-colours formed a wonderful source at the Hortus' restoration. Only one third of the plants present at that time was of medical nature so Clusius' garden probably was Europe's first Hortus Botanicus. Species from distant countries unfit to resist the northern climate were sheltered in the Ambulacrum on the southern side of the Hortus, which harboured a varied collection of naturalia, ethnographica and historical objects as well. This ‘Theatrum Sapientiae' served both science and education showing riches from a continually extending world.

During the symposium also the reconstruction of other Renaissance garden complexes was treated like the terraced gardens to the north and south of the Viennese Neugebaüde by Maximiliaan II (ca. 1568). Unlike Western gardens the Islamic gardens are turned inwards and rich in refreshing water thus forming an oasis in the midst of the noisy outside world. Walled in by an arcade they consist of a square court with a tile-floor and a basin or pavilion in the centre.

Originally these gardens were meant to reflect paradise, which the Koran describes as a garden. Thorough bio-historical research to trace the origins of the plantation of Spanish-Arabic gardens is very urgent. During the Middle Ages many Arabic and classic writings on botany and medico-pharmacology were spread all over the world by way of Christian Spain. Arabic literature on botany went to Andalusian libraries and was taken to the north by migrating Jewish scientists.

The immense spreading of the Islamic art of gardens was connected with centuries old cultures, which partly assimilated the culture of their predecessors such as the Abbasidian dynasty (7th till 12th century). Persian influences turned the famous monastic gardens of the Abbasidian empire into extensive palace gardens with several inner courts, ingenious irrigation systems and a harbour on the bank of most of these gardens.

The third day of the symposium was dedicated to the memory of the German physician and botanist Philipp von Siebold (1796-1866), who entered the service of the Dutch East-lndian army. After his settlement at Leiden (1829) his collection of Japanese plants, animals and ethnographica was sheltered in the State Herbarium. All his life Von Siebold endeavoured to improve Japanese-Dutch contact.

The Japanese garden partly forms an assimilation of Chinese ideas on the art of gardens, which tradition is grounded on a tradition of 4000 years. Most important characteristic of the Chinese art is the consciousness of the human unity with nature, borrowed from the principle of ‘Tao', the unity of all things. Water and rocks being the most important ingredients man added bridges and pavilions to these gardens, which present themselves to the walker like organic structures.

Most gardens of the late Ming-dynasty (1368-1644) belonged to the aristocracy and to imperial circles. Apart from being a medium to show richness and status these Ming gardens were mainly social spaces where the honoured literati held elegant assembles. At the end of the Ming period a new social class of merchants arose which needed manuals on social and cultural education. Ji Cheng's Yuan Ye (1630) is the first manual on the art of gardens.

Assimilating many Chinese influences the Japanese art of gardens especially developed in the Heian period (9th till 12th century). One of these elements is the 'winding water-path' just as the island in the traditional Japanese garden, the 'Shima' symbolically housing lost unspoiled nature. Although derived from the Chinese tradition the 2000 years old Korean art of gardens differs from the Chinese leaving the extant order of nature as untouched as possible.

The asymmetrical design of these gardens is open and directed towards the surrounding landscape. Characteristic is the partition into a front-, inner- and back-garden with terrace cultivation against a mountain slope thus forming a background to the rest while rocks are used for colourful pavilions and the connection of the different elements.

Thus the symposium on the world's gardens before 1600 pointed out that the collections of Horti Botanici urgently need to be studied at the reconstruction and restoration of historical gardens. For real comprehension one has to examine all of the cultural and scientific as well as economical and social circumstances always considering these gardens came into being in the track of very old cultures which continually affected one another. To recognize authenticity one has to travel far back in history.

Biografie auteur

Corinne J. Sieger

Corinne J Sieger is freelance kunsthistorica te Amsterdam. Zij studeerde kunstgeschiedenis aan de Vrije Universiteit van Amsterdam. Zij werkt aan een onderzoek naar negentiende-eeuwse dierentuinarchitectuur in West-Europa.




Sieger, C. J. (1990). ’The Authentic Garden’, verslag van het symposium gehouden naar aanleiding van het 400-jarig bestaan van de Leidse Hortus Botanicus. Bulletin KNOB, 89(3), 2–10. https://doi.org/10.7480/knob.89.1990.3.519