History and Origin of Landscaping

Contrary to popular belief, landscaping is not a modern phenomenon. Home landscaping has been part of human civilisation for thousands of years. In ancient India, large-scale irrigation technology was prompted by the need for homes to grow flowers, fruits and gardens for praying rituals.

In the Middle East, the cradle of Abrahamic religions, the most famous of the seven wonders of the ancient world was the Hanging Gardens of Babylon – a monumental landscaping project that is still spoken about two millennia after it has gone to dust. And why not? The Babylonians apparently used the Archimedean screw technique to pump up water eighty feet vertically to irrigate the garden!

The Romans, however, took landscaping to another level with advanced gardening techniques and horticultural ornaments. Cato the Elder (234 BC – 149 BC), the legendary Roman senator, soldier and historian, famously noted that every house should ideally have its own garden which should contain beds of flowers and ornamental trees such as the Cyprian laurel and nuptial myrtle. The great Roman horticulturist Columella (4 – c. 70 AD), who beautifully described flowers as “those earthly stars the violet beds unfold their winking eyes”, expounds on the virtue of filling gardens at home with “plants of a thousand colors” in his book, “Carmen Hortorum.”

By the Renaissance period, landscaped gardens became status symbols. Even royalties considered landscaping as a worthy subject at dinner tables. The prevalence of such gardens in the homes of the wealthy elite also allowed women to take safe walks around fenced compounds and entertain guests. It might have even paved the way for courtship rituals and chaperoned walks of suitors and ladies of marriageable age. So strong were the effects of landscaped gardens on the social lifestyle of the elite, painters were regularly commissioned to paint… wait for it… gardens.

Interestingly, the term landscape itself only began to be used around the 17th century. Although a number of language experts claim that the term is borrowed from the Dutch word ‘landskip’, many believe that it is the corruption of the an Old English word, ‘sceppan’, which translates as "to shape".

Regardless, landscape now is part of modern life, and it is here to stay.