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19 February 2020From Monochrome to Polychrome: How Colour Transformed the Art of Garden Design

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From Monochrome to Polychrome: How Colour Transformed the Art of Garden Design
Timothy Walker Wednesday 19 February 2020

You are invited to join us for a fascinating special interest day about the history of the art and colours of garden design, to be held at Crudwell Village Hall.

An activity that we would recognise as gardening has its origins 10,500 years ago in the transition from nomadic hunting and gathering to a sedentary life-style that culminated in the dominance of an agricultural society. Before this our ancestors had already begun creating art in the rocks and in caves. The point at which gardening-to-stay alive was joined by gardening-as-art is unclear. Theophrastus cultivated plants more than 2,300 years ago so that he could study them more conveniently. Sri Lankans created gardens in honour of the god of water 1,500 years ago. It is probable that it was within this religious paradigm that the layout of gardens, and the selection and juxtaposition of the plants, was first considered to be important. 

At some point considerations already familiar to fine artists, such as harmony and contrast, started to come into play, but Nature is a fickle palette. These are not “lifeless pools of paint on a palette” (Jekyll 1888) but living organisms with their own agendas, with the result that a garden can be ephemeral and uncontrolled. The creation and use of new pigments, dyes, and media is analogous to the introduction and cultivation of new plants. While the utility of gardening persists, gardens are also created to reflect philosophical ideas and provoke emotional responses.  As we enter the period known now as the anthropocene, do gardens have a new role to play in addition to their utility and their art?

This study day will try to answer some overlapping questions.

  • What is a garden?
  • What influences garden design?
  • Is garden design art?
  • Do gardens and art both reflect the society in which they are rooted?
  • What role does colour play in the design of gardens?
  • In what ways are the principles of garden design different from those of fine art?
  • Are there any parallels between the motivations for creating gardens and creating works of art?

The lens through which the discussion is focused will be the 400-year-old Oxford Botanic Gardens and gardens created by the lecturer and his wife. However, other examples of gardens from around Britain and other parts of the world will be included to illustrate the answers to the questions.


  • 10:30    Broadening the Palette
  • 11:30    Coffee
  • 12:00    Seeing the Light
  • 13:00    Lunch
  • 14:30    Planting the Picture
  • 15:30    End


The cost person is £42 per person which covers coffee and a delicious lunch as well as the three lectures. To book a place on this Special Interest Day please download, complete and return the booking form.

Timothy Walker

Since 1986 Timothy has given 1,500 public lectures. This was originally part of his work as director of the Oxford University Botanic Garden from 1988 to 2014. Botanic gardens are often described as living museums, and garden curators lecture about them in the same way as museum curators talk about their collections. Since 2014 he has been a college lecturer and tutor at Somerville College Oxford. Gardens are often thought of a place where science and art meet on equal terms. His lectures investigate this relationship.