English Garden Landscape Design: the case of the Wörlitzer Park

Last thursday, we visited Dessau (which is located just beyond Berlin’s commuter belt). Amongst other things, we visited one of the finer English gardens of Europe: the Wörlitzer Park.

The English poet and essayist Alexander Pope (1688-1744) had a significant influence on the design of landscapes. More specifically, his ideas layed the foundation for the English garden-style of landscape design. In a 1713 essay in the Guardian,  he praised the “amiable simplicity of unadorned nature” in place of the formal garden; and he proclaimed, “In all, let nature never be forgot . . . Consult the genius of the place.” This mantra continues to influence the practice of landscape architecture even today. The visual look of the English gardens was inspired by paintings of European landscapes of romanticized rural areas.

The English Garden design style is one of the most prominent design philosophies in the history of landscape architecture. Its signature features are gracious curves, lush green lawns,  fragrant and colorful blooms, secluded seating areas, and meandering walkways  beneath majestic trees. Not to mention, follies. These gardens are remniscent of the traditional, tranquil (and somewhat romanticized) English countryside.

A follie in the landscape in the Wörlitzer park

The Wörlitzer Park (or Das Gartenreich Dessau-Wörlitzer in German) is the perfect example of English garden landscape design. Indeed, it is one of the first (and one of the largest) English landscape gardens in continental Europe. It is on Unesco’s list of world heritage sites.

Winding, shaded paths, flowers, a body of water and follies in the distance: Wörlitzer Park is a typical English Garden

The Wörlitzer Park was created in the 18th century by duke Leopold III of Saxony. Its landscape architect was Johann Friedrich Eyserbeck. The garden was designed on the principles of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who considered the agriculture to be the foundation of daily life and pointed out the educational role of the natural landscape. This reflects the ‘zeitgeist’ of the era of Enlightenment. The garden honors this philosophy with “Rousseau island”, which is a copy of the island of Ermenonville in France’s Picardy region, where Jean-Jacques Rousseau is burried.

Rousseau Island

Agriculture as a basis for daily life: the Wörlitzer Park is surrounded by farm land

The most important feature of the Wörlitzer Park, to me, is its accessibility; it has always been accessible to the general public (which was not too common for extensive gardens in the 18th century). This makes it an admirable, historical example of public open space.

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