Natural Landscape Ideas
Image by Ron Porter from Pixabay

Natural Landscape Ideas

You’d like to remake the design in your yard, but you need some ideas to get you started? You’re not sure what style you prefer – an informal or a formal landscape design – but you do know that you’re tired of looking at the existing style, or tired of lawn care? You know what you like when you see it in someone else’s yard, but only at a gut level: you’re not experienced enough in these matters to translate your likes into a plan?

Believe it or not, a quick history lesson might be just the thing to help you better define your own tastes. Understanding how landscape design styles have evolved can clarify for you exactly what it is that you expect from your landscape. Perhaps, without even knowing it, you fall into one of the two major landscaping schools of thought – the formal landscape design with geometric patterns or the informal one that treats such geometric patterns as anathema and strives for a more “natural” look.

In an ethics history class that I took in college, I was particularly struck by an exchange I had with the professor concerning the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. One encounters a lot of talk about “absolutes” when one studies Kant’s philosophy. Being a skeptic regarding such highfalutin terms, I challenged my professor to justify all this business about absolutes. The professor’s response to my challenge was succinct, if nothing else.

“That 2 + 2 = 4, ” he replied, “is an example of an absolute: it was a true statement thousands of years ago, and it will still hold true if we’re speaking it on another planet thousands of years hence.”

While I’ve never been sold on the idea that such a statement has anything to do with ethics, admittedly the link between mathematics and philosophy has a long and distinguished pedigree.

None other than the very fathers of philosophy, the ancient Greeks, were the first to establish it. Perhaps you’ve heard of “Euclidean geometry, ” and you probably remember “the Pythagorean theorem” from high school geometry class. Well Euclid and Pythagoras lived in ancient Greece, and the latter was one of her foremost philosophers. Pythagoras, in turn, influenced Plato, Greece’s most famous philosopher.

In mathematics, and particularly geometry, the Greeks discovered a world of perfection, purity and beauty that could never be sullied by the realities of daily life. It was a sublime refuge from the imperfect world around them, a refuge in which irrefutable absolutes could be summoned at a moment’s notice. Straight lines, level planes, perfect circles: they’re so clean, crisp and definite. Yes, 2 + 2 = 4: there’s something so reassuring, so powerful, so magical about mathematics. Armed with an orderly mindset disciplined by mathematics and in love with geometric patterns, we can even sometimes impose our will upon nature, which is a central theme in Western history, including formal landscape design history.

Yes, the design ramifications of the Greeks’ love for geometry have extended far beyond the geometric patterns for decorative borders that we know as “Greek-key” geometric patterns.