This is an extract from:
Nature and Ideology
Natural Garden Design in the Twentieth Century
© 1997 Dumbarton Oaks
Trustees for Harvard University
Printed in the United States of America
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection
as volume 18 in the series
Dumbarton Oaks Colloquium on the History of Landscape Architecture
edited by Joachim Wolschke-Bulmahn
Rousseau, Goethe, Humboldt: Their Influence
on Later Advocates of the Nature Garden
henever the topic of nature gardens is raised,their proponents refer frequently to Rousseau,
Goethe, and Humboldt. In some cases this is based on a real familiarity with the actual
views of nature set forth by these three figures.Often enough,however,their names are invoked
without any genuine familiarity with their writings purely in order to legitimate one’s own
views.But even those among the garden theorists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries who
were indeed knowledgeable about the writings of Rousseau,Goethe,and Humboldt have often
blended the views set forth by these three thinkers with their own.This is especially true of the
nature garden concept, which has undergone a sweeping transformation over the past 250 years
from anthropomorphic-aesthetic to biocentric-ecological notions.Individual elements of today’s
outlook were, to be sure, already intuitively anticipated by Rousseau, Goethe, and Humboldt,
but during that era these strains had not yet taken on the urgency they have today in light of
looming ecological catastrophes.The following history of the nature garden concept, which is
framed within a broader history of changing concepts of nature,will not be limited to examining
the influence of the ideas of Rousseau, Goethe, and Humboldt. Simultaneously, the aim is to
trace the development,at times distorted by nationalistic tendencies,of an awakening and grow-
ing ecological awareness within the highly industrialized countries of the West.
The idea of the nature garden, conceived of as a space in which the human spirit could
experience a sense of freedom and release from absolutist and clerical chains, has its origins in a
phase of the Enlightenment known as the Age of Sentimentality.England was the first country to
provide the ideological, social, and socioeconomic grounding for this development. Following
the plans of William Kent through those of Humphry Repton,starting around 1720,both nobles
and wealthy middle-class commoners began commissioning a new kind of garden.The enlight-
ened liberalism of such thinkers as Anthony Shaftesbury, John Locke,Alexander Pope, and Jo-
seph Addison influenced in garden design a shift away from strict rules based on an absolutist
“mastery of nature”toward a more “rational”concept of imitatio naturae.The artificial irregular-
Translated from the German by Jennifer Redmann and James Steakley.
ity of these new gardens was to reflect the principles of enlightened tolerance,
and thus provide
a space for strollers to experience themselves as liberated, independent beings.The atmosphere
of these gardens, interspersed as they were with impressive architectural monuments, allowed
members of the wealthy,colonializing bourgeoisie to experience themselves as representatives of
enlightened natural rights and at the same time,as rational and proper parvenus,in their ability to
participate in the “genteel life in the country”
once closed to all but the nobility.
Within eighteenth-century French gardening, however, this move toward “naturalness”
was of a very different character.The English,striving for a colonial empire,had opened oppor-
tunities for upward mobility among middle-class businessmen as well as the chance to gain
political power through the Whig party.In France,on the other hand,the entrenched position of
the monarchy until 1789 led to either the expulsion or the social marginalization of bourgeois
Enlightenment thinkers. French proponents of natural rights were able to live out their ideals
only within literary utopias, and thus remained dependent on the patronage of enlightened
members of the nobility.
The most famous of these outsiders was Jean-Jacques Rousseau,author of the novel Julie ou
la Nouvelle Héloise. First published in 1761, it appeared in more than a hundred editions and
translations during the forty years that followed. Within the novel’s utopian idyll at Clarens,
Rousseau describes a “garden of trees”whose very“irregularity”was an attempt to approximate
as closely as possible the wild growth of nature.
The use of “dragons and pagodas,”“manicured
trees,” and “elaborate wrought-iron work” to intensify the aesthetic impact of the garden was
rejected as a mere reflection of the “owner’s vanity.”
Instead,by avoiding every kind of architec-
tural decoration, the owners of nature gardens sought to create an “Elysium,” one that would
exude the magic of pristine nature.They even called upon strollers to exhibit restraint in their
behavior so as not to frighten off the birds.In this garden,everything was to be living nature,not
art.“The error of those who allegedly have good taste,”we read in one passage,“is that they want
to have art everywhere and can never be satisfied because they never have enough of it; they
would instead demonstrate real taste by concealing art, especially in matters of nature.”
nature garden dispenses not just with carefully positioned works of arts but also with the exotic
allure of plants,shrubs,and trees imported from distant lands.Saint-Preux,shown this garden by
Julie, is therefore so overwhelmed by the natural charm of the whole that he writes:
I began to traverse this transformed arboreal garden in a transport of joy; and even
though I encountered within it no foreign plants, no products of India, I did find the
indigenous plants so ordered and combined that they produced a delightful, charming
effect.Growing up in the growing,lush,but trim and firm lawn were balsam plants,thyme,
Cf. M. L. Gothein, Geschichte der Gartenkunst, Jena, 1926, 365–84; A. Hoffmann, Der Landschaftsgarten, Ham-
burg, 1963, 15–64; and B.Wagner, Gärten und Utopien: Natur- und Glücksvorstellungen in der französischen Spätaufklärung,
Vienna, 1985, 29–41.
Cf. M. Girouard, Life in the English Country House:A Social and Architectural History, New Haven, 1978.
J. J. Rousseau, Julie oder die neue Heloise, Frankfurt am Main, 1810, 114–69.
ROUSSEAU, GOETHE, HUMBOLDT
marjoram, and other fragrant herbs. One saw thousands of wildflowers shimmering there,
among which the eye surprisingly discerned a few garden flowers that seemed to grow
naturally with the others.From time to time I came upon dark shrubbery,impenetrable for
the rays of the sun, like the densest forest. In open spots I saw here and there without any
order rose hedges, raspberry thickets,currants,lilac, hazelnut shrubs, jasmine, broom, trifo-
lium, all of which adorned the countryside and gave it the appearance of an uncultivated
In contrast to the French physiocrats,who tried to defend the feudal system as a manifesta-
tion of “God’s will”
through laws for the agricultural use of the soil, the utopian radicality of
this idyll was based on the call for human life to return to a state of paradise. Although this
postulate was adopted by many French Enlightenment thinkers,its social realization was limited
to sentimental enthusiasm for such creations as the Petit Trianon or to the efforts of noble pa-
trons.The Marquis de Girardin,a friend of Rousseau,drew up plans for a park in Ermenonville,
complete with a shepherd’s hut,a philosopher’s temple,inscriptions carved into the face of a cliff,
and eventually Rousseau’s own gravesite.
These ideas acquired political momentum only after 1789,when they were taken up by the
Jacobins,almost all of whom were Rousseau enthusiasts.
According to these groups,everything
was to correspond with nature: the political constitution, the conditions of production, social
behavior, table manners, education, love. By “natural” they understood a simplicity reminiscent
of the lifestyle of the Golden Age.Their ideal landscape was the English garden as seen through
Rousseau’s eyes, and as a result the true radicals of the Jacobin movement began converting
baroque pleasure gardens into landscape gardens,freeing the animals confined in the noble me-
nageries, planting groves of “freedom trees,” drawing up plans for future “garden cities,” and
erecting green mounds in the apse of churches to honor the “Highest Being.” All of this was
aimed at strengthening republican feelings through a reconciliation with nature, a revolutio back
to the original state of being. Some Jacobins even expressed ecological views, advocating the
reforestation of large tracts in order to improve the purity of air and water.Rather than continu-
ing to live in the “stone desert” of Paris, they suggested transforming the city into a natural
paradise by creating parks and planting roof gardens.One convinced Rousseauist by the name of
François-Noël Babeuf went so far as to call for the dissolution of all cities and the subsequent
creation of a garden landscape interspersed with small villages (Fig.1).
Of these dreams and utopias,none was realized after 1794.The upper-middle classes of this
period interpreted natural freedom as the freedom to promote industrialization,unlimited com-
petition,and commerce.In short,it was a liberation into capitalism.The triadic ideal of “liberty,
equality,fraternity,”which the Rousseau enthusiasts among the Jacobins had attempted to realize
Wagner, Gärten und Utopien, 160.
Cf. J. Hermand, Grüne Utopien in Deutschland: Zur Geschichte des ökologischen Bewußtseins, Frankfurt am Main,
H.C.and E.Harten,Die Versöhnung mit der Natur:Freiheitsbäume,republikanische Wälder,heilige Berge und Tugendparks
in der Französischen Revolution, Reinbek, 1989, 23 ff.
through a paradisiacal natural landscape,was replaced by a one-sided concept of liberty.This was
a freedom without social consciousness, one which was solely concerned with using personal
property to achieve the greatest possible profit. It was no longer the citoyens, with their orienta-
tion toward the ideal of nature, who steered the political and economic course in France, but
rather the middle-class parvenus.The victory of the Gironde in 1794 dashed all hopes of equality
and fraternity not only within human society but with regard to nature as well.
The second half of the eighteenth century in Germany witnessed a similar,if not identical,
development in landscape gardening. Initially the depressed economic situation of the middle
class meant that only a small number of princes and nobles took an interest in the ideals of the
English garden or the nature garden inspired by Rousseau.The most famous of these sympathiz-
ers was Prince Leopold Friedrich Franz von Anhalt who, after undertaking extensive travels in
England in the early 1770s, laid out near Dessau a sentimental-style park in Wörlitz featuring a
Rousseau Island.Despite its many architectural attributes,the natural irregularity of the park as
well as its accessibility to the public bore witness to its creator’s spirit of Enlightenment and
freedom. As a result,Wörlitz became a pilgrimage site for nature lovers and sentimental souls.
Johann Wolfgang Goethe,whose novel The Sorrows of Young Werther (Die Leiden des jungen Werthers),
published in 1774,showed the influence of Rousseau’s work,visited Wörlitz on 14 May 1778.To
his close friend in Weimar, Charlotte von Stein, Goethe wrote:“It is endlessly beautiful here.As
1. The garden in Garzau, ca. 1800,
ROUSSEAU, GOETHE, HUMBOLDT
we wandered among the lakes, canals, and forests yesterday evening, I was moved by the way in
which the gods had allowed the Prince to create all around himself a dream.When one walks
through it, it is like the telling of a fairy tale, it has the character of the Elysian Fields.”
But it was not simply Rousseau’s work and the visit to Wörlitz that moved Goethe and
other sentimental Enlightenment thinkers to imagine idealized nature in the form of a park.
Further contributors to this development were the widespread pastoral verse, such as Salomon
Gessner’s Idylls (1756) (Fig. 2),
and Christian Cay Lorenz Hirschfeld’s Theory of the Art of Gar-
dening (1775) (Theorie der Gartenkunst) (Figs.3,4).Given the ever-increasing human intervention
within nature, through the leveling of rivers,deforestation of mixed woodlands, and intensified
agricultural methods,such works as these inspired in kindred spirits a longing for a pure,paradi-
siacal life in harmony with nature. Due to the outsider status of such intellectuals, however, this
longing did not, as in Paris, translate into political activism, but rather led to a flight into an
Truly radical thinkers, such as Carl Ignaz Geiger, in his novel Gustav Wolart
2. Illustration in Salomon Gessner’s
Idyllen, Zurich, 1756, etching
Cf. H. S. Schneider, ed., Idyllen der Deutschen, Frankfurt am Main, 1987, 356 f; and G. Bersier, “Arcadia
Revitalized:The International Appeal of Gessner’s ‘Idylls’ in the 18th Century,” in From the Greeks to the Greens: Images of
the Simple Life, ed. R. Grimm and J. Hermand, Madison,Wisc., 1989, 34–47.
Cf. S. Gerndt, Idealisierte Natur: Die literarische Kontroverse um den Landschaftsgarten des 18. und frühen 19.
Jahrhunderts in Deutschland, Stuttgart, 1981.
3. Title page of C. C. L. Hirschfeld’s
Theorie der Gartenkunst, Leipzig,vol.2,1780
4. Illustration in Hirschfeld’s
Theorie der Gartenkunst, 1780
C. C. L. Hirschfeld, Theorie der Gartenkunst, Stuttgart, 1990, 33, 56, 58. Regarding Hirschfeld in general, cf.
Hoffmann, Der Landschaftsgarten, 15–64; and L. Parschall, “C. C. L. Hirschfeld’s Concept of the Garden in the German
Enlightenment,” Journal of Garden History 13 (1993), 125–65.
5. Bath house,illustration in Hermann von
Pückler-Muskau’s Andeutungen über
Landschaftsgärtnerei, 1834, etching
(1782), and Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz, in his short story The Forest Brother (1797) (Der
Waldbruder),depicted situations in which the disappointed main characters turned their backs on
civilization and retired to a Rousseauistic existence in lonely forest cottages. Not all Enlighten-
ment minds, however, were so defiant in their thinking. After much hesitation and discontent,
most accepted the fact that,given the conditions in Germany,it was possible to realize the idea of
the landscape garden only in cooperation with the princes and the nobility, and here it was
Hirschfeld who served as the exemplary figure. Influenced by the English, he did not focus on
political tendencies in the planning of gardens, but rather on questions of “taste.” Hirschfeld
emphasized that gardens were first and foremost to be places where one could “enjoy in peace and
comfort all of the advantages of life in the country and the pleasures of the seasons.”
The outbreak of the French Revolution was followed by a period of Jacobin excesses that
stirred fear in the minds of Enlightenment thinkers.As a result,the German Rousseauists agreed
to a series of compromises with the aristocracy which also affected their ideas about landscape
gardens. In the period that followed, the efforts of Ludwig von Sckell, Peter Joseph Lenné, and
Prince Hermann von Pückler-Muskau led to the creation of a number of landscape gardens:in
the valley of Seifersdorf, in Garzau,in Munich,in Kassel-Wilhelmshöhe,in Muskau,in Branitz,
and all around Berlin (Fig. 5).
However, the original dream of creating in these parks a new
world of beauty and closeness to nature eventually gave way to ideals of classical harmony and
noble refinement, leaving little room for bourgeois aspirations.
Even Goethe, the main representative of the Weimar court of muses, bowed to this trend
and,in the 1780s and 1790s,abandoned his Rousseauist enthusiasm for gardens.He moved from
his small garden house (Fig.6),which was located outside the city on the Ilm River in the center
of an idyllically laid-out nature garden, to an impressive townhouse with a simple kitchen gar-
Goethe retained a strong interest in nature,however,and increasingly devoted himself to
the natural sciences and natural philosophy.
After critically examining the basic physical laws of
Isaac Newton, he arrived at the insight that there is nothing purely mechanical, inorganic, or
soulless in nature, but that everything within nature is tied together in a Spinozistic-pantheistic
way. Instead of strictly distinguishing between spirit and matter in the realm of the humanly
6. S. Rösel, Goethe’s garden house near Weimar, ca. 1800, lithograph
(after A. Hoffmann, Der Landschaftsgarten, Hamburg, 1963, fig. 33; vol. 3 of
D. Hennebo and A. Hoffmann, eds., Geschichte der deutschen Gartenkunst;
courtesy of Dieter Hennebo)
Cf. H. Günther, ed., Gärten der Goethezeit, Leipzig, 1993.
Cf. P. O. Rave, Gärten der Goethezeit, Berlin, 1981, 46–64.
Cf. J.Hermand,“Freiheit in der Bindung:Goethes grüne Weltfrömmigkeit,”in Wettlauf mit der Zeit:Ansätze zu
einer ökologiebewußten Ästhetik, J. Hermand, Berlin, 1991, 29–52.
ROUSSEAU, GOETHE, HUMBOLDT
graspable,Goethe adhered ever more to a monistic worldview,within which even human beings
are only a part of nature and its laws.From his Elective Affinities (1809) (Die Wahlverwandtschaften)
up to his death in the year 1832,he therefore created a series of works whose protagonists violate
the prestabilized natural harmony by their violent intrusions into nature.Thus the aged Faust
brings the last guilt upon himself by having the idyllic garden of Philemon and Baucis destroyed
in order to remove the final hindrance to building a dike that rapes nature.
simultaneously expresses the insight that, because of the growing number of people and their
heightened needs, such measures are ineluctable, which ultimately imbues this scene with a
Similar views were held by Goethe’s friend Friedrich Schiller.He too regretted all forceful
human incursions into nature, such as the “stiffness” of seventeenth-century French parks, and
advocated gardens—beautiful but useful—in which as little violence as possible would be done
Alexander von Humboldt, who, like Schiller, was connected with Goethe, scarcely
commented on landscape architecture.When he did mention gardens,it was in association with
the botanical gardens in Berlin,which inspired in him a desire to visit unknown,faraway lands.
This fact is borne out by his Ideas on a Physiognomics of Plant Life (Ideen zu einer Physiognomik der
Gewächse) of 1806,as well as the description of non-European biospheres which he published in
1808 under the title Views of Nature (Ansichten der Natur).In these works,Humboldt introduced
his readers to the concept of multifaceted geographical, geological, climatological, and biologi-
cal interdependencies, which he in his book Ideas on a Geography of Plants (1807) (Ideen zu einer
Geographie der Pflanzen) characterized as vegetative communities—what in current terminology
would be called ecological systems. At the same time, Humboldt sought to inspire a higher
pleasure in nature,particularly through his descriptions of the South American forests with their
overwhelming richness of fauna and flora.Here Humboldt explicitly stated that in these forests,
“sinful man has not yet begun to do damage,”and that the sensitive soul might still listen to the
many “voices of nature.”To Humboldt,the civilized countries of Western Europe seemed almost
“barbaric” in comparison, for in spite of their cultural refinements, the Europeans showed an
increasing lack of consideration for the natural associations of plants,shrubs,and trees.
to counter this damage done by civilization, Humboldt firmly championed protecting indig-
enous flora and its natural requirements.In the process he already arrived at specifically ecologi-
cal insights,noting,for example,that “the same tract of land suffices to support one meat-eating
man, ten grain-eating men, or 250 fruit-eating men.”
He concluded that, with reasonable
planning,not all of the existing wilderness and all landscape gardens would have to be sacrificed
to a principle of progress based on constantly increasing needs.
Cf. M. Niedermeier, Das Ende der Idylle: Symbolik, Zeitbezug, “Gartenrevolution” in Goethes Roman “Die
Wahlverwandtschaften,” Berlin, 1992, and idem,“Goethe und die ‘Revolution’ in der Gartenkunst seiner Zeit,” in Gärten
der Goethezeit (as above, note 13), ed. Günther, 9–27.
Cf. Hermand,“Freiheit in der Bindung,” 46–49.
F. G. Jünger, Gärten des Abend- und Morgenlands, Munich, 1960, 165 f.
A. Forbes Sieveking, ed.,The Praise of Gardens:An Epitome of the Literature of the Garden-Art, London,1899,232.
A. von Humboldt, Ansichten der Natur, Nördlingen, 1986, 193, 226.
Quoted by H. Hardt, Im Zukunftsstaat, Berlin and Leipzig, 1905, 76.
7. Peter Joseph Lenné,
lithograph by Friedrich Jentzen after a drawing
by Franz Krüger, 1837
8. Volksgarten Magdeburg (People’s Garden in Magdeburg), designed by Peter Joseph Lenné, 1824, etching
ROUSSEAU, GOETHE, HUMBOLDT
With this we have reached a first stopping point in the developments sketched here.With
Rousseau, Goethe, and Humboldt, an epoch in the history of the nature and landscape garden
comes to a close that had started with great expectations and finally saw itself confronted with a
new situation.Any utopian expectation of a sentimental,pantheistic,or nature-preserving over-
all transformation of existing conditions had to be adapted to the onset of the capitalistic market
economy as well as the associated industrialization, urbanization, and population growth.The
effects of these developments on the planning of parks and nature gardens were as follows.The
early liberal-defiant concepts of freedom and ecological equality—ideas which had originally
been tied to the idea of the landscape garden—shifted into the background,to be replaced over
the course of the nineteenth century with a vulgarized form of the English garden.Those re-
sponsible for the planning of city parks made use of large lawns, randomly interspersed with
groups of bushes and trees. Peter Joseph Lenné’s People’s Park in Magdeburg may serve as one
example (Figs.7,8).These lawns and trees required little maintenance and therefore placed little
financial strain on city budgets. Little remained of the original idea of the landscape garden,
which had been shaped by Rousseauistic-Jacobin influences.Instead,these parks were decorated
with architectural elements and monuments to famous men, proof of the triumph of a man-
centered worldview over one based on “closeness to nature.”Many botanical gardens were founded
on the same principle, focusing on education in an anthropocentric sense rather than on the
amelioration and preservation of nature.
The second half of the nineteenth century marked a gradual change in this situation. In
England,which had seen the most ruthless development of capitalism in the form of Manchester
liberalism,John Ruskin and others began calling for a return to preindustrial conditions,both for
aesthetic reasons and for the preservation of nature.Voicing his support for this demand,William
Morris set his utopian novel News from Nowhere (1890) at a time in which factories and cities have
disappeared and all of England has been transformed into one huge garden.The people in the
novel practice their occupations as craftsmen,gardeners,and farmers with pleasure,for the disso-
lution of capitalism marked the end of the competitive drive for profit as well. Few, however—
not even William Robinson,who gave his theoretical tract on gardening the promising title The
Wild Garden (1870)—carried these ideas as far as the socialist Morris.Most English garden theo-
rists remained within a liberal framework and thus emphasized reform, striving for a balance
between nature and industrial progress.Their outlook was more closely approximated in books
such as Reginald Blomfield’s The Formal Garden in England (1892), in which the garden is pre-
sented as an idyllic resting space for the upper-middle classes. In contrast to the eighteenth-
century’s sentimental enthusiasts,they no longer sought to imitate the paradisiacal originality of
nature but instead placed themselves in the service of that bourgeois conviction that produced
the Garden City movement.In other words,their gardens,in an eclectic mixture of architectural
and gardening elements, were supposed to serve their owners as a “second living room” or an
Similar developments were also taking place in the United States during these decades.In a
1901 book entitled Picturesque Gardens, American garden theorist Charles Henderson wrote that
Cf. Gothein, Geschichte der Gartenkunst, 457.
the older principle of “wild gardening” ought to be limited to the “neglected spots” beneath
shade trees or between bushes.
Nevertheless, around the turn of the century, the names of
Rousseau, Goethe, Schiller, and Humboldt, among others, were still finding their way into
English and American publications,such as The Praise of Gardens (1899) byAlbert Forbes Sieveking.
Their names, however, were no longer associated with any specific notions of sentimentalism,
pantheism, or natural plant associations, but instead served only to demonstrate cultural sophis-
tication or a vague “love of nature.” Much the same can be said of books published in the
twenties and thirties, such as Everybody’s Garden (1930) by Frank A.Waugh,
to cite just one
arbitrarily selected example.But this is no longer true of more recent Anglo-American books on
the subject of gardening,despite the emphasis many of these works place on the preservation of
nature because of a growing ecological awareness. Such works as Ken Druse’s The Naturalist’s
Garden (1992), Ruth Shaw Ernst’s The Naturalist’s Garden: How to Garden with Plants That Attract
Birds, Butterflies, and Other Wildlife (1993),Viki Ferreniea’s Wildflowers in Your Garden (1993), and
Sara Stein’s Noah’s Garden: Restoring the Ecology of Our Own Backyard (1993) hold out promising
titles, but they no longer contain any references to Rousseau, Goethe, Schiller, or Humboldt.
Developments in Germany, however, took a different course around 1900, even though
among garden theorists there was a group of reformers influenced by English models and who
emphasized, in the spirit of the Garden City movement, the concept of a garden as a “living
space” for human occupants.
Publications such as Hermann Muthesius’ Country House and
Garden (1907) (Landhaus und Garten),Christian Ranck’s The History of Gardening (1909) (Geschichte
der Gartenkunst),Leberecht Migge’s Garden Culture of the Twentieth Century (1913) (Die Gartenkultur
des 20.Jahrhunderts),and Martin Wagner’s The Sanitary Green of Cities (1915) (Das sanitäre Grün der
Städte) reflected the economic upswing of these years,and accentuated in particular the value of
gardens and parks as places of respite from the “nervous rush” of the big city.
such ideas clearly identified with the new type of English garden.They distanced themselves
from a supposedly “fruitless imitation of nature” and called instead for gardens in which the
middle class “could really live like at home.”
These theorists saw themselves as confident repre-
sentatives of a coming world civilization,one whose primary values were capitalist productivity
and a democratic spirit of reform.In this civilization,“romantic”notions of nature (Romantizismen)
were viewed as hopelessly outdated.
But alongside these trends within garden theory there were others that attempted to uphold
older concepts of nature and wild gardens out of an aversion for the cult of industrial progress.
Unlike the reformers who, in following the English example, masked their market economy
C.Henderson,Picturesque Gardens,New York,1901,128.On the ideas of nature gardens as propounded by Jens
Jensen and Lorrie Otto in the Midwest around the turn of the century, see O.Tanner, Gardening America: Regional and
Historical Influences on the Contemporary Garden, New York, 1990, 138, 146.
Forbes Sieveking, The Praise of Gardens,232, and S. Parsons, The Art of Landscape Architecture: Its Development and
Its Application to Modern Landscape Gardening, New York, 1915, 2, 17.
F. A.Waugh, Everybody’s Garden, London, 1930, 25.
Cf. Gothein, Geschichte der Gartenkunst, 452.
C. Ranck, Geschichte der Gartenkunst, Leipzig, 1909, 98.
ROUSSEAU, GOETHE, HUMBOLDT
orientation even in their garden concepts with such phrases as “modern” or “current,” these
other groups were not afraid to identify the ideology behind their views.To support their theo-
ries,they turned to statements from cultural greats such as Rousseau,Goethe,or Humboldt.We
can differentiate here among a number of divergent directions,for,although all of these theorists
saw themselves as closely tied to nature, their worldviews and political goals showed marked
Until the second half of the nineteenth century, the older form of the English garden
continued to stand as the preferred model in Germany,even as the princely exclusivity of some
gardens (such as Pückler-Muskau’s parks) was transformed into the more communal style of the
city park.Around the turn of the century, however, a new group of theorists appeared on the
scene, protesting both the vulgarization of older concepts of the English garden as well as the
pragmatic character of the “modern”ideals of the country house and garden city.The concerns
of these theorists extended beyond the concrete realization of their ideals to the development of
a completely new concept of nature. Depending on the theorists’ ideological orientation, these
concepts were based on either pantheistic-Goethean,ecological-preservationist,neoreligious,or
national ideas, although at times these ideas clearly overlapped with one another.
The pantheistic concepts of the age of Goethe were influential with those garden theorists
who opposed increasing commercialization and the plundering of nature, but at the same time
shied away from national or nationalistic tendencies.This was particularly true of the Monist
Society, which, led by Ernst Haeckel, subscribed to Goethe’s idea of a “green piety within the
world”(grüne Weltfrömmigkeit).This concept had its basis in a pantheistic philosophy of the iden-
tity of spirit and matter,and saw even in the most inconspicuous phenomena of nature signs of
the workings of God.
Among the proponents of this movement were Arno Holz, Johannes
Schlaf, Bruno Wille, Cäsar Fleischlen, and Waldemar Bonsels.Their publications evoked lyrical
images of nature as a single, endless garden, without really being a garden at all.This kind of
enthusiatic,noncommittal position was,however,not enough for other pantheists of the period,
especially Rudolf Steiner, founder of the Anthroposophic Society.The point of departure for
Steiner’s book Foundations for an Epistemology of the Goethean Worldview (1887) (Grundlinien einer
Erkenntnistheorie der Goetheschen Weltanschauung) was a monistic view of the world which sup-
ported neoreligious, holistic thought based on an identity of spirit and matter. Although this
understanding did not lead to any concrete concepts for gardens, through it Steiner became a
proponent of a “biologically dynamic agriculture” that would point the way for many ecologi-
cally minded garden theorists in the future.
Among the movements without religious leanings, which primarily advocated protecting
the natural wilderness,a national component held sway.This fact is expressed most clearly in the
work of Ernst Rudorff,whose writings were influenced byWilhelm Heinrich Riehl.In his 1901
book Heimatschutz,as well as a number of essays which preceded it,Rudorff protested the ever-
increasing commercialization of the German landscape,claiming that it was being “squeezed to
the last drop”in the name of personal profit and pleasure.
In attempting to halt the hectic pace
Cf. Hermand, Grüne Utopien in Deutschland, 71–73.
Ernst Rudorff, Heimatschutz, 2nd ed., Leipzig, 1901, 80 ff.
of the destruction of nature,Rudorff called for the creation of large nature reserves as an alterna-
tive to watching passively as the German landscape progressively fell victim to acts of industrial
The Wandervogel movement raised even sharper objections to “Americanization,”that
is, the uncontrolled destruction of nature for industrial development.
This viewpoint took on
apocalyptic proportions in Ludwig Klages’ 1913 essay “Man and the Earth” (“Der Mensch und
die Erde”).As a potential antidote to this problem,Klages turned to ideas of German Romanti-
cism grounded in a nationalistically tinged admiration for nature.
In the area of garden theory,this perspective was expressed most fervently in two books by
Paul Schultze-Naumburg:Gardens (1902) (Gärten) and The Disfigurement of Our Countryside (1905)
(Die Entstellung unseres Landes). According to Schultze-Naumburg, each garden should inspire
feelings of being “at home” (Heimatgefühle), of belonging.
As a result, in spite of its reformist
tendencies, Schultze-Naumburg decisively rejected the “modern”-style garden, and, with sharp
invectives against the desolation of “cold, sober abstraction” within commercial international-
ism,called for a return to the ideals of the late eighteenth-century garden.
In so doing,he did,
however, carefully avoid any digressions into the sentimental or pantheistic.Although Schultze-
Naumburg was chairman of the preservationist Heimatschutz league, founded in 1904, the eco-
logical viewpoints one might have expected him to voice were instead only hinted at.
Such a garden theorist as Willy Lange, whose early publications on the nature garden in-
cluded Garden Design for Modern Times (1907) (Gartengestaltung der Neuzeit) (Figs.9,10),Country
and Garden Colonies (1910) (Land- und Gartensiedlungen), and The Garden and Its Planting (1913)
(Der Garten und seine Bepflanzung), often fell back on humanistic concepts, and he referred re-
peatedly to Rousseau,Goethe,Schiller,and Humboldt in an attempt to demonstrate,like Eugen
Gradmann in his 1910 book Homeland Protection and Landscape Cultivation (Heimatschutz und
Landschaftspflege), an allegedly “idealistic” position as well as a sense for the inner connections
between individual plant groups.
Lange was one of the first to take up the concept of “ecology”
initially introduced by Ernst Haeckel in his 1866 book General Morphology of Organisms (Generelle
Morphologie der Organismen).He used the concept,however,not in the sense of preserving nature,
but as “the science of communal living among entire groups” of similar species or, in other
words,as a “physiognomical understanding of the plant world within nature”in the Humboldtian
What Lange and a Heimatschützer such as Schultze-Naumburg had in common was the
decisive emphasis placed on the need for rootedness in a place, an understanding of a region, in
Ibid., 15, 44, 96.
See P. Morris-Keitel, Literatur der deutschen Jugendbewegung: Bürgerliche Ökologiekonzepte zwischen 1900 und
1918, Frankfurt am Main, 1994.
L. Klages, Der Mensch und die Erde, 2nd ed., Leipzig, 1937, 34–35.
P. Schultze-Naumburg, Gärten, Munich, 1902, 277.
P. Schultze-Naumburg, Die Entstellung unseres Landes, Halle, 1905, 69.
W. Lange, Der Garten und seine Bepflanzung, Stuttgart, 1913, 11, 13, 57 f, and Eugen Gradmann, Heimatschutz
und Landschaftspflege, Stuttgart, 1910, 4.
W. Lange, Die Gartengestaltung der Neuzeit, Leipzig, 1907, 14. Cf. also G. Gröning and J.Wolschke-Bulmahn,
“Changes in the Philosophy of Garden Architecture in the 20th Century and Their Impact upon the Social and Spatial
Environment,” Journal of Garden History 9, 2 (1989), 54 ff.
ROUSSEAU, GOETHE, HUMBOLDT
9. (above)Willy Lange,
“Ein ‘landschaftlicher’ Garten,
ärmer als die Natur”
(a cheap imitation of “nature”),
illustration in his book
Gartengestaltung der Neuzeit,
10. Willy Lange,
(the natural beauty of forests),
illustration in his book Gartengestaltung
der Neuzeit, 1907
11. Title page of Wilhelm Bölsche’s book
Goethe im 20. Jahrhundert, Berlin, 1903
Lange did not,however,connect these ideas with the preservation of
One of the few to express biological concerns with regard to the planning of gardens was
Wilhelm Bölsche,like Schulze-Naumburg a founder of the Heimatschutz league.Under the title
“Die and Become!” (1913) (“Stirb und Werde!”), a quote from Goethe, Bölsche called for the
transformation of private gardens into truly natural gardens,biospheres dedicated to the preser-
vation of the “native plant and animal world” (Fig. 11). Bölsche made these suggestions in an
effort to expand the notion of Heimatschutz beyond the narrow regional or national domain into
the realm of ecology:
Every owner of a sizable garden,park,or estate could easily,with a small allotment of
land, create a small reserve, a protective corner for the indigenous animal and plant king-
doms.It suffices to dedicate permanently a corner (preferably one already naturally favored)
to pure nature, in part leaving it entirely to itself, in part enriching it by the addition of
indigenous fauna and flora, but at any rate placing it under a separate rule for the foresee-
able future that disregards its ordinary use value and consciously proclaims the goal of
natural protection for this spot. Following carefully considered principles, which are al-
ready clearly set forth in the available literature,one will provide here nesting sites for birds;
Lange, Die Gartengestaltung, 103. Cf. also J.Wolschke-Bulmahn,“The ‘Wild Garden’ and the ‘Nature Garden’:
Aspects of the Garden Ideology of William Robinson and Willy Lange,” Journal of Garden History 12 (1992), 183–206.
ROUSSEAU, GOETHE, HUMBOLDT
seek to transplant rare and already disappearing regional plants to this spot; in contrast to
the purely destructive sweeps of ordinary collectors and dealers, try to attract instructive,
beautiful, and characteristic butterflies and beetles by introducing plants they feed on; and
by bringing in live caterpillars and chrysalises etc. to support them in their life cycle and
thereby increase their numbers; and other such things.
Bölsche therefore called upon all Heimatschützer to contribute to saving wild plants and wild
animals, not just by words but by establishing the sort of nature gardens he described. Even the
smallest parcel of land appeared to him suitable for transformation into a nature garden:
Of course, the larger the spot,the better, the more certain its effect.The undertaking
could be most successful, however, if as many landowners as possible participated in as
many places as possible.The very division into small parcels is of great advantage,not simply
because the overall area can be repeatedly tended from outside more effectively, but also
because in keeping with certain biological laws many small asylums offer a greater prospect
for “rescuing” animal and plant species than a single large one.
As we know,the outbreak of World War I in August 1914 put an end to both questionable
and sensible efforts in the ecological sphere.The revolutionary unrest and the devastating effects
of hyperinflation during the period from 1919 to 1923 meant that it was a number of years
before people once again began to take an interest in such seemingly minor matters as garden
planning.On the liberal side,in the spirit of the German movement known as New Objectivity,
this renewed interest entailed the creation of cleaned-up green spaces and useful house gardens.
Supporters on this end of the ideological spectrum had little use for appeals to Goethean human-
ism or the cultivation of indigenous flora.They were fascinated by the metropolis, technology,
sports,and leisure activities,but not by the patient work of gardening.And with that,the repre-
sentatives of this point of view left the field of garden planning to national-conservative circles.
By the mid-twenties,the conservatives had reached compromises with rapidly developing indus-
trialization, a process which allowed Germany to move into the number two position among
industrialized nations in 1929.The conservative ideal was a “cultural landscape,” one in which
industrial areas were integrated into the whole of the German landscape while doing as little
damage to nature as possible.The conservatives still attempted, as best they could, to hang onto
a fundamentally regional, ecological orientation, as demonstrated by the activities of the still
existent Heimatschutz league.
At this time, garden and landscape theories began exhibiting prefascist tendencies. One
example is the sixth edition of Willy Lange’s Garden Design for Modern Times. Although in this
work one still finds such venerable names as Rousseau and Humboldt,
the influence of Hous-
ton Stewart Chamberlain and Oswald Spengler is apparent in the portrayal of the nature garden
as a specifically “northern”idea,whereas the garden that includes architectural elements is deni-
W. Bölsche, Stirb und Werde! Naturwissenschaftliche und kulturelle Plaudereien, Jena, 1913, 175. Cf. also idem,
Goethe im 20. Jahrhundert, Berlin, 1903.
W. Lange, Gartengestaltung der Neuzeit, 6th ed., Leipzig, 1928, 8.
grated as “Mediterranean.”
Although Lange lived until 1941, nothing more was heard from
him after this point. His students and supporters, however, in abandoning any enlightened-
sentimental or Goethean-humanistic concepts, brought a fascist character to the “Nordic” no-
tion of the nature garden even before the National Socialists came to power. Around 1930,
following the example of Caspar David Friedrich’s projected memorial for the fallen soldiers of
the German Wars of Liberation of 1812–15, as well as the Kriegsgräberhaine (war grave groves)
designed by Willy Lange in 1915, they had already begun designing so-called Heldenhaine (he-
roes’ groves) commemorating soldiers killed in World War I. Cemeteries for volkish-oriented
groups, as laid out by Rudolf Bergfeld, author of the 1912 book The Nature-Form Garden (Der
Naturformgarten),were to have the qualities of supposedly Germanic “ancestral burial grounds.”
As a result, when Adolf Hitler took power on 30 January 1933, there was little need to
change ideological direction in this area, although disappointments did occur. In spite of the
National Socialists’cult of the farmer and nature, which implied a renewed belief that the Ger-
man Volk was “rooted in the soil,” the “Nordic” enthusiasts, sworn only to the principle of
natural growth, and the anthroposophists, with their monistic-neoreligious orientation, soon
realized that the National Socialists were not purely interested in the greater preservation of
nature.Although a National Nature Conservancy Law (Reichsnaturschutzgesetzgebung) came into
existence between 1934 and 1936,the National Socialists were also committed to the rebuilding
of German industry following the world depression of 1929, in order to develop the military
technology needed for the imperial expansion of the Third Reich.
Thus, after 1933, the camp of the theoretical and practical gardeners was not fully con-
formist.Alongside the usual opportunists,who will always be found mouthing the words of the
powerful, there were the blind idealists and the careful compromisers who conformed to the
new Reich in order to continue their conservation efforts.Among the more than fanatical op-
portunists was Hans Hasler,whose 1939 book The German Art of Gardens (Deutsche Gartenkunst)
provided a timely fascist, racist grounding for Willy Lange’s idea of the Nordic nature garden
(Fig. 12). In Hasler’s book a name such as Goethe’s is nowhere to be found, for Hasler is solely
concerned with the “spirit of the Nordic race” which, he claimed,first appeared in the English
garden and subsequently reached its highest level of development in Germany.
Even in discuss-
ing,with regard to garden planning,the “relationships of various flowers,shrubs,and trees within
ecological habitats,” Hasler refers neither to Humboldt nor to Haeckel, but instead to such a
protofascist as Willy Lange.
The blind idealists among the nature lovers and garden theorists, on the other hand, came
from the camp either of the Wandervogel movement,the Heimatschutz league,or the Anthroposophic
Society.The anthroposophists were especially important,for,although they were not recognized
as an official society within the Third Reich,their ideas were of considerable influence,even at
Cf. J. Wolschke-Bulmahn and G. Gröning, “The Ideology of the Nature Garden: Nationalistic Trends in
Garden Design during the Early Twentieth Century,” Journal of Garden History 12 (1992), 74 f.
Cf.Wolschke-Bulmahn,“The ‘Wild Garden,’” 201.
H. Hasler, Deutsche Gartenkunst, Stuttgart, 1939, 94 f.
ROUSSEAU, GOETHE, HUMBOLDT
the highest levels of the party.
This is borne out in the publications of Walter Darré,leader of
the Reich’s farmers,
for, although he replaced the term “biologically dynamic agriculture”
with “agriculture according to the laws of life,” his peasant folk-oriented outlook nevertheless
led Darré to adhere to the basic principles of chemical-free agriculture.A similar tone dominated
in the writings of Alwin Seifert, the Reich’s landscape attorney for the general inspector of
German roadways.Seifert was responsible for overseeing the planting of “suitable species”(artgerechte
Bepflanzung) in areas along the autobahn. In a 1940 essay in the journal Die Strasse, Seifert
supported both “biologically dynamic agriculture” and a true “connection to the soil.” In so
doing, he called upon the anthroposophic tradition of an “intuitive view” (intuitive Schau) of
12. Natural community of indigenous plants, shrubs, and trees,
illustration in Hans Hasler’s book Deutsche Gartenkunst, Stuttgart, 1939
R. Alisch,“Neue Forschungen zur Anthroposophie im NS,” Argument 200 (1993), 617–21, and J.Wolschke-
Bulmahn,“Biodynamischer Gartenbau, Landschaftsarchitektur und Nationalsozialismus,” Das Gartenamt (1993), 590–95
Cf. J. Hermand, Old Dreams of a New Reich:Volkish Utopias and National Socialism, Bloomington, Ind., 1992,
nature which lay at the heart of Goethe’s pantheistic worldview,without elaborating on it ideo-
In spite of “political animosities,” Hermann Mattern, a former Wandervogel and co-
worker of Karl Foerster, collaborated with Seifert after 1936.
It is an open question as to
whether Seifert’s and Mattern’s demand for “native” flowers, grasses, shrubs, and trees along the
autobahn corresponded with their convictions based on ideals of the nature garden movement,
or whether this was a tactical move in an effort to counter the devastating effects of National
Socialist industrialization.At the same time that the émigré Rudolf Borchardt,in his 1938 book
The Passionate Gardener (Der leidenschaftliche Gärtner),was tying together a humanistic longing for
a life of peace and love with the literary-aestheticizing longing for a new form of garden art (with
plentiful references to Plato, Virgil, Pope, Addison, Kent, Goethe, Schiller, Kant, Jean Paul,
Novalis, and Humboldt),
the nature conservationists in the Third Reich were left with few
opportunities beyond what Seifert and Mattern attempted to put into practice.
Following the defeat of fascism,as during the period following World War I,sheer existen-
tial hardship initially forced into the background any discussions on garden planning in accor-
dance with nature.Only with Hermann Mattern’s Federal Garden Exhibitions (Bundesgartenschauen)
did public interest for such topics begin to reemerge. Alongside the usual how-to books, new
books on gardens appeared, such as The German Garden (1950) (Der deutsche Garten) by Gustav
Allinger. In these books, the 1930s ideal of Heimat still held sway, although attempts were made
to establish a humanistic, that is, nonfascist attitude through repeated references to Goethe.
A true interest in the nature garden, however, developed in Germany only during the
1970s. Following the publication of Dennis L. Meadows’ The Limits of Growth (1971), a sudden
sense of an impending environmental crisis led to conservationist citizen action groups and
eventually to the founding of the Green political party.
The ramifications of this change were
both theoretical and practical in nature (Figs.13–15).In the area of theory,the uncertainty of the
period led to a widespread revival of those views of nature proposed by critical thinkers in the
late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in their fight against the onslaught of capitalist
industrialization and urbanization. One example of this is an introductory chapter added to the
German version of Fritjof Capra’s 1982 book The Turning Point (Wendezeit).Here,in addition to
Rudolf Steiner,Capra singled out Goethe for his deep respect for nature and its immanent laws
and declared him to be one of the decisive representatives of “integral ecological thinking”to be
championed today at every level.
Similar statements appeared in almost every ecologically
oriented German publication of this period.Ambitious anthologies such as Broken Green:Land-
scape and Gardens of the Germans (1983) (Grün kaputt: Landschaft und Gärten der Deutschen), and
“Been thrown out of the Garden of Nature”:Texts and Pictures of a Yearning (1984) (“Bin so ausgeworfen
aus dem Garten der Natur”:Texte und Bilder einer Sehnsucht) repeatedly featured,alongside texts by
A. Seifert,“Lebensgesetzliche Landbauweise,” Die Strasse 15–16 (1940), 330.
Akademie der Künste, ed., Hermann Mattern, 1902–1971, Berlin, 1982, 7.
R. Borchardt, Der leidenschaftliche Gärtner, Nördlingen, 1987, 21, 30 f, 168, 177.
J.Hermand,“Die Graswurzelrevolution:Utopie und Wirklichkeit grüner Politik,” in Öko-Kunst? Zur Ästhetik
der Grünen, ed. J. Hermand and H. Müller, Berlin, 1989, 8–23.
F. Capra, Wendezeit: Bausteine für ein neues Weltbild, Munich, 1988, 1–11.
ROUSSEAU, GOETHE, HUMBOLDT
13. Title page of Rudolf Doernach’s and
Gerhard Heid’s book Biohaus für Dorf
und Stadt, 1981
14. House with grass roof in natural environment,
ecological settlement in Kassel, 1985
(from C.Tränkner,“Ein Haus aus Holz und
Lehm,” Garten und Landschaft 102, 7 , 32)
(photo: courtesy of Gernot Minke)
15. House in Kempten with natural surroundings (from W. Kunick,“Versuche zur Wildstaudenansaat,”Garten und
Landschaft 102, 5 , 29) (photo: Maria-Sophie Rohner)
Rousseau and Humboldt,passages by Goethe,usually taken from Werther,
and in 1992 even the
popular magazine Garden and Landscape (Garten und Landschaft) published essays on both the
gardener Goethe and the nature enthusiast Rousseau.
During these years,some German envi-
ronmentalists even made pilgrimages to Rousseau’s gravesite in the park of Ermenonville.
With all of this there developed a strange dialectic. On the one hand, these writings con-
jured up the model of the “simple life,” while on the other,a melancholy was clearly evident in
attempts to avoid the existing problems of the present through an escape into the past.The same
can be said of efforts to put these ideas into practice. In his novel Papa Faust (1982), Uwe Wolff
described a contemporary Faust who,longing for peace and quiet,rejects the capitalist drive for
D.Wieland, P. M. Bode, and R. Disko, eds., Grün kaputt. Landschaft und Gärten der Deutschen, Munich, 1983;
and C. Hackenesch, ed., “Bin so ausgeworfen aus dem Garten der Natur”:Texte und Bilder zur Geschichte einer Sehnsucht,
Garten und Landschaft 10 (1992), 38–42.
B.Wormbs,“Spaziergang nach Ermenonville: Rousseau in der Wunschlandschaft,” in Grün kaputt (as above,
note 53), ed.Wieland et al., 121–30.
ROUSSEAU, GOETHE, HUMBOLDT
activity and retires to an idyllic nature garden setting.But even there,because of the proximity of
the big city and its temptations, he cannot find peace. Such works showed all too clearly that
utopian alternative plans, such as the much publicized “ecological nature gardens,”
hopelessly isolated enclaves. Since they were subjected to so much pressure from the outside,
they could not stay in existence for long, but still, these enclaves did serve a purpose. They
functioned as the urgently needed sanctuaries for native wildlife that in 1983 Jochen Bölsche and
Alfred Weber termed “wildlife conservation through wild growth in the garden.”
And for all of
the people who use their gardens solely as playgrounds or places to barbecue, these ideas could
help jolt them out of their purely anthropocentric thinking. Only with such conservation areas
can green spaces and decorative gardens be transformed into true “nature gardens.” Of course,
Rousseau, Goethe, and Humboldt, living prior to the onset of industrialization and urbaniza-
tion, would never have been able to foresee such developments. But nevertheless, among the
forerunners of ecological, or at least, nature-oriented thinking, they certainly ought to be hon-
D. and M. Hegger,“Ökologische Siedlung in Kassel,” Garten und Landschaft 7 (1992), 36–38.
Cf. J. Bölsche, ed., Natur ohne Schutz: Neue Öko-Strategien gegen die Umweltzerstörung, Reinbek, 1983, 257–68.