University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Anytime News Article

Dr. Leonard P. Perry
Extension Professor
University of Vermont

Some of the key figures that shaped our gardening plants and practices, from the present to the past, and from most continents, begin with the letter "S".  Previous ones can be found in similar articles on the web (

Vita Sackville-West (1893-1962) was an English poet, novelist, and gardener.  Although probably best known for her gardens at Sissinghurst Castle, she wished to be best known for her poetry.  For many years she wrote regular garden articles, which have now been combined into a book (V. Sackville-West's Garden Book).  One of her epic poems (The Garden) is considered one of the best expressions of the spirit and fascination of gardening.

Three little-known, and quite different, persons were part of our horticultural history in the 16th and 17th centuries.  Sebastiano Serlio (1475-1554) was an Italian architect and writer, who through his books introduced the concept of ornamental parterres (elaborate terraces with patterns formed of plants) from Italy to France.  A good later example of parterres is at Versailles.

Olivier de Serres (1539-1619) was a French agriculturist and author, whose large book on managing an estate (in which he covered gardens) was the most extensive to that time.

Now, switching cultures, most have heard of the famous palace and gardens of the Taj Mahal.  Most probably haven't heard of the ruler responsible for these and other palaces and gardens, the Shah Jahan (1592-1666) who was the 5th Mogul emperor.

Other lesser known persons include Marai Shephard-Parpagliolo (died 1974), an Italian garden and landscape designer and one of the top of this century.  Thomas Shepherd (died 1834) was the first nurseryman and landscape designer in Australia.  As such, and through his designs and lectures, brought the English landscape style of Humphrey Repton and that period to Australia.

Philipp Siebold (1791-1866) was a German physician, but worked for the Dutch East India company for many years.  As such he spent much time in Japan, and introduced many plants from there to Europe, including a spirea and a flowering cherry used today.  He had a nursery in Leiden in the Netherlands, through which he introduced many azaleas, bamboos, camellias, hydrangeas, and lilies.

Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753) was an Irish physician and plant collector, who spent most of his life in London and is important for two main bequeaths.  He bought the Chelsea Physic Garden and established it as a permanent garden, through which many plants were subsequently introduced to cultivation.  After his death, his extensive natural history collections of books and manuscripts were bought by the British government, and served as the beginning of the world famous British Museum.

Our listing wouldn't be complete without mentioning an important American landscape architect of this past century, Fletcher Steele (1885-1971).  Traveling extensively and studying in Europe, particularly France, he brought back Renaissance ideas to this country.  He combined these with modern values of space, form, texture, and color.  His best known work is at Naumkeag in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.   The famous sweeping curves of light blue concrete steps, set in a white birch wood, have been featured in many books and photos.

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