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The Wild Garden: Is it so new?

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The 21st century is proving to be a sea-change in how we create and maintain our gardens.

Climate change, new plants and developing design challenges combine to create a whole new dialogue around the contemporary garden.

William Robinson and Gertrude Jekyll advocated for a more natural style of planting … and they are usually referenced in this contemporary and wild design style; but it did not start with them!

We will begin in the Americas, Germany and onto the Netherlands, where plant breeding and modern garden design would thrive under the influence of Modernism and the abstract arts. Great names such as Mien Ruys, Karl Foerster and Willy Lange will be discussed.

We will then bring things up to date and discuss some of the best examples of contemporary garden making by advocates of the ‘Dutch Wave’ as it is often called, though more broadly it is referred to as the “New Perennial Movement.”

Learning and teaching

The module will be taught through ten two-hour sessions online, incorporating lectures, seminars and workshops.

These sessions will consist of a one-hour lecture followed by class discussion and group work on specific topics relating to the module.

The discussion and group work will enable students to think critically and to contribute to the debates and topics presented during the lectures.

The discussion-led sessions and the lectures will be supplemented by resources available to students via Learning Central.

Syllabus content:

  • Challenges to 21st century gardens and gardening
    • Climate change
    • New plants
    • Design challenges
  • Natural planting and the perceived influence of William Robinson and Gertrude Jekyll
  • Modernism, abstract arts and garden design in the Americas, Germany and the Netherlands
  • The ‘Dutch Wave’ or ‘New Perennial Movement’ in contemporary garden design

Coursework and assessment

To award credits we need to have evidence of the knowledge and skills you have gained or improved.

Some of this has to be in a form that can be shown to external examiners so that we can be absolutely sure that standards are met across all courses and subjects. The most important element of assessment is that it should enhance your learning.

Our methods are designed to increase your confidence and we try very hard to devise ways of assessing you that are enjoyable and suitable for adults with busy lives.

Reading suggestions

  • Noel Kingsbury and Claire Takacs, Wild: The Naturalistic Garden (London: Phaidon, 2022)
  • Stephanie Mahon, Wild Gardens (London: National Trust Books, 2022)
  • Stephen Parker, England's Gardens: A Modern History (London: Dorling Kindersley, 2023)
  • Dan Pearson, Home Ground: Sanctuary in the City (London: Conran Octopus, 2011)
  • William Robinson, Rick Darke, The Wild Garden: Expanded Edition (Portland: Timber Press, 2010)

Library and computing facilities

As a student on this course you are entitled to join and use the University’s library and computing facilities. Find out more about using these facilities.


Our aim is access for all. We aim to provide a confidential advice and support service for any student with a long term medical condition, disability or specific learning difficulty. We are able to offer one-to-one advice about disability, pre-enrolment visits, liaison with tutors and co-ordinating lecturers, material in alternative formats, arrangements for accessible courses, assessment arrangements, loan equipment and dyslexia screening.