In ancient times, plants were grown because of necessity, but early in the history of gardening, the way plants were arranged, became important. Chinese emperors, Assyrian kings and medieval poets all reflected absorption with beauty in plant displays.
Since the 14th century, there has been an ongoing debate about the relative values of "nature" versus "art" in garden design and issues such as symmetry versus asymmetry, curves or angles, abundance or restraint.
The evolution of each individual's concept of the perfect garden mirrors the changing emphases on formality versus informality, utility and aesthetics in gardens across the centuries. Like the ancients, we often begin our gardens by collecting plants we like and then gradually become aware of the elements that contribute to the overall effect. Our gardens, public and private, reflect personal and cultural values, knowledge about garden traditions and popular trends.
Visiting different types of gardens is a good way for us to clarify our needs and preferences. At this time of year, garden tours are offered in many communities. For example, the Bloomington Garden Walk is on June 19th and 20th and information is available at WFIU.Indiana.edu. Exposure to a variety of concepts helps us develop an appreciation of design principles. Gardeners, as well as gardens, are always growing.