Conservation and the aesthetic of natural landscapes

Upon visiting Stowe Gardens, I was amazed at how landscapes that seemed natural at first glance had in reality been carefully designed by man to evoke a sense of freedom and lack of restrictions. On the other hand, the symmetrical and organized gardens at Waddesdon showed an evident desire of nature subjugation. Both gardens required precision in their design, and even though I was intrigued by the symmetric gardens at Waddesdon, I enjoyed the natural landscape at Stowe even more.

As an amateur art enthusiast and avid conservationist, every time I arrive to a major new city I go to its respective art gallery and gaze upon the landscape paintings. From Lorrain to Monet, I have not only been amazed in the technique in every paint stroke but also by the majestic scenery that society as a whole gets to enjoy because of these paintings. As I walked through Stowe gardens, I felt as if I had just entered famous paintings such as Rubens’ Dance of the Villagers or Lorrain’s Landscape with Ascanius Shooting the Stag of Sylvia. It also surprised me that I could not recall any paintings which contained symmetrical and constrained nature such as that present in Waddesdon.

Natural landscapes at Stowe Gardens Credit: D. Requena
Natural landscapes at Stowe Gardens
Credit: D. Requena Suarez

Why is it that symmetrical gardens have been replicated all over Europe but have remained less prevalent in the arts than natural landscapes? I believe that it is because natural landscape paintings make us feel a sense of wonder of the unknown and an appreciation for the untamed. However, before visiting Stowe I had not considered the fact that these natural-looking gardens were in fact human constructions as precise as the symmetrical gardens. The fluidity of the elements – such as rolling plains and rivers – have been carefully planned in order to obtain a higher aesthetic value and overall enjoyment of natural scenery.

Taking these thoughts into conservation, we can compare the esthetics of Waddesdon gardens with a more constrained approach to conservation and the natural landscapes at Stowe gardens with a more open and constantly changing conservation, whose regulation and design is not evident to the untrained eye. I believe that, in order for nature conservation to prevail, it must not clash with nature, but rather work with its intrinsic beauty.

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