Aesthetics and Ethics of Botanic Gardens Considered as Micro-Landscapes, by Thomas Heyd

Botanic gardens are a type of designed site with a complex history, going back to Mediæval ‘physick gardens’ and the recreation of the Garden of Eden during the Age of Discoveries (Heyd 2006, also see Heyd 2007). Presently these spaces are directed toward a variety of functions, including research, conservation and education. This presentation focuses on the potential of botanic gardens to function as sites that, through their aesthetic effect, may lead to encounters with plants as ‘an other’ (Perpich 2008). It is suggested that such experiences may facilitate the recognition of the ethical significance of non-human, natural, elements of the environment as other actants (Latour 2005).

There are important difficulties for the articulation of an ethics that incorporates consideration of plants, insofar as these are non-sentient elements of landscapes (Hall 2009). It is notable however that, aside from their multiple roles regarding the sustenance of human and animal lives, plants play key roles in our aesthetic appreciation of landscapes. While generally located within urban areas, botanic gardens constitute a kind of micro-landscape. Here it is suggested that their design makes an important contribution to their aesthetic uptake, and, as such, may contribute to the ethical consideration of the plant cover of landscapes.

This discussion will be illustrated by a case study of several botanic gardens with distinct designs, adapted to – or contrasting with – their respective environments, such as the Marimurtra botanic garden, located above a cliff on the Mediterranean coast near Blanes, Catalunya, the Jardí Botànic of Barcelona, located on Montjuïc mountain within city perimeters, and the UBC Botanical Garden, located in a remainder of Pacific Coast, oldgrowth, forest within greater Vancouver, Canada. The design of botanic gardens will be considered in terms of their respective intentional, spatial organising, principles and consequent differential aesthetic effects, with attention to their possible contribution to the ethical reflection by visitors on the vegetational aspect of landscapes.

Thomas Heyd, University of Victoria, CA

Harvard Citation Guide: Heyd, T. (2012) Aesthetics and Ethics of Botanic Gardens Considered as Micro-Landscapes, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 20 May 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

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