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  • Writer's pictureVertu Art + Design


Updated: Mar 15

View of the specimen garden of Carl Linnaeus, Uppsala University, Photo by J. Franks 2023

Since ancient times, Gardens have been represented by artists throughout mediums. Gardens were consciously designed as spaces of health and recovery, as well as beacons of philosophy.

Artists' and collectors' gardens are a study unto themselves, and as an art specialist, I have had the great fortune of being able to visit some of these contemporary jewels, including once living within the gardens at Waddesdon Manor (The National Trust, UK) learning from its garden creators as resident scholar. Later, as Director and Curator, I led a design team to create an art-filled public garden. My current project at the University of Toronto, which explores intersections of art and science, led me to the house and gardens of Carl Linnaeus or Carl von Linné (1707 - 1778), Swedish botanist, zoologist, taxonomist, and physician, who is best known as the father of taxonomy (the naming and categorization of living things according to their genus and species).

Here plants mingle with collections of art, each arranged to tell a story about Linneaus personally - and more broadly the history of botany in the Western world. Although in our time genetics serve as the primary means of grouping living organisms (proving some but not all of his correlations erroneous), Linnaeus still made possible a well-organized global study of the living world. His Professorship at Uppsala University provided Linnaeus and his family a large garden and classic Swedish yellow house seen in the above photo (Not shown is an organgerie, which was to the garden's back). Linneaus's well-known work, 'Systema Naturae', was published in 1735, while the taxonomist was in the Netherlands. Despite this sojourn, Linnaeus stayed in Sweden for most of his life, sending his many students and writings abroad. His theories and work gained world acclaim during his lifetime, which was always his conscious goal. To anyone who studies the eighteenth century and the natural world, the name Linnaeus is as important as the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who said of the taxonomist: 'Tell him I know no greater man on earth.'. After Linnaeus died in 1778, his papers were purchased for The Linnaeus Society in London, testifying of his far-reaching contributions to science / eighteenth-century natural philosophy. The garden seen here was the first botanical garden in Sweden, established in 1655 by Olof Rudbeck the elder. It is formulated in formal French, geometric style and was restored following Linnaeus' and Carl Hårleman's garden design from 1745. Approximately 1,000 species in the Linnaeus garden are grouped by categories, such as geography and season. These sections were positioned and cultivated by Linnaeus, according to his sexual system of plants. In addition to this university home and garden, Linnaeus also lived on his farm called Hammarby, where at least 40 plants he originally grew there survive. Having directed a museum (while overseeing the restoration and re-design of its historic gardens), both of these sites were of keen interest to me, aiding my thesis research on the arts, garden architecture, and the natural world.

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