Gardening Cuttings: Platt revisited

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CHARLES PLATT's Italian Gardens first came out in 1894, but is now republished by Thames & Hudson ( pounds 20) with a new overview by Keith Morgan, chair of the art history department at Boston University. Morgan is an expert on Platt, an etcher, painter, architect and garden-maker to wealthy residents of New England and Long Island.

The book is as important for its photographs, which Platt took on a journey through Italy in 1892, as it is for its text. If you compare his pictures with modern ones of the same gardens - for example, those in A Tour of Italian Gardens by Judith Chatfield - you see how much has changed and in the past 100 years and how much better kept gardens are now.

Platt's text has none of the scholarship we now expect in books about historic gardens. He does not even tell us for whom the Villa Lante garden was originally designed. His interest is that of the designer: how space is used, how mass contrasts with void, the devices are employed to link one part of the garden with the next. This is what made his book (and him) so fashionable among emerging garden-makers when it first came out, and it is still intriguing.