London’s Early Modern Gardens and the Performance of Solitude

Ryan Roark


As London’s population grew in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the city was populated also by urban gardens, which, like pastoral gardens, were associated with repose and solitary reflection. However, within the context of the city, gardens, both public and private, were understood to be places where a visitor was sure to be seen sooner or later, and visual privacy was in fact not likely. Portrayals of solitude in urban gardens in early modern printed images, horticulture manuals, and Restoration theater show that urban domestic gardens were uniquely urban liminal spaces which were neither interior nor exterior, not quite public but certainly not truly private. Urban garden space was conceived as a threshold between the body, the home, and the city—the site of contact between self and society, where one could imagine oneself performing for an audience. Thus the urban domestic garden was pivotal in a changing, urban, and increasingly performative modern sense of self.


gardens, urban space, domesticity, liminality, interiority

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