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Bringing Beautiful Gardens Indoors — Landscape Garden, Design, and History Collections at the Libraries

While the Smithsonian Institution Libraries (SIL) comprises 20 branch libraries, some branch collections naturally overlap when meeting the needs of their library users. That’s the situation with one of our art libraries, the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum Library located in New York City, and one of our science libraries, the Botany and Horticulture Library located in Washington D.C. It may surprise you to learn both collect books and journals on landscape design and history and the decorative arts.

In both libraries, SIL holds collections that allow man’s desire to bring the out-of–doors indoors, to recreate nature’s beauty in his home. Traditionally, flora and fauna have inspired the decorative arts of wallpaper, ceramics, textiles, and ornamental design. Researchers coming to the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum Library (CHM) can study our many pattern books whose designs are derived from nature, or directly from the botanicals that the Botany-Horticulture and CHM Libraries own. The CHM library collects primarily in the areas of the history of architecture and design/decorative arts that are objects and structures that are incorporated in gardens — furniture, planters, fountains, follies, fences/gates & other “outdoor” buildings — conservatories -greenhouses, etc. Others are about the design of gardens, landscaping in and around buildings, and city parks in relation to the urban environment.


RuralLabyrinte de Versailles. (The hare and the tortoise), 1679.

Rural architecture in the Chinese taste…1755. William Halfpenny.

Our historic and rare collections include a small illustrated 16th century account of the labyrinth in the garden of Versailles; the work of landscape designers such as Humphry Repton, and J.C. Loudon.  Our rare and beautiful Plans, elevations, sections, and details of the Alhambra, from drawings taken on the spot in 1834 by Jules Goury, and in 1834 and 1837 by Owen Jones that shows architectural elements and garden design has been digitized and is now available online. Le nouveau jardin, (1912) by Paul & Andre Vera promoted a new modern look in gardens working with architect Le Corbusier. CHM also collects trade catalogues on garden-related objects, such as seating, patio or porch furniture, planters, ornamental objects, and outbuildings produced primarily in the U.S. and Europe.

Window Bench

Window gardening : devoted specially to the culture of flowers and ornamental plants for indoor use and parlor decoration by Henry T. Williams (1872).

Illustrated catalogue and price list of ornamental iron settees, J.W. Fiske Ironworks. [191-?].

Antique dealers and collectors, designers, historians and preservation professionals consult sources in our rare book collection on earlier garden designs and ornament, often in relation to the study of period houses; others will use trade catalogs or other illustrated works to document ornamental patterns for their work in restoration and preservation projects. To learn more about the Cooper-Hewitt Museum Library, visit our website.

The Botany and Horticulture Library is known more for its holdings in systematic botany than landscape design. However, Botany and Horticulture holds a growing contemporary collection of books and journals on landscape and garden design, garden preservation and restoration, history of gardens and gardeners, garden ornaments, furnishings, and structures due to its serving the information needs of Smithsonian Gardens staff. Full-text books in the public domain written by and about such landscape architects as Frederick Olmsted, John Evelyn, Gertrude Jekyll, and as mentioned earlier, Humphry Repton, and J.C. Loudon, can be found in the Biodiversity Heritage Library. SIL is one of twelve libraries in the United States participating in this project and making accessible its legacy literature available free electronically. Visit our website to learn more about Botany and Horticulture Library collections.

For the staff of both the Cooper-Hewitt and Botany-Horticulture Libraries it’s a chance to collaborate and learn about the holdings of another branch library. By doing so, SIL not only strengthens its physical collections, but also its outreach within the Smithsonian community and beyond.

Elizabeth Broman and Robin Everly

One Comment

  1. It’s now possible to bring gardens inside if you lack outdoor space. Landscape gardens are some of the greatest curative experiences one can create. It may seem easy to create, but it takes a bit of creativity and imagination for anyone to come up with a captivating garden.

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