Watering the Renaissance Garden: Horticultural Theory and Irrigation Practice in Sixteenth-Century Tuscany

  • Anatole TchikineEmail author
Conference paper
Part of the Trends in the History of Science book series (TRENDSHISTORYSCIENCE)


Although essential for the life of plants, garden irrigation remains a little known aspect of Italian Renaissance horticulture. By drawing mainly on sixteenth-century Tuscan sources, this chapter attempts to reconstruct both the methods and theoretical underpinnings of this practice. It examines the modes of bringing water into Italian gardens; the specific uses of watering—for example, for fertilizing soil or medicating plants; the tools and techniques of garden irrigation; and various other factors, such as the origin and temperature of water, that were considered relevant by Renaissance garden theorists and practitioners. Special attention is paid to the methods of utilizing running water in the horticultural context. This chapter argues that the conservative nature of garden irrigation in the Renaissance, which in great measure continued the ancient tradition of plant cultivation, was primarily a response to the multiplicity of objectives that watering had to meet. It therefore reflected the time-honoured approach to the stewardship of land and its resources, in which manual work and diligent attention to the individual needs of plants could not easily be replaced by technological innovations. In conclusion, this chapter explains how the principles of garden irrigation influenced the design and appearance of sixteenth-century Italian gardens.


Sixteenth Century Woollen Fabric Citrus Tree Prickly Pear Oily Sludge 
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My main thanks are owed to Joachim Wolschke-Bulmahn, Volker R. Remmert, and Hubertus Fischer, who invited me to participate in the “Gardening and knowledge” symposium in Hanover in September 2012 and encouraged me to contribute this chapter to the resulting volume. I would also like to express my gratitude to John Beardsley, Mirka Beneš, John Dixon Hunt, Clemens Wimmer, and especially Raffaella Fabiani Giannetto, for their suggestions and invaluable critical feedback.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and CollectionWashington, DCUSA

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