If You Could Travel Back in Time

The Roman Forum / image: Alexandra Hay

Given that time is such an integral and transformative factor for any landscape, the prospect of time travel is especially intriguing for landscape architects curious to see lost landscapes or what an existing place looked like at an earlier period or while under construction. So it came as no surprise when ASLA’s Professional Practice Network (PPN) members responded with such gusto to the question: If you could travel back in time to a historical landscape, where and when would you go?

Tied for first place with 10 mentions each were two radically different spots, from very different eras: Versailles and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Here are the rest of the top answers, in order of popularity:

  1. Central Park under construction
  2. Early North America, prior to European settlement
  3. Hetch Hetchy Valley, before the creation of the O’Shaughnessy Dam
  4. Impressionists’ gardens, and specifically Monet’s gardens at Giverny
  5. Vaux-le-Vicomte
  6. Villa d’Este

Quite a few members also specified that they would like to visit these historic landscapes accompanied by their designers or other important figures associated with these places:

“I would take a horseback ride through the English countryside with Capability Brown!”

“Work with Thomas Jefferson – Architecture and Horticulture.”

“I’d love to experience the south of France with the Impressionist painters.”

“Hetch Hetchy Valley with John Muir.”

“The emerald necklace with Olmsted.”

“Stand over Kiley’s shoulder while he designs the Miller House.”

The Mayan ruins of Palenque in Chiapas, Mexico / image: Kaitlyn Hay

Here are a few of the other responses that appeared:

Ancient & Medieval Times

Ancient Egypt

Ancient Japan

Ancient Mayan city of Palenque (now in Chiapas, Mexico)

European monasteries

Jerusalem, Babylon, Persia, Beijing (Han Dynasty), Angkor Wat, Rome, Greece

Tintern Abbey, Wales / image: Alexandra Hay

Medieval/Gothic Europe during the times of castles, cathedrals, & gardens

North America 10,000 years ago

Petra, Jordan (during its “heyday”)

Primeval cypress swamps

Rome at the height of the Empire


Stonehenge / image: Alexandra Hay

The caves of Lascaux in France

The Cedars of Lebanon as a forest

The recession of the Wisconsin Glaciation

Tikal during the Mayan classic period

Palenque, Mexico / image: Kaitlyn Hay

Fifteenth & Sixteenth Centuries

Machu Picchu, late 1400s

Seville, Spain when the Gardens of Alcazar were just completed

Suzhou, China sometime between 1400-1600

The birth of Villa Lante

The building of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain or Ryōan-ji in Kyoto, Japan

Cento Fontane, Villa d’Este, Tivoli, Italy / image: Alexandra Hay

The Italian water gardens and villa gardens

Timbuktu (15-16th centuries)

On the grounds of Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, designed by Capability Brown / image: Alexandra Hay

Seventeenth & Eighteenth Centuries

Back to the days of Capability Brown

France, in the time of Le Nôtre

Hawaii pre-contact

Het Loo Palace, Apeldoorn, Netherlands

I would go to early 17th century in Japan to attend the Rimpa school of Japanese painting.

The New England coast before the pilgrims in 1620

Kalalau Valley, Kauai, Hawaii / image: Alexandra Hay

Nineteenth Century

1876 Philadelphia Exposition

19th century Paris

Building Ballybunion Golf Course in Ireland

Design and construction of the Nation’s Capitol grounds

Early 1800s California, when the Central Valley used to be wild

I would go to a time before huge industrial developments.

Midwest prairies pre-fencing and land ownership

Pacific NW prior to the deforestation of the old growth forests

The Biltmore shortly before the first party was held

The Great Plains prior to the advent of western encroachment

The marsh and dunes that were Chicago

The White City in Chicago

When the west was young—the expeditions of Lewis and Clark; the US via the eyes and time of John Muir

Twentieth Century

1900s in Cuba

Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s The Umbrellas, Southern CA

Cummer Museum in Jacksonville, FL when it was built, or Stan Hywet Hall in Akron, OH when the gardens were built, or the Schwab Estate in Loretto, PA when the Sunken Gardens were built

Paris in the 1920s

Villa d’Este, Tivoli, Italy / image: Alexandra Hay

At the start of 2015, a questionnaire was sent out to members of ASLA’s Professional Practice Networks (PPNs). The theme: creativity and inspired design. As you can imagine, responses were varied, and included many insightful comments and suggestions. Synopses of the survey results were originally shared in LAND over the course of 2015, and we are now re-posting this information here on The Field. For the latest updates on the results of the annual PPN Survey, see LAND’s PPN News section.

Leave a Reply