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The Donnell Ranch, Sonoma, California designed by Thomas Church (1948).

Art, nature, and culture intersect in gardens, and they have been sources of inspiration and study for centuries. But people are also inspired by natural environments, landscapes that evolve as human activity shapes them, parks, sacred places, and sites associated with historic events or individuals.

The term cultural landscape is defined in various ways by organizations such as the United States Department of the Interior’s National Park Service and UNESCO, but generally it encompasses gardens and many other kinds of environments that illuminate aspects of our history and relationship with nature.

National Park Service: “A geographic area, including both cultural and natural resources and the wildlife or domestic animals therein associated with a historic event, activity or person or exhibiting other cultural or aesthetic value.

UNESCO: “Cultural Landscapes – There exist a great variety of landscapes that are representative of the different regions of the world. Combined works of nature and humankind, they express a long and intimate relationship between peoples and their natural environment.” See: http://whc.unesco.org/en/culturallandscape/

The Cultural Landscape Foundation: For many useful and expanded definitions, visit www.tclf.org

In 1992 both the World Heritage Organization and the United States Secretary of the Interior took steps to recognize and protect cultural landscapes because they are important expressions of the “interaction between humankind and its natural environment.”


There are four basic types of cultural landscapes:

  • Historic designed landscapes
  • Historic sites
  • Historic vernacular landscapes
  • Ethnographic landscapes

These landscape types are not mutually exclusive. For detailed, illustrated definitions of the above terms, visit The Cultural Landscape Foundation’s web site: www.tclf.org

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