Photograph of an Italian garden

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” – Audrey Hepburn

At a Glance

  • Live online course
  • 2 x 45 minutes plus break
  • Mondays 18:00 - 20:00
  • 10 weeks: October to December
  • Tutor: Deborah Trentham
  • Fees from £115 to £210
  • Imperial College attendance certificate (T&Cs apply)
Booking link

Early Italian gardens, often belonging to monasteries, were enclosed by walls, and used for growing vegetables, fruits and medicinal herbs. To our eyes, these medieval gardens can look beautiful, but their primary aim was functional. So how did Italian gardens evolve into playgrounds of the mythical gods, with winged horses landing on Mount Parnassus, giants dipping into fishponds and bronze birds fluttering over fountains?

On a fascinating online course, Deborah Trentham of the Garden Historians will lead us on a journey to discover how functional medieval gardens became places of pleasure. We will see how early garden-makers were inspired by classical literature, drawing on the descriptions of ancient Roman gardens in the letters of Pliny the Younger and the poetry of Ovid. Renaissance artists were important too in the development of the garden. The renaissance master Leon Battista Alberti drew on the work of the Roman writer Vitruvius to produce his own guide to garden design as part of his book De re aedificatoria (1552).

As well as being places for pleasure, Italian Renaissance gardens were also full of political symbolism, especially in the Florentine gardens of the Medici, whose patronage had a huge impact on the cultural and artistic history Italy. Their great wealth acquired through banking, dominated the economic, financial and political world of Florence. They used gardens to demonstrate their power but also to enjoy and party in. They built some of the most original gardens of the period with sculptures and grottoes designed by some of the greatest artists of the period.

Gardens and villas to be investigated will include: Villa Medici (Fiesole and Rome), Medici gardens Castello, Pratolino and Boboli Gardens. Sacro Bosco, Villa Lante, Villa Farnese (Caprarola), the Cortile del Belvedere.

Whether you enjoy gardening or visiting gardens, or are just fascinated by history, art history or the renaissance world, join us on this extraordinary exploration into the birth of the modern garden five centuries ago!

Sessions will be informal and will involve no course work. No previous knowledge of garden history is required.

Online access to course

This is a taught live online course which means you will be taught alongside other students on the course by a tutor at a specific time on a specific day of the week. To take part in the course you will need a suitably equipped and internet-enabled device. Please find full details and instructions below under 'Course Delivery'.

Attendance certificate

Those who attend at least 80% of the course sessions will receive an attendance certificate from Imperial College London upon completion of the course.

Course Information

Course Programme

Provisional Course Programme (subject to modification)

  • Session 1. Introduction
  • Session 2. Florence and the Medici Gardens
  • Session 3. Rome and the collector Popes
  • Session 4. Veneto and Palladio
  • Session 5. Water and Fountains
  • Session 6. Sculpture
  • Session 7. Ovid and poetry
  • Session 8. Nymphaeums and Grottoes
  • Session 9. Planting and Botanic collections
  • Session 10. Myths and Giants

Additional Reading

There is no compulsory reading required for this course, and there is no set course text.

About Your Tutor

The Garden Historians were established in 2013 to address the lack of teaching in garden history and to promote the study of the subject more broadly. Enjoying immediate success at Burgh House, the Garden Historians increased their courses to two sessions per week. During the summer term they teach class-based sessions and run site visits. Burgh House has also provided a venue for a varied range of introductory sessions for new students. It is also planned to offer a further range of lectures and study days in the future. Courses will continue to evolve in theme and content allowing students from previous years to continue their study, whilst encouraging new students to join.

Your tutor, Deborah Trentham, was trained in the history of art, architecture and garden history. She has been teaching garden history for fifteen years including at Birkbeck (University of London) and Capel Manor College where she also taught the history of architecture. She currently teaches garden design students for KLC School of Design at Chelsea Harbour and Hampton Court Palace. Deborah is in her fourth year as the Historic Gardens judge for the Society of Garden Designers Awards. She recently lectured for Art Pursuits Abroad on 'The 18th Century English Landscape Garden'.

Deborah has also published articles in magazines and periodicals such as:

Course Delivery: Live Online Taught Courses

All our online courses are taught live which means you will be taught alongside other students on the course by a tutor at a specific time. To take part in the course you must be able to attend the online session at the time stated for the course description.

All times stated are British Standard Time.

To take part you will need a computer, or laptop, or tablet computer, connected to the Internet. The device you use will also need to have a camera, microphone and speakers. Most devices now have these built in, but if not you might have to buy them from a computer shop and to connect them to your device.


This course will use Zoom as its online delivery method. Zoom is very easy to use and you do not need to set up a Zoom account to use it. Near the date of your first online session you will be sent an email with a web address (or URL) that will allow you to access the course. This is called the Course Link. All you need do is click on the Course Link in the email and you will be asked to enter your name. This is the name that will be seen by your tutor and other students in the class.

Once you have entered your name you might be asked to enter a password to enter the class. The password will be included in the email sent to you. Once you enter the password you will either be taken directly into the class, or asked to wait in a virtual waiting room until the tutor is ready to let you into the class.

We have also produced a Handy Guide to Zoom [pdf] which gives you basic information on how to use it.

Course Fees and Rate Categories

HoursWeeksStandard RateInternal RateAssociate Rate
 20  10  £210    (Early Bird Rate: £190*)
£125    (Early Bird Rate: £115*) £165    (Early Bird Rate: £150*) 
* The Early Bird rate is available for enrolments made before the end of 30 September for courses starting in October

Rate Categories and Discounts

Standard Rate

  • Applicable to all except those who fall under the Internal Rate or Associate Rate category, respectively.

Internal Rate

  • Current Imperial College students and staff (incl. Imperial NHS Trust, Imperial Innovations, ancillary & service staff employed on long-term contracts at Imperial College by third-party contractors)
  • Individuals enrolling under our Friends & Family scheme
  • Staff of the English Chamber Orchestra
  • Current Centre for Languages, Culture and Communication (CLCC) staff, current CLCC PhD students, Science Communication (Sci Comm) postgraduate students, and students enrolled on an Imperial College 'Language for Science' degree programme should contact before completing the online enrolment form

Associate Rate

  • Alumni of Imperial College and predecessor colleges and institutes
  • Austrian Cultural Forum staff
  • City & Guilds College Association members
  • Francis Crick Institute staff, researchers and students
  • Friends and Patrons of the English Chamber Orchestra
  • Harrods staff
  • Historic Royal Palaces staff
  • Lycee Charles de Gaulle staff
  • Members of the Friends of Imperial College
  • Members of the Kennel Club
  • Members of the London Zoological Society
  • Members of the South London Botanical Institute (SLBI)
  • Members of the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP)
  • Natural History Museum staff
  • National Health Service (NHS) employees
  • Residents of postcodes SW3, SW5, SW7, SW10 and W8
  • Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council staff
  • Royal College of Art and Royal College of Music tutors and other staff
  • Royal Geographical Society staff
  • Science Museum staff
  • Staff of Exhibition Road Cultural Group (Discover South Kensington) organisations
  • Students (non-Imperial College)
  • Teachers and other staff of UK schools
  • Tutors and other staff of institution members of the Association of Colleges
  • Tutors and other staff of other universities and higher education institutions
  • Victoria and Albert Museum staff

Late enrolment

It is possible to enrol on many CLCC Evening Class and Lunchtime Learning programmes after the course has started. For non-language courses this is subject entirely to agreement by the tutor. For language courses it is subject to agreement by the language Coordinator conducting level assessment. If you want to join a course late do bear in mind there might be work you will need to catch up on, particularly in language courses.

Applicable terms & conditions

Please read the Terms and Conditions [pdf] before enrolling on any course.

Term Dates

HoursWeeksAutumn termSpring termSummer termSummer School
 20  10 11 Oct - 13 Dec 2021 (10 weeks)  n/a n/a n/a
This is a one-term course

Enrolment Process

Web enrolment starts 2nd August 2021

Enrolment and payment run through the Imperial College eStore. Please click on the blue booking link on the relevant course page noting below instructions:

  • Our rate categories are explained on the course page and your applicable rate category must be selected on the eStore
  • First-time eStore users please create an account by entering an email address and password. These credentials should also be used for future bookings. Imperial College users please note the eStore is not a single-signon College system
  • The booking process involves entering payment details after your course choice and applicant details are collected via an in-built questionnnaire
  • The following email notifications are sent:
What is sentWhen is it sentWhat does it contain
1. Payment confirmation Is sent instantaneously following submission of your online application
  • This is a receipt for your payment and includes payment date, order number and course title
  • Confirmation of your place on your chosen course will follow later
2. Enrolment confirmation Is sent within 10 working daysPlease treat your payment confirmation as confirmation that your applicant details and payment have been received
  • Re-confirms your course choice
  • Shows your course's term dates
  • Confirms the day and time of your course
3. Programme information Is usually sent on Friday late afternoon the week before term starts
  • Contains joining instructions for your course, incl. tutor contact details
If you need further help with the above information please ring 020 7594 8756

Any Questions?

Questions regarding the content and teaching of this course should be sent to the programme manager for adult education, Dr Michael Paraskos at