It is, of course, true that “nature” is culturally constructed. When a French theorist like seventeenth-century Jacques Boyceau claims that garden symmetry is predicated on nature’s own efforts at abstraction, he appeals to a nature differently conceived- not least as a result of post-Renaissance scienticism- either from those on which Denis Diderot, a century later, could base his claim that spatial principles of symmetry or proportion were simply not to be founding nature or from a world that modern photography celebrates in its ecological concern to give amazing proofs of nature’s abstractions. Thus it follows that we must carefully scrutinize every context of the term’s use to adjudicate its local and/or historical meaning. Especially in casual or colloquial usage, such phrases as “it’s natural” or “naturally” inevitably camouflage ideological assumptions by pretending that some expressed opinion, far from special pleading, is grounded in a way of things beyond dispute.
“Nature” is a term, however, that won’t go away; above all, for our purposes, it is endlessly, inevitably, and invoked landscape architects. The term has performed various duties, some less strenuous than others: it can refer to a few bushes around a building (a lazy architectural assumption met with too frequently in professional circles); less residually, it can mean an invented countryside (Fairmount Park along Schuylkill River in Philadelphia however devised and remodeled from the late eighteenth century onward, provides a “natural” site, especially when contrasted with the inner adjacent city); or at his most strenuous (for instance in Ian McHarg’s Design with Nature), it can signal an intricate congeries of causes and effects to which the precisions physical of science seem to give us the best access, but even here cannot at times escape being colored a rhetoric that endows it with a value beyond the normative and objective.