Two old garden maps and one new one provide fodder for cartographic discussion including the use of texture, generalization, balance, and lots and lots of dotted lines.
Chatsworth House 1699
Here we have another black and white map that manages to be highly detailed despite its lack of color! The map presents a garden at its earliest stages, consisting of 105 acres, and has since been cultivated for 500 years. It’s constantly changing and belongs to the Dukes of Devonshire. Kip and Knyff, the map makers, were well known engravers of English Country house designs and this copperplate engraving really shows off the finer line textures and softer features in certain areas like the background that are possible with copperplates rather than the earlier woodblock technology. Imagine having someone engrave a depiction of your home and garden!
We don’t usually work with maps at this scale so it is refreshing to us to see individual trees. We note the garden is in the Dutch Baroque style. Garden maps tend to have a nice symmetry to them, partly if they are in a certain style of garden, but also because the features are made from the map instead of the other way around. With garden maps, you usually design the map first, and then plant the garden. But with other maps, like for example, the cities of North America or the arboreal forests of the world, you are mapping features that are already there and don’t necessarily have any order or symmetry to them. While cartographers strive for artistic balance this is a limitation we must work within. An analogy between garage sales and posh retail stores happens.
There’s tons of texture on this map which is part of what makes it so lovely. In the early 2000s we didn’t have a lot of texture on maps, which was a limitation of old geo software, but now we can definitely add texture to maps so this old map provides good inspiration. It’s noted that the deer park, we are sure, would have been for watching the deer, not hunting them. Ahem. The oblique view is off-center and not centered on the castle structure; the dark and dense maze-like feature pulls your eye toward the right, which is a shift of focus that we’re not used to and helps you sweep across and analyze the whole map. This truly was a map of the gardens, not of the castle. The line pattern in the water, with darkening at the curves, is intentional and is something we do in today’s maps to provide depth, artistry and realism.
Bourge Castle and Gardens 1697
This beautiful copperplate engraving with an oblique shift is similar to the Chatsworth map in terms of the use of patterns but is a different aesthetic in that it is a lot brighter, with fewer heavy textures. The roads are cut out from the texture in a clean way that is appealing to the eye. This is a way to do texture without it feeling too heavy. Texture can be hard to do because if you have features that are large or imbalanced then it is jarring or even dizzying. Hatching, or diagonal lines, are kept to smaller area features here, which is the way to do hatching well. Patterns and textures can so quickly overpower a map and make it feel visually stressful. But here the lines are really thin, and when you’re looking at the entire piece, the lines condense, creating a feel of a single color fill. In this light, we check out the patterns of the fields, fences, and even the cemetery to figure out what’s going on in them.
This is a map that people today would be tempted to make a legend for, since there are so many different patterns, each ostensibly representing an individual type of feature. With today’s software making it so easy for cartographers to automatically add legends, it ends up being an automatic thing. But if we think about what truly matters to the reader for their understanding of a map, if it is something that the reader really needs to interpret then sure, put it in a legend, but otherwise leave it out. Indeed we do see a growing movement, especially in news publications, to exclude legends more and more and instead to just label the items on the map directly. This technique minimizes eye movement (i.e., no legend-map-legend scanning) for the reader and also saves space.
Not everyone shares our enthusiasm for seeing copperplates in-person. A digression on terns happens. [Gretchen wants to note that even though it sounded like she was not enthusiastic about her tern-chick-banding, in reality she absolutely loved that summer internship.]
Japan Cherry Blossom Guide
This is a map for a UK based travel company. It’s a super simple “guide” in that you slide the January-June month slider on the right-hand slider and the map changes to show you where the blossoms will be in bloom during the time you’ve slid to. When cartographers design interactive maps they can get a little over-exuberant but this is an example of an interactive map that keeps things simple yet effective. It highlights the clean, modern lines, look and feel.
The gradient color scheme and the calligraphic elements are carried throughout. We note the generalized coastline of Japan. In cartography there is a specific terminology for this, called smoothing. Smoothing and simplification are both types of cartographic generalization. In smoothing, the shape of the line is made to look simpler by removing small details. In simplification, the shape of the line is made to look simpler by removing vertices. With smoothing you add more vertices and the line looks more rounded, while with simplification you remove more vertices and the line looks more jagged. Waldo Tobler, who, among his other accomplishments, was the publisher of one of the first algorithms to do geographic data smoothing.
Seeing flowers pop up when the slider reaches the end of January made us wonder about the data that they were using to create the map because it was surprising to see that Cherry Blossoms could be in bloom in January. We appreciate that the map includes an explanation of where they got the data, because it enabled a deeper-dive into the provenance of the map detail, as well as the disclaimer letting us know that the dates of the blooms can vary year-to-year.
Molly O’Halloran is a modern-day cartographer who is making beautiful garden maps that meld traditional techniques with modern software and data. Check out the link to one of her long-style garden maps in the links section above.