History of Garden Design The Persian Carpet Influence The oldest pictures we have of gardens are from Egypt-paintings of scenes with plants and animals combined in ways that provide pleasure as well as function. One such painting, dated 1400 BC, is in the British Museum, and it depicts an ornamental fishpond. The pond is a rectangle with a stone border. In the pond are fish, water fowl, flowers, and clumps of reeds at the edges. Around the pond are fruit trees, and to one side, there is a servant holding a basket of fruit, pomegranates or grapes, and a wine jar.
By the 3rd century BC market gardens, gardens growing fruit and vegetables for sale, were common in the Mediterranean and Eastern regions. In many a town, there was a grove of trees or park of pleasurable or religious nature (sacred grove). Herb growing was associated especially with temples that required their use for ritual and worship. There were frankincense, myrrh, cornflowers, poppies, lotuses, and chamomile. Chamomile was identified by pollen analysis as a main constituent in the embalming oil used to mummify Ramses II who died in 1224 BC.
Persian carpets give us a good idea of what early gardens were like because these are stylized representations of the gardens. The borders suggest boundary walls and paths. The interior designs are usually comprised of four quarters of equal size, each being divided into six squares. They contain alternately flowerbeds, with flowers in square and circle patterns, and plane trees located at the inner corners of the four sections. The rulers sometimes took the carpets into the garden to lay on the ground or to use as a canopy against the sun. The use of the carpet this way represents the canopied platform or open- sided pavilion that the ruler would erect over the intersection of the waterways. There were always four waterways, heavenly rivers, and they formed a cross. When the Moslems conquered Persia, they readily embraced this garden plan because of its affinity with the descriptions of the Islamic Paradise, a place that held all the delights inhabitants of burning desert regions would long for-fountains, shade, and fruit. Marco Polo described a real Persian garden as a paradise planted with the finest fruit of the world with four conduits: one flowing with wine, one with milk, one with honey, and one with water. This garden concept spread throughout the area conquered by the Moslems in the 7th century.
The Greeks and Romans—Hanging Gardens of Babylon The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the seven wonders of the world in what is now Iraq, was really a terraced roof garden built over a massive, arching stone foundation and huge storage rooms whose roofs were waterproofed. Soil was added deep enough to grow trees, and deep wells supplied water by means of a hydraulic machine. Records show that thyme, coriander, saffron, anise, poppy, mandrake, fosemary, and hemp were grown alongside ornamentals.
Just as the Islamic conquests spread the concept of the Persian garden, so the conquests of Alexander the Great (356 -323 BC) did the same throughout the Hellenistic world. There exists little detail of the descriptions of Persian and Greek gardens. Theophrastus (371 to 287 BC), the father of botany and student of Plato and Aristotle, had a garden that was a place for study for his friends and disciples. He left the garden to them upon his death. We can assume that this garden was one where plants were studied and may be the first botanic garden in existence.
The Romans developed the true art of European gardening. We have descriptions of a Roman villa in the writings of Varro (c.116 to 27), a scholar and author, and Pliny (23 to 79), a naturalist and writer. Both had extensive gardens. Villa gardens had covered arcades with windows placed to take advantage of the views beyond, open areas, and enclosed courtyard gardens, situated to retain heat and protect from the wind, keeping them pleasant in summer as well as winter. These gardens were geometrically precise with colonnades and statuary, topiary and plane trees, and canals and fountains. They had raised beds and many other herbs were cultivated.
The Persian rivers became waterworks in the hands of expert Roman engineers. Pliny describes these in the Tuscan villa where everything was fed by streams that never ran dry, feeding a multitude of fountains. One fountain appeared in the center of a small court shaded by four plane trees as in the Persian carpet design. Another interior fountain with a bowl surrounded by tiny jets made a lovely murmuring sound.
Varro's villa boasted of an aviary and a luxurious dining area with a revolving table bearing food and drink with alternate spouts for warm and cold water. Clipped arbors and topiary, the art of training and clipping bushes and trees into artificial shapes, are found for the first time in the Tuscan villa. The Romans were avid collectors of Greek statuary that appear in their gardens, lining the walkways. Some of these details have been confirmed in remains found at Herculaneum, Pompeii, Coninbriga, Portugal, and Fishbourne in Sussex, England.
Early Gardening in America John Bartram (1699-1777), a Quaker farmer, began his garden in 1728. Though not a garden designer, he was the first person to gather together a large collection of native North American plants. His garden also had many species that were sent to him from other colonies, the West Indies, and botanists world-wide. In 1729, he established his own nursery and supplied plants to George Washington at Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson at Monticello. In 1736, Bartram became a plant hunter and over the next 30 years, he made a series of expeditions to gather new species of North American flora. He is credited with introducing about 200 species into cultivation.
On his farm of 102 acres in Philadelphia, Bartram practiced techniques that helped him yield twice as many crops per acre as his neighbors. The oldest Gingko biloba tree and yellowwood tree (Cladrastis lutea) still exist in his gardens, which can be visited today because they were made into a park in 1891 and donated to the City of Philadelphia. His sons were the first to establish a mail-order nursery catalog in the U.S.
In 1936, George Washington's vegetable, herb, and flower gardens were restored, using the diaries he kept from 1748 to 1799. He had a passion for fruit trees, and he scoured the countryside looking for new native trees and shrubs for his garden. He was a master gardener, as was Jefferson, and taken together, their writings provide the fullest and best information on post-revolutionary war gardening in the southern United States.
As Minister to the court of Louis XIV, Thomas Jefferson was able to study French gardens and during this time, he also toured English gardens to study landscape gardening and horticultural skills. This certainly contributed to the excellence of Monticello's design. One of its main features is a long walk around the edge of a large lawn with plantings on either side-native flowering plants and shrubs. Monticello is beautifully maintained as a monument to his ingenuity and wide interests.
Cottage Gardens and Gertrude Jekyll Cottage gardens, border gardens, and wild gardens all have an overlapping theme. A cottage garden combines a formal outline and sense of enclosure of the old-fashioned garden where flowers neatly border walks and walls (also called border gardens) with carefree wild gardens. Roses are bushy, climbers are rampant, and tiny flowers nestle under flowering shrubs, revealing a lush mix of growing plants full of hidden treasures. It is the artists and writers of the Victorian Period who have influenced how we look at the cottage garden. William Robinson, writer and gardener (1838-1935), in his book, The English Flower Garden, defines the charms of the cottage garden as "the absence of any pretentious plan which lets the flowers tell their story to the heart." The background may be tall shrubs, a picket fence, or a wooden privacy fence. Climbers arch over trellises and provide vertical lines. Robinson advocated woodland gardening and championed the natural approach of the informal garden. He liked to hide formal architecture under a riot of mixed native and exotic perennials.
This style most certainly is reflected in Gertrude Jekyll's (1842-1932) designs. It is Gertrude Jekyll, friend and collaborator to Robinson, who reconciled the two points of view, and any study of garden design is incomplete without her contributions. A contemporary of Robinson, she is credited with "inventing" and popularizing the border garden. A border garden is a narrow planting along some division or boundary in a garden: a walkway, wall, road, or lawn. It can be a mix of plants or only a single species, from the most permanent of shrubs to the most tender of annuals. It implies a tapestry of different plants, regardless of placement. Her planting schemes were profuse, carefully orchestrated, and controlled to obtain the effect she wanted. As a painter, she had spent time with the Impressionists in Paris, and when her eyesight began to fail, she devoted her life to gardening, honing her painterly color theory to make garden pictures with her borders. This was an innovation, and in her partnership with Lutyens, the architect who designed her house at Munstead Wood, created a new English garden style.
A border is part horticulture and part art, and a good one is a masterpiece of both. It requires accurate knowledge of when plants flower, growing requirements, orchestrating color harmonies, and balancing forms. To achieve Jekyll's ends, she planted in generous swaths, controlled the blending of colors, worked from a formal layout for the plantings, used a mixture of plants including many cottage garden favorites, and used lawns to lead away from buildings, to unite gardens with woodland. Any ornamentation in the garden was functional-seats, walls, stairs, urns and sculpture. One of her greatest talents was her recognition of the value of harmony and the importance of contrast to keep it from degenerating into monotony.