History of the Small Garden

  • Posted on March 20, 2017 at 5:59 pm

Where space is restricted, the design of that space becomes all-important. A brief look at the garden in history still has relevance for the owners of small gardens today, even though the terms of reference were often quite different. Many of the elements which make up the design of todays small garden have historical antecedents, while the number of old gardens which actually remain indicates that they have stood the test of time visually and as places for use.

In its earliest from the garden was basically an enclosure, made of thorn or scrub, to keep out marauding animals and keep in domestic ones. The enclosures later took the form of a mud wall, and were a defence against other humans as much as animals or were intended to shield off the heat of the sun. When nomadic community settled, the enclosures because places for growing both food and plants. This creation of a small private sanctuary characterized early enclosed gardens all over the world, though there function of course varied according to the climate and the way of life.

Early Formal Gardens

The earliest recorded gardens seen in Egypt seen in 3000-BC, were surrounded by a mud wall to absorb some of the suns heat. The house was also within this square or rectangular enclosure. The formal layout of early gardens was necessitated by the need for irrigation channels to provide water in a hot, dry climate. These divided the garden into geometric areas and, in the grander gardeners, the irrigation channels became formal pools with fish and there were arbours to sit under, overhung with vines, and shade giving palms. The Egyptians grew onions, which were there staple diet, and other vegetables and herbs for their medicinal value.

This basically formal style of garden characterized the whole Islamic world during the next few thousand years. The enclosed paradise gardens of Persia were often walled and the walls hung with grapevines and climbers. Fruit trees were cultivated, including peach, apple, cherry, banana, date, fig and olive. The Persians also grew flowers such as poppys, lilies, chrysanthemums, narcissi and roses in formal beds between the stylized cruciform shapes of the water canals. The idea of a flowering paradise within a formal setting is captures in Persia writings, painted miniatures and woven into carpet patterns.

The Indian and later the Moorish garden evolved from the Persian glorieta. Water was the essential thread of continuity, weaving through and links different plating areas, while creating a cooling effect. The Moorish influence stretched along the whole of North Africa, into Sicily and to southern Italy and thence to the Sierra Nevada in southern Spain. The style and form of the garden remained much the same, enclosed by buildings and high walls to provide shade and privacy. They were designed for outdoor living while remaining within the confines of the house.

The Moorish garden in Spain generally consisted of several court yards, known as patios, with water as the connecting link. Many patios contained a long canal with a central fountain and there were ornate pillars and tiled walls and floors. Cypress and orange trees were planted in sunken beds and usually lines the walls to give extra shade, while aromatic plants were grown in pots along the edge of the water scented the air. From Spain, where even the grand palace gardens were divided into small walled enclosures, the paradise garden tradition can be traced to South America. From there is spread to the idyllic climate of California, where it eventually metamorphosed in to todays patio garden, with the element of water often present in the blue waters of the swimming pool.

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