Back to its roots: How garden design has grown since 4000BC
After reflecting recently on what garden design really is, I thought an investigation into the development and history of gardening would be interesting.
The first official gardens were recorded on stone tablets dating back to 4000BC.
These formal "paradise" gardens were a walled oasis in the desert of Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq).
They featured an early form of irrigation to support plant growth in such arid conditions.
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What began as irrigation for agricultural crops, led to increased wealth and cultural development.
The Sumerians (of Mesopotamia) were able to travel and find new, exotic and increasingly productive plant species which they cultivated in the first recognisable gardens for their aesthetic appeal.
Historically known as the fertile crescent, Mesopotamia has also been called the cradle of civilisation.
It is known as a place where the best of civilised humanity began – the invention of the wheel, writing, the building of cities, architecture for artistic merit and of course, gardens.
In fact, it is thought by some scholars that the Garden of Eden was located in Mesopotamia.
This is certainly reflected in the paradise garden aesthetic which was created as a refuge from the desert, bringing life to a place where before there was none.
Elsewhere, in North Africa, the ancient Egyptians also began to develop irrigation methods, harnessing the readily available water from the Nile during seasonal floods. They too built walled gardens filled with lush planting.
These large-scale gardens helped protect the people and plants within them from wild animals, invaders and devastating desert storms.
As a result of the irrigation method of water channels, these gardens took on a regular and angular design.
Geometric shapes were repeated and inter-planted with rows of date palm trees, fruit trees and vines.
Ornamental flowers were also used as offerings for the gods and during funeral rites.
Gardens were fundamental to Egyptian life.
The ancient Persians took irrigation to a whole new level with a sophisticated network of underground aqueducts called Qanats.
They carried fresh water all the way from the snow-capped mountains to where it was most needed.
The Persian conqueror Cyrus the Great built impressive gardens at Pasargadae (Iran), which had a fourfold theme featuring rills that divided the space into quarters.
Each section would have included water pools and fountains.
They were surrounded by pavilions for sitting in peaceful contemplation and perhaps, for admiring the power and wealth of Cyrus the Great.
Around a thousand years later, the significance of this garden could still be seen as it influenced the Chahar Bagh garden style used in the Islamic faith, as a means of getting closer to God.
Undoubtedly, the most famous garden in history and one of the ancient wonders of the world was the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
Babylon was the capital city of Mesopotamia, ruled by King Nebuchadnezzar.
In tribute to his wife, he built a monumental garden to reflect the mountainous region she came from.
The gardens followed a ziggurat formation which basically means it was a structure of stepped terraces reaching high above ground level.
Huge pillars that held up the terraces were hollowed and adapted to accommodate the growth of large trees.
Their roots would reach deep down within the pillars, on each level of the garden and high into the air. It was this which created the "hanging" effect.
All this vegetation was kept green by a screw system of irrigation which drew water up to the topmost terraces.
Aside from a grand romantic gesture to his wife, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon created a link between heaven and earth.
Whatever developments there have been in garden design since this time, one thing still holds true – in all our gardens, we strive to create our own idea of paradise.