The History of Small Garden

The History of Small Garden
by Isabel Kendra

The Moorish garden in Spain generally consisted of several courtyards, known as patios, with water as the connecting link. The central courtyard within a colonnaded peristyle (known as an atrium) became a major feature of the house and was, in effect, the main living area; it still survives today in the cathedral court and cloister. The garden layouts were much on the Greek pattern, architectural and formal and made up of flower beds and paths, pergolas and statuary with fountains and pools for irrigation. Flowers such as the violet, poppy, iris, lily and pansy were popular and, in particular, the rose. Climbing plants were trained up the supporting columns of covered walks and pergolas.

In its earliest form 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.

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The earliest recorded gardens, seen in Egypt about 3000 BC, were sun-rounded by a mud wall to absorb some of the sun’s 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 gardens, 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 their 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 grape vines and climbers. Fruit trees were cultivated, including peach, apple, cherry, banana, date, fig and olive. The Persians also grew flowers such as poppies, lilies, chrysanthemums, narcissi and roses in formal beds between the stylized cruciform shape of the water canals. The idea of a flowering paradise within a formal setting is captured in Persian writings, painted miniatures and woven into carpet patterns.

The monasteries were laid out on a Roman court and cloister plan and inside the court monks cultivated medicinal plants, herbs and some vegetables. The beds were divided by straight paths and there was sometimes a fish pond too. Within castle walls the ladies also began to grow herbs for medicinal and culinary use, with the occasional raised bed for flowers where space allowed.

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.

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