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Gardens of the World: Expanding Empires

Introduction

An expanding civilization brought expanding empires with new ideas, cultures, and gardens. As civilization expanded, so did landscape and garden design. Throughout history, different cultures embodied themselves through landscape design but there is a clear influence by other cultures too. The Gardens of the World series takes us on a chronological escapade, exploring different influential periods and its relationship to garden design.

Expanding Gardening Empires

Previously we explored ancient Egyptian gardens. As civilization expanded, so did culture, trade, and communication. Soon two notable empires emerged, the Greek and Persian Empires. Their gardens, although unique, were influenced by Egyptian gardens and eventually influenced the Roman Empire’s gardens.

Culture and Tradition Defines Gardens

Just like the Egyptian gardens, religion strongly influenced the Greek and Persian empires’ gardens. Greece’s gardens link to Greek Mythology. Many of the Greek gardens existed in the natural areas surrounding urban areas because that is where the gods and spirits lived. Persian gardens symbolized Eden and the four Zoroastrian elements: sky, earth, water, and plants. The Persian gardens showed clear design linkages outlined in scripture describing the Garden of Eden.

The Residential Garden

Residential Egyptian gardens strongly influenced Greek and Persian design. Many residential gardens contained either enclosed or partially enclosed spaces, organized along a linear or cross-axis. Persians lived in a harsher environment than the Greeks. Their gardens relied heavily on shaded walkways, irrigation systems, and water features that helped create psychologically cooling effects. Many of their landscapes were surrounded by trees whereas Greeks have peristyle courtyards, which is a courtyard surrounded by a covered colonnade.

Clues to the Past

Our knowledge of Greek and Persian Gardens emerge primarily through art and literature, such as Homer’s epics. Many existing gardens today are recreations of ancient Greek and Persian gardens. Nonetheless, the Greek and Persian gardens influenced the Roman Gardens, which has given researchers further evidence of the Greek and Persian gardens.

Fin Kashan Garden in Iran is a historic garden. The cross-axis of water emulates Islamic, Judaism, and Christian descriptions of the Garden of Eden. The faith-based text explains that water flowed from the Garden of Eden/Paradise creating four tributaries. Common Persian Garden design had a cross-axis of water with a centralized fountain or tree (Tree of Immortality)- a symbolic representation of the Islamic text in the Quran.

 

Image of Fin Kashan Garden

Rome Wasn’t Landscaped in a Day

Although influenced by the Greek and Persian gardens, Roman gardens leaned heavily on Greek influence. With growing populations around urban areas, Romans sought places of peace, calm, and tranquility. We classify Roman Gardens into two areas: villas/homes and public spaces.

Roman Villas

Roman villa gardens served as productive gardens but were also areas for relaxation. The peristyle courtyards comprised of three components: the xystus, ambulation, and gestation. The xystus was an overlook into a villa’s garden or ambulation. A gestation was a shaded area surrounding the ambulation. The ambulation was typically filled with a variety of ornamental and edible plant material. Notable examples of this design are Pliny the Younger’s Villa, Hadrian’s Villa, and the House of Vettii or Painters in Pompeii.

The House of Vettii demonstrates a classic Roman Peristyle courtyard.

Emperor Hadrian Villa is a large, notable Roman Villa.

 

Roman Influences

Gardens during this period were generally classified as pleasure or utilitarian gardens. Utilitarian gardens are small gardens that helped produce food and collect water for a home and pleasure gardens were centers of recreation and entertainment. Roman culture blended this garden dichotomy and created influential gardening design principles and techniques that are present today.

Some notable Roman garden influences include ornamental horticulture, outdoor kitchens, and creating spaces for entertainment. Most importantly, Romans viewed many of these spaces as extensions to their homes rather than exterior spaces only.

Expansion to New Worlds

The depth and details of gardens during this period goes way beyond our typical gardening column space, but gardens are clearly timeless and integral parts of human civilization. As we move forward in the Gardens of the World series, we will explore the notable gardens of expanding empires throughout Asia and Europe. Ultimately the Garden of the World series will create a roadmap, allowing us to see how to garden traditions from ancient civilizations still influence our landscapes and gardens today. In the meantime, which gardens have you explored? Have you noticed any of these important Egyptian influences in the gardens you have visited? Let us know!

Gardens of the World Series, Additional Articles

A Beginning Along a River

Interested in more gardening-related blogs or following Alachua County’s MGVs on Social Media? Check out the additional links from Dr. Clem.

Taylor’s Blog Homepage

UF/IFAS Alachua County Extension Master Gardeners, Facebook Page

UF/IFAS Extension Alachua County YouTube Page

Podcast: Extension Cord

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