Monday, July 31, 2017

16C Garden -Woman in an Enclosed Formal Garden

1505 Jan Provoost (1462-c 1525) Portrait of a Female Donor.  Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid. 

Portraits with landscape backgrounds, especially formal gardens, were not common during this period, and the artist may or may not have gone outdoors to paint these outdoor backgrounds. Early depictions of both real & fanciful gardens give us a glimpse of gardens familiar & imagined during this period of time.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Garden of Love - A 16C soldier apparently recently home from the wars

1520 Garden of Love. Soldier embracing a woman in a fenced garden by a wooden bench. They are near an apple tree with birds flying; & another amorous couple is seated underneath a tree, while a dog eats their food. In addition to serving different functions, Renaissance gardens also carried a range of associations, both literary & biblical. The Garden of Love, dedicated to the goddess Venus, was a primarily a pleasure garden offering both virtue & vice.

Friday, July 28, 2017

15C A Gentleman's Garden Tasks for Spring

April & May from The Shepherd's Great Calendar, 15C Flowers & planting seem to be the most important tasks for these Spring months. Seated lady is fashioning a garland.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Bit of History - Gardens in India

Gardens of India & Their Plants

The history of systematic gardening in India is as old as civilization of Indus of Harappan which existed between 2500 B.C and 1750 B.C. During the period, people were living in well-planned dwellings. Harappan pots were generally decorated with the design of trees. In every village, trees including Ficus religiosa (pipal) and F. bengalensis (banyan) were planted for worship as well as for shade.

Aryans came to India in 1600 B.C. They were literary people and brought with them the four Vedas viz., Rig Veda, Artharva Veda, Yuzur Veda and Sam Veda and the Puranas. They appreciated the beauty of flowering plants, lakes, mountains, forests, etc., and named their children after flowers like Kamal, Champa, Bela, Chameli, Rukmani, etc., Detailed account of the status of gardening at that time has been presented in Ramayana written by Valmiki. Ayodhya city was described as having wide streets, large houses, richly decorated temples and gardens. These gardens were planted with fruit trees and flowering plants and had lakes full of lotus (Nelumbo sp.) and different kinds of birds. During exile, lord Rama and Sita are believed to have observed a number of trees and were fascinated by beautiful flowers. One such tree was Ashoka (Saraca indica).

Another epic ‘Mahabharat’ written by saint Vyasa also mentions about gardens. During the Mahabharat era, pleasure gardens were planted with flowering plants. The famous tree of this era was Kadamba (Anthocephalus cadamba), which is associated with lord Krishna. The great poet Kalidas has described the numerous flowering plants of that era in a number of his books. In ‘Kumar Sambhav’ trees like Ashoka, Kalpvriksha, Shirish flower, Butea monosperma, parijatham (Nyctanthes arbotristis), Mimusops elengi, lotus and lilies have been mentioned. The association of different trees with the life of Lord Buddha is well known. Buddha was born in 563 B.C. His birth is believed to have taken place under the Asoka tree (Saraca indica). Further, Buddha attained his enlightenment under a Pipal tree, spread his new teachings under shady banyan and mango trees and breathed his last in a Sal (Shorea robusta) grove.

Ancient Indian gardens are mentioned in several ancient Hindu texts including Rigveda, Ramayana, and Mahabharata. Buddhist accounts mention bamboo grove which was gifted by King Bimbisara to Buddha. Digha Nikaya, a Buddhist text also mentions Buddha staying in the mango orchard of the Jivaka monastery, gifted by the physician Jivaka. Arama in sanskrit means garden and sangharama is a place where buddhist monk community lived in a garden like place. In Buddha's time Vaishali was a prosperous and populous town full of parks and gardens and according to Lalit Vistara it resembled city of God. Emperor Ashoka's inscriptions mention the establishment of botanical gardens for planting medicinal herbs, plants, and trees. They contained pools of water and were laid in grid patterns and normally had chattri pavilions with them.

The great Emperor Asoka (264-227 B.C.) adopted arboriculture as one of his state policies. He encouraged the planting of avenue trees. His son Prince Mahendra took a sapling of the Bodhi tree (Ficus religiosa) from India and planted it at Anuradhapur in Sri Lanka (250 B.C.).

In the works of Kalidasa during the rule of Chandragupta II, we find the mention of several flowering trees including the Asoka tree (Saraca asoka), Kadamba (Anthocephalus cadamba), Arjuna (Terminalia arjuna), Butea monosperma, Parijatham (Nyctanthes arbortristis), Bauhinia variegata, Mimusops elengi, Albizzia lebbek and screwpine. The creeper ‘Madhavi latha’ (Hiptage madablata) occupied a prominent place in his play ‘Sakuntala’. In the same play we find the mention of pleasure gardens. In Meghduta he describes the women of Alakapuri to have used Kadamba flowers to decorate their hair in the monsoon and carried pink lotuses in their arms.

The famous poet Bhana Bhatta describes a number of flowering plants including the Banyan, Sal, Champaka, flame of the forest, Mimusops elengi, Kadamba, Ashoka and the Indian coral in his famous book ‘Harsh Charita’.

Vatsayana (300-400 A.D.) in his book ‘Kamasutra’ gives a glimpse of the joyful civic life of that period. He narrates four kinds of gardens:
Pramododyan meant for the enjoyment of the royal couples
Udyan where the kings played chess, enjoyed the dances of the maids and jokes of the court jesters
Brikshavatika the garden where high-placed persons in the king’s court enjoyed life with courtesans
Nandavana which was dedicated to Lord Krishna.

The Kama Sutra mentions details on house gardens and that a good wife should plant vegetables, bunches of sugarcane, clumps of the fig trees, mustard, parsley and fennel, various flowers like jasmine, rose and others likewise be planted and seats and arbours should be made and the middle of the garden should have a well, a tank or a pond, various other treatises also mention establishing lotus shaped baths, lakes, lotus-shaped seats, swings, roundabouts, Menageries.

Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Xuanzang mentions accounts of Nalanda where "azure pool winds around the monasteries, adorned with the full-blown cups of the blue lotus; the dazzling red flowers of the lovely kanaka hang here and there, and outside groves of mango trees offer the inhabitants their dense and protective shade. There are accounts of four kinds of gardens in Ancient India: udyan, paramadodvana, vrikshavatika, and nandanavana. Vatika was a small garden inside homes. Margeshu vriksha was the practice of planting trees on the roadside for shade.

Manasollasa a twelfth century text giving details on garden design, asserts that it should include rocks and raised mounds of summits, manicured with plants and trees of diverse varieties, artificial ponds and flowing brooks.  It describes the arrangement, the soils, the seeds, the distance between types of plants and trees, the methods of preparing manure, proper fertilizing and maintaining the garden, which plants and trees are best planted first, when to plant others, watering, signs of overwatering and underwatering, weeds, means of protecting the garden and other details.  Both public parks and woodland gardens are described, with about 40 types of trees recommended for the park in the Vana-krida chapter.

In medieval India, courtyard gardens are also essential elements of Mughal and Rajput palaces.

Indian text silparatna (16th century AD) states that Pushpavatika (flower garden or public park) should be located in the northern portion of the town. According to Kalidasa, a garden was elaborately laid out with tanks, arbors of creepers, seats (Kridasaila), mock hills, swings in bowers or in open, raised seats or vedika under large shady tree. Arthashastra, sukraniti and Kamandakanti mention public gardens which were situated outside the town and provided by the government where people would go and spend whole day in picnic, Panini mentions a kind of garden sport peculiar to eastern india (pracam kridayam), Salabhanjika was the activity of plucking sala flowers and spending the time in merry making. Upavan Vinoda chapter in Sharngadhara-paddhati (14th century AD) an encyclopediac work has been dedicated to horticulture and gardening. Indian gardens were also built around large water reservoirs or water tanks. which were also built along the river.

Monday, July 24, 2017

A Bit of History - Japanese Gardens

Japanese Gardens Influenced by Religions
The concept of Japan's unique gardens began during the Asuka period. Japanese merchants witnessed the gardens being built in China & brought many of the Chinese gardening techniques & styles back to Japan. Japanese gardens first appeared on the island of Honshu, the large central island of Japan. Their aesthetic was influenced by the distinct characteristics of the Honshu landscape: rugged volcanic peaks, narrow valleys, mountain streams with waterfalls & cascades, lakes, & beaches of small stones. They were also influenced by the rich variety of flowers & different species of trees, particularly evergreen trees, on the islands, & by the four distinct seasons in Japan, including hot, wet summers & snowy winters.
Japanese gardens have their roots in the Japanese religion of Shinto, with its story of the creation of eight perfect islands, & of the shinchi, the lakes of the gods. Prehistoric Shinto shrines to the kami, the gods & spirits, are found on beaches & in forests all over the island.. Prehistoric shrines often took the form of unusual rocks or trees marked with cords of rice fiber (shimenawa) & surrounded with white stones or pebbles, a symbol of purity. The white gravel courtyard became a distinctive feature of Shinto shrines, Imperial Palaces, Buddhist temples, & Zen gardens. Japanese gardens were also strongly influenced by the Chinese philosophy of Daoism & Amida Buddhism, imported from China in or around 552. Daoist legends spoke of five mountainous islands inhabited by the Eight Immortals, who lived in perfect harmony with nature. Each Immortal flew from his mountain home on the back of a crane. The islands themselves were located on the back of an enormous sea turtle. In Japan, the five islands of the Chinese legend became one island, called Horai-zen, or Mount Horai. Replicas of this legendary mountain, the symbol of a perfect world, are a common feature of Japanese gardens, as are rocks representing turtles & cranes.

Earliest Gardens
The earliest recorded Japanese gardens were the pleasure gardens of the Japanese Emperors & nobles. They are mentioned in several brief passages of the Nihon Shoki, the first chronicle of Japanese history, published in 720. In the spring of the year 74, the chronicle recorded: "The Emperor Keikō put a few carp into a pond, & rejoiced to see them morning & evening". The following year, "The Emperor launched a double-hulled boat in the pond of Ijishi at Ihare, and went aboard with his imperial concubine, & they feasted sumptuously together". And in 486, "The Emperor Kenzō went into the garden & feasted at the edge of a winding stream."
The Chinese garden had a very strong influence on early Japanese gardens. In or around 552, Buddhism was officially installed from China, via Korea, into Japan. Between 600 & 612, the Japanese Emperor sent four legations to the Court of the Chinese Sui Dynasty. Between 630 & 838, the Japanese court sent fifteen more legations to the court of the Tang Dynasty. These legations, with more than five hundred members each, included diplomats, scholars, students, Buddhist monks, & translators. They brought back Chinese writing, art objects, & detailed descriptions of Chinese gardens.
In 612, the Empress Suiko had a garden built with an artificial mountain, representing Shumi-Sen, or Mount Sumeru, reputed in Hindu & Buddhist legends to be located at the centre of the world. During the reign of the same Empress, one of her ministers, Soga no Umako, had a garden built at his palace featuring a lake with several small islands, representing the islands of the Eight Immortals famous in Chinese legends & Daoist philosophy. This Palace became the property of the Japanese Emperors, was named "The Palace of the Isles", & was mentioned several times in the Man'yōshū, the "Collection of Countless Leaves", the oldest known collection of Japanese poetry.
It appears from the small amount of literary & archaeological evidence available that the Japanese gardens of this time were modest versions of the Imperial gardens of the Tang Dynasty, with large lakes scattered with artificial islands & artificial mountains. Pond edges were constructed with heavy rocks as embankment. While these gardens had some Buddhist & Daoist symbolism, they were meant to be pleasure gardens, & places for festivals & celebrations.

Nara period (710–794)
The Nara Period is named after its capital city Nara. The first authentically Japanese gardens were built in this city at the end of the eighth century. Shorelines & stone settings were naturalistic, different from the heavier, earlier continental mode of constructing pond edges. Two such gardens have been found at excavations, both of which were used for poetry-writing festivities. One of these gardens, the East Palace garden at Heijo Palace, Nara, has been faithfully reconstructed using the same location & even the original garden features that had been excavated.

Heian period (794–1185)
In 794, at the beginning of the Heian Period, the Japanese court moved its capital to Heian-kyō (present-day Kyoto). During this period, there were three different kinds of gardens: palace gardens & the gardens of nobles in the capital, the gardens of villas at the edge of the city, & the gardens of temples.
The architecture of the palaces, residences & gardens in the Heian period followed Chinese practice. Houses & gardens were aligned on a north-south axis, with the residence to the north & the ceremonial buildings & main garden to the south, there were two long wings to the south, like the arms of an armchair, with the garden between them. The gardens featured one or more lakes connected by bridges & winding streams. The south garden of the imperial residences had a specially Japanese feature: a large empty area of white sand or gravel. The Emperor was the chief priest of Japan, & the white sand represented purity, & was a place where the gods could be invited to visit. The area was used for religious ceremonies & dances for the welcoming of the gods. The layout of the garden itself was strictly determined according to the principles of traditional Chinese geomancy, or Feng Shui. The first known book on the art of the Japanese garden, the Sakuteiki (Records of Garden Keeping), written in the 11th century, said: It is a good omen to make the stream arrive from the east, to enter the garden, pass under the house, & then leave from the southeast. In this way, the water of the blue dragon will carry away all the bad spirits from the house toward the white tiger.
The Imperial gardens of the Heian period were water gardens, where visitors promenaded in elegant lacquered boats, listening to music, viewing the distant mountains, singing, reading poetry, painting, & admiring the scenery of the garden. The social life in the gardens was memorably described in the classic Japanese novel The Tale of Genji, written in about 1005 by Murasaki Shikibu, a lady-in-waiting to the Empress. The traces of one such artificial lake, Osawa no ike, near the Daikaku-ji temple in Kyoto, still can be seen. It was built by the Emperor Saga, who ruled from 809 to 823, & was said to be inspired by Dongting Lake in China. A scaled-down replica of the Kyoto Imperial Palace of 794, the Heian-jingū, was built in Kyoto in 1895 to celebrate the 1100th birthday of the city. The south garden is famous for its cherry blossom in spring, & for azaleas in the early summer. The west garden is known for the irises in June, & the large east garden lake recalls the leisurely boating parties of the 8th century. 
Near the end of the Heian period a new garden architecture style appeared, created by the followers of Pure Land Buddhism. These were called "Paradise Gardens", built to represent the legendary Paradise of the West, where the Amida Buddha ruled. These were built by noblemen who wanted to assert their power & independence from the Imperial household, which was growing weaker. The best surviving example of a Paradise Garden is Byōdō-in in Uji, near Kyoto. It was originally the villa of Fujiwara Michinaga (966–1028), who married his daughters to the sons of the Emperor. After his death, his son transformed the villa into a temple, & in 1053 built the Hall of Phoenix, which still stands.
The Hall is built in the traditional style of a Chinese Song Dynasty temple, on an island in the lake. It houses a gilded statue of the Amitābha Buddha, looking to the west. In the lake in front of the temple is a small island of white stones, representing Mount Horai, the home of the Eight Immortals of the Daoists, connected to the temple by a bridge, which symbolized the way to paradise. It was designed for mediation & contemplation, not as a pleasure garden. It was a lesson in Daoist & Buddhist philosophy created with landscape & architecture, & a prototype for future Japanese gardens.
Kamakura & Muromachi periods (1185–1573)
The weakness of the Emperors & the rivalry of feudal warlords resulted in two civil wars (1156 & 1159), which destroyed most of Kyoto & its gardens. The capital moved to Kamakura, & then in 1336 back to the Muromachi quarter of Kyoto. The Emperors ruled in name only; real power was held by a military governor, the shōgun. During this period, the Government reopened relations with China, which had been broken off almost three hundred years earlier. Japanese monks went again to study in China, & Chinese monks came to Japan, fleeing the Mongol invasions. The monks brought with them a new form of Buddhism, called simply Zen, or "meditation". The first zen garden in Japan was built by a Chinese priest in 1251 in Kamakura. Japan enjoyed a renaissance in religion, in the arts, & particularly in gardens.
Many famous temple gardens were built early in this period.  In some ways they followed Zen principles of spontaneity, extreme simplicity & moderation, but in other ways they were traditional Chinese Song-Dynasty Temples; the upper floors of the Golden Pavilion were covered with gold leaf, & they were surrounded by traditional water gardens. 
The most notable garden style invented in this period was the zen garden, or Japanese rock garden. One of the finest examples, & one of the best-known of all Japanese gardens is Ryōan-ji in Kyoto. This garden is just 9 meters wide & 24 meters long. It is composed of white sand carefully raked to suggest water, & fifteen rocks carefully arranged, like small islands. It is meant to be seen from a seated position on the porch of the residence the abbot of the monastery. There have been many debates about what the rocks are supposed to represent, but, as garden historian Gunter Nitschke wrote, "The garden at Ryōan-ji does not symbolize. It does not have the value of representing any natural beauty that can be found in the world, real or mythical. I consider it as an abstract composition of "natural" objects in space, a composition whose function is to incite mediation."
Several of the famous zen gardens of Kyoto were the work of one man; Musō Soseki (1275–1351). He was a monk, a ninth-generation descendant of the Emperor Uda. He was also a formidable court politician, writer & organizer, who armed & financed ships to open trade with China, & founded an organization called the Five Mountains, made up of the most powerful Zen monasteries in Kyoto. He was responsible for the building of the zen gardens of Nanzen-ji; Saihō-ji (The Moss Garden); & Tenryū-ji.
Momoyama period (1568–1600)
The Momoyama period was short, just 32 years, & was largely occupied with the wars between the daimyōs, the leaders of the feudal Japanese clans. The new centers of power & culture in Japan were the fortified castles of the daimyōs, around which new cities & gardens appeared. The characteristic garden of the period featured one or more ponds or lakes next to the main residence, or shoin, not far from the castle. These gardens were meant to be seen from above, from the castle or residence. The daimyōs had developed the skills of cutting & lifting large rocks to build their castles, & they had armies of soldiers to move them. The artificial lakes were surrounded by beaches of small stones & decorated with arrangements of boulders, with natural stone bridges & stepping stones. The gardens of this period combined elements of a promenade garden, meant to be seen from the winding garden paths, with elements of the zen garden, such as artificial mountains, meant to be contemplated from a distance.
A notable garden of the period still existing is Sanbō-in, rebuilt by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1598 to celebrate the festival of the cherry blossom & to recreate the splendor of an ancient garden. Three hundred garden-builders worked on the project, digging the lakes & installing seven hundred boulders in a space of 540 square meters. The garden was designed to be seen from the veranda of the main pavilion, or from the "Hall of the Pure View", located on a higher elevation in the garden. In the east of the garden, on a peninsula, is an arrangement of stones designed to represent the mythical Mount Horai. A wooden bridge leads to an island representing a crane, & a stone bridge connects this island to another representing a tortoise, which is connected by an earth-covered bridge back to the peninsula. The garden also includes a waterfall at the foot of a wooded hill. One characteristic of the Momoyama period garden visible at Sanbō-in is the close proximity of the buildings to the water.
The Momoyama period also saw the development of the chanoyu (tea ceremony), the chashitsu (teahouse), & the roji (tea garden). Tea had been introduced to Japan from China by Buddhist monks, who used it as a stimulant to keep awake during long periods of meditation. The first great tea master, Sen no Rikyū (1522–1591), defined in the most minute detail the appearance & rules of the tea house & tea garden, following the principle of wabi (侘び) "sober refinement & calm." Following Sen no Rikyū's rules, the teahouse was supposed to suggest the cottage of a hermit-monk. It was a small & very plain wooden structure, often with a thatched roof, with just enough room inside for two tatami mats. The only decoration allowed inside a scroll with an inscription & a branch of a tree. It did not have a view of the garden. The garden was also small, & constantly watered to be damp & green. It usually had a cherry tree or elm to bring color in the spring, but otherwise did not have bright flowers or exotic plants that would distract the attention of the visitor. A path led to the entrance of the teahouse. Along the path was waiting bench for guests & a privy, & a stone water-basin near the teahouse, where the guests rinsed their hands & mouths before entering the tea room through a small, square door called nijiri-guchi, or "crawling-in entrance", which requires bending low to pass through. Sen no Rikyū decreed that the garden should be left unswept for several hours before the ceremony, so that leaves would be scattered in a natural way on the path.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

A Bit of History - The Storytelling Chinese Gardens

The Chinese Garden 

For the past 3,000 years, everyone in China, from emperors & government officials to scholars & poets, have built their own Chinese garden. The Chinese garden is a landscape garden style which has evolved over three thousand years. It includes both the vast gardens of the Chinese emperors & members of the imperial family, built for pleasure & to impress, & the more intimate gardens created by scholars, poets, former government officials, soldiers & merchants, made for reflection & escape from the outside world. They create an idealized miniature landscape, which is meant to express the harmony that should exist between man & nature. A typical Chinese garden is enclosed by walls & includes one or more ponds, rock works, trees & flowers, & an assortment of halls & pavilions within the garden, connected by winding paths & zig-zag galleries. By moving from structure to structure, visitors can view a series of carefully composed scenes, unrolling like a scroll of landscape paintings.


The earliest recorded Chinese gardens were created in the valley of the Yellow River, during the Shang Dynasty (1600–1046 BC). These gardens were large enclosed parks where the kings & nobles hunted game, or where fruit & vegetables were grown.

Early inscriptions from this period, carved on tortoise shells, have three Chinese characters for garden, you, pu & yuan. You was a royal garden where birds & animals were kept, while pu was a garden for plants. During the Qin dynasty (221–206 BC), yuan became the character for all gardens.   The old character for yuan is a small picture of a garden; it is enclosed in a square which can represent a wall, & has symbols which can represent the plan of a structure, a small square which can represent a pond, & a symbol for a plantation or a pomegranate tree.

A famous royal garden of the late Shang dynasty was the Terrace, Pond & Park of the Spirit (Lingtai, Lingzhao Lingyou) built by King Wenwang west of his capital city, Yin. The park was described in the Classic of Poetry this way:

The King makes his promenade in the Park of the Spirit,
The deer are kneeling on the grass, feeding their fawns,
The deer are beautiful & resplendent.
The immaculate cranes have plumes of a brilliant white.
The King makes his promenade to the Pond of the Spirit,
The water is full of fish, who wriggle.

Another early royal garden was Shaqui, or the Dunes of Sand, built by the last Shang ruler, King Zhou (1075–1046 BC). It was composed of an earth terrace, or tai, which served as an observation platform in the center of a large square park. It was described in one of the early classics of Chinese literature, the Records of the Grand Historian (Shiji).

According to the Shiji, one of the most famous features of this garden was the Wine Pool & Meat Forest (酒池肉林). A large pool, big enough for several small boats, was constructed on the palace grounds, with inner linings of polished oval shaped stones from the sea shores. The pool was then filled with wine. A small island was constructed in the middle of the pool, where trees were planted, which had skewers of roasted meat hanging from their branches. King Zhou & his friends & concubines drifted in their boats, drinking the wine with their hands & eating the roasted meat from the trees. Later Chinese philosophers & historians cited this garden as an example of decadence & bad taste.

During the Spring & Autumn period (722–481 BC), in 535 BC, the Terrace of Shanghua, with lavishly decorated palaces, was built by King Jing of the Zhou dynasty. In 505 BC, an even more elaborate garden, the Terrace of Gusu, was begun. It was located on the side of a mountain, & included a series of terraces connected by galleries, along with a lake where boats in the form of blue dragons navigated. From the highest terrace, a view extended as far as Lake Tai, the Great Lake.

The Legend of the Isle of the Immortals

An ancient Chinese legend played an important part in early garden design. In the 4th century BC, a tale in the Classic of Mountains & Seas described a peak called Mount Penglai located on one of three islands at the eastern end of the Bohai Sea, between China & Korea, which was the home of the Eight Immortals. On this island were palaces of gold & silver, with jewels on the trees. There was no pain, no winter, wine glasses & rice bowls were always full, & fruits, when eaten, granted eternal life.

In 221 BC, Ying Zheng, the King of Qin conquered other rival states & unified China under the Qin Empire, which he ruled until 210 BC. He heard the legend of the islands & sent emissaries to find the islands & bring back the elixir of immortal life, without success. At his palace near his capital, Xianyang, he created a garden with a large lake called Lanchi gong or the Lake of the Orchids. On an island in the lake he created a replica of Mount Penglai, symbolizing his search for paradise. After his death, the Qin Empire fell in 206 BC & his capital city & garden were completely destroyed, but the legend continued to inspire Chinese gardens. Many gardens have a group of islands or a single island with an artificial mountain representing the island of the Eight Immortals.

Han dynasty (206 BC–220 AD)

Under the Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD), a new imperial capital was built at Chang'an, & Emperor Wu built a new imperial garden, which combined the features of botanical & zoological gardens, as well as the traditional hunting grounds. Inspired by another version of Chinese classic about the Isles of the Immortals, called Liezi, he created a large artificial lake, the Lake of the Supreme Essence, with three artificial islands in the center representing the three isles of the Immortals. The park was later destroyed, but its memory would continue to inspire Chinese garden design for centuries.

Another notable garden of the Han period was the Garden of General Liang Ji built under Emperor Shun (125–144 AD). Using a fortune amassed during his twenty years in the imperial court, Liang Ji build an immense landscape garden with artificial mountains, ravines & forests, filled with rare birds & domesticated wild animals. This was one of the first gardens that tried to create an idealized copy of nature.

Gardens for poets & scholars (221–618 AD)

After the fall of the Han dynasty, a long period of political instability began in China. Buddhism was introduced into China by Emperor Ming (57–75 AD), & spread rapidly. By 495, the city of Luoyang, capital of the Northern Wei dynasty, had over 1,300 temples, mostly in the former residences of believers. Each of the temples had its own small garden.

During this period, many former government officials left the court & built gardens where they could escape the outside world & concentrate on nature & literature. One example was the Jingu Yuan, or Garden of the Golden Valley, built by Shi Chong (249–300 AD), an aristocrat & former court official, who in 296 completed a garden ten kilometers northeast of Luoyang. He invited thirty famous poets to a banquet in his garden, & wrote about the event himself: I have a country house at the torrent of the Golden Valley...where there is a spring of pure water, a luxuriant woods, fruit trees, bambo, cypress, & medicinal plants. There are fields, two hundred sheep, chickens, pigs, geese & ducks...There is also a water mill, a fish pond, caves, & everything to distract the look & please the heart....With my literary friends, we took walks day & night, feasted, climbed a mountain to view the scenery, & sat by the side of the stream. This visit to the garden resulted in a famous collection of poems, Jingu Shi, or Poems of the Golden Valley, & launched a long tradition of writing poetry in & about gardens.

The poet & calligrapher Wang Xizhi (307–365) wrote in his excellent calligraphy the Preface to the Poems Composed at the Orchid Pavilion introducing a book recording the event of the Orchid Pavilion Gathering, another famous poetry setting at a country retreat called the "Orchid Pavilion". This was a park with a meandering stream. He brought together a group of famous poets, & seated them beside the stream. Then he placed cups of wine in the stream, & let them float. If the cup stopped beside one of the poets, he was obliged to drink it & then compose a poem. The garden of the floating cup (liubei tang), with small pavilions & artificial winding streams, became extremely popular in both imperial & private gardens.

The Orchid Pavilion inspired Emperor Yang (604–617) of the Sui dynasty to build his new imperial garden, the Garden of the West, near Hangzhou. His garden had a meandering stream for floating glasses of wine & pavilions for writing poetry. He also used the park for theatrical events; he launched small boats on his stream with animated figures illustrating the history of China.
Tang dynasty (618–907), First Golden Age of the Classical Garden

The Tang dynasty (618–907 AD) was considered the first golden age of the classical Chinese garden. Emperor Xuanzong built a magnificent imperial garden, the Garden of the Majestic Clear Lake, near Xi′an, & lived there with his famous concubine, Consort Yang.

Painting & poetry reached a level never seen before, & new gardens, large & small, filled the capital city, Chang'an. The new gardens, were inspired by classical legends & poems. There were shanchi yuan, gardens with artificial mountains & ponds, inspired by the legend of the isles of immortals, & shanting yuan, gardens with replicas of mountains & small viewing houses, or pavilions. Even ordinary residences had tiny gardens in their courtyards, with terracotta mountains & small ponds.

These Chinese classical gardens, or scholar's gardens (wenren yuan), were inspired by, & in turn inspired, classical Chinese poetry & painting. A notable example was the Jante Valley Garden of the poet-painter & civil servant Wang Wei (701–761). He bought the ruined villa of a poet, located near the mouth of a river & a lake. He created twenty small landscape scenes within his garden, with names such as the Garden of Magnolias, the Waving Willows, the Kiosk in the Heart of the Bamboos, the Spring of the Golden Powder, & the View-House beside the Lake. He wrote a poem for each scene in the garden & commissioned a famous artist, to paint scenes of the garden on the walls of his villa. After retiring from the government, he passed his time taking boat trips on the lake, playing the cithare & writing & reciting poetry.

During the Tang dynasty, plant cultivation was developed to an advanced level, with many plant species being grown by means of plant introduction, domestication, transplantation, & grafting.  The aesthetic properties of plants were highlighted, while numerous books on plant classification & cultivation were published.  The capital, Chang'an, was a very cosmopolitan city, filled with diplomats, merchants, pilgrims, monks & students, who carried descriptions of the gardens all over Asia. The economic prosperity of the Tang dynasty led to the increasing construction of classical gardens across all of China.

The last great garden of the Tang dynasty was the Hamlet of the Mountain of the Serene Spring (Pingquan Shanzhuang), built east of the city of Luoyang by Li Deyu, Grand Minister of the Tang Empire. The garden was vast, with over a hundred pavilions & structures, but it was most famous for its collection of exotic-shaped rocks & plants, which he collected all over China. Rocks of unusual shapes, known as Chinese Scholars' Rocks, often selected to portray the part of a mountain or mountain range in a garden scene, gradually became an essential feature of the Chinese garden.
Song Dynasty (960–1279)

There were two periods of the Song dynasty, northern & southern, & both were known for the construction of famous gardens. Emperor Huizong (1082–1135) was an accomplished painter of birds & flowers. A scholar himself, he integrated elements of the scholar garden into his grand imperial garden. His first garden, called The Basin of the Clarity of Gold, was an artificial lake surrounded by terraces & pavilions. The public was invited into the garden in the spring for boat races & spectacles on the lake. In 1117 he personally supervised the building of a new garden. He had exotic plants & picturesque rocks brought from around China for his garden, particularly the prized rocks from Lake Tai. Some of the rocks were so large that, in order to move them by water on the grand canal, he had to destroy all the bridges between Hangzhou & Beijing. In the center of his garden he had constructed an artificial mountain a hundred meters high, with cliffs & ravines, which he named Genyue, or "The Mountain of Stability." The garden was finished in 1122. In 1127, Emperor Huizong was forced to flee from the Song capital, Kaifeng, when it came under attack by the armies of the Jurchen-led Jin dynasty. When he returned (as a captive of the Jurchens), he found his garden completely destroyed, all the pavilions burned & the art works looted. Only the mountain remained.

While the imperial gardens were the best known, many smaller but equally picturesque gardens were built in cities such as Luoyang. The Garden of the Monastery of the Celestial Rulers in Luoyang was famous for its peonies; the entire city came when they were in bloom. The Garden of Multiple Springtimes was famous for its view of the mountains. The most famous garden in Luoyang was The Garden of Solitary Joy (Dule Yuan), built by the poet & historian Sima Guang (1021–1086). His garden had an area of eight mu, or about 1.5 hectares. In the center was the Pavilion of Study, his library, with five thousand volumes. To the north was an artificial lake, with a small island, with a picturesque fisherman's hut. To the east was a garden of medicinal herbs, & to the west was an artificial mountain, with a belevedere at the summit to view the surrounding neighborhoods.

After fall of Kaifeng, the capital of the Song dynasty was moved to Lin'an (present-day Hangzhou, Zhejiang). The city of Lin'an soon had more than fifty gardens built on the shore of the Western Lake. The other city in the province famous for its gardens was Suzhou, where many scholars, government officials & merchants built residences with gardens. Some of these gardens still exist today, though most been much altered over the centuries.

The oldest Suzhou garden that can be seen today is the Blue Wave Pavilion, built in 1044 by the Song dynasty poet Su Shunqing. (1008–1048). In the Song dynasty, it consisted of a hilltop viewing pavilion. Other lakeside pavilions were added, including a reverence hall, a recitation hall, & a special pavilion for watching the fish. Over the centuries it was much modified, but still keeps its essential plan.

Another Song dynasty garden still in existence is the Master of the Nets Garden in Suzhou. It was created in 1141 by Shi Zhengzhi, Deputy Civil Service Minister of the Southern Song government. It had his library, the Hall of Ten Thousand Volumes, & an adjacent garden called the Fisherman's Retreat. It was extensively remodeled between 1736 & 1796, but it remains one of the best example of a Song Dynasty Scholars Garden.

In the city of Wuxi, on the edge of Lake Tai & at the foot of two mountains, there were thirty four gardens recorded by the Song dynasty historian Zhou Mi (1232–1308). The two most famous gardens, the Garden of the North (Beiyuan) & the Garden of the South (Nanyuan), both belonged to Shen Dehe, Grand Minister to Emperor Gaozong (1131–1162). The Garden of the South was a classic mountain-&-lake (shanshui) garden; it had a lake with an Island of Immortality (Penglai dao), on which were three great boulders from Taihu. The Garden of the South was a water garden, with five large lakes connected to Lake Tai. A terrace gave visitors a view of the lake & the mountains.
Yuan dynasty (1279–1368)

In 1271, Kublai Khan established the Mongol-led Yuan dynasty in China. By 1279, he annihilated the last resistance of the Song dynasty & unified China under Mongol rule. He established a new capital on the site of present-day Beijing, called Dadu, the Great Capital.

The most famous garden of the Yuan dynasty was Kublai Khan's summer palace & garden at Xanadu. The Venetian traveler Marco Polo is believed to have visited Xanadu in about 1275, & described the garden this way: "Round this Palace a wall is built, inclosing a compass of 16 miles, & inside the Park there are fountains & rivers & brooks, & beautiful meadows, with all kinds of wild animals (excluding such as are of ferocious nature), which the Emperor has procured & placed there to supply food for his gerfalcons & hawks, which he keeps there in mew. Of these there are more than 200 gerfalcons alone, without reckoning the other hawks. The Khan himself goes every week to see his birds sitting in mew, & sometimes he rides through the park with a leopard behind him on his horse's croup; & then if he sees any animal that takes his fancy, he slips his leopard at it, & the game when taken is made over to feed the hawks in mew. This he does for diversion."

When he established his new capital at Dadu, Kublai Khan enlarged the artificial lakes that had been created a century earlier by the Jurchen-led Jin dynasty, & built up the island of Oinghua, creating a striking contrast between curving banks of the lake & garden & the strict geometry of what later became the Forbidden City of Beijing.

Despite the Mongol invasion, the classical Chinese scholar's garden continued to flourish in other parts of China. An excellent example was the Lion Grove Garden in Suzhou. It was built in 1342, & took its name from the collection of fantastic & grotesque assemblies of rocks, taken from Lake Tai. Some of them were said to look like the heads of lions. The Kangxi & Qianlong emperors of the Qing dynasty each visited the garden several times, & used it as model for their own summer garden, the Garden of Perfect Splendor, at the Chengde Mountain Resort.

In 1368, forces of the Ming dynasty, led by Zhu Yuanzhang, captured Dadu from the Mongols & overthrew the Yuan dynasty. Zhu Yuanzhang ordered the Yuan palaces in Dadu to be burned down.
Ming dynasty (1368–1644)

Jichang Garden in Wuxi (1506–1521)
The most famous existing garden from the Ming dynasty is the Humble Administrator's Garden in Suzhou. It was built during the reign of the Zhengde Emperor (1506–1521) by Wang Xianchen, a minor government administrator who retired from government service & devoted himself to his garden. The garden has been much altered since it was built, but the central part has survived; a large pond full of lotus blossoms, surrounded by structures & pavilions designed as viewpoints of the lake & gardens. The park has an island, the Fragrant Isle, shaped like a boat. It also makes good use of the principle of the "borrowed view," (jiejing) carefully framing views of the surrounding mountains & a famous view of a distant pagoda.

Another existing garden from the Ming dynasty is the Lingering Garden, also in Suzhou, built during the reign of the Wanli Emperor (1573–1620). During the Qing dynasty, twelve tall limestone rocks were added to the garden, symbolizing mountains. The most famous was a picturesque rock called the Auspicious Cloud-Capped Peak, which became a centerpiece of the garden.

A third renowned Ming era garden in Suzhou is the Garden of Cultivation, built during the reign of the Tianqi Emperor (1621–27) by the grandson of Wen Zhengming, a famous Ming painter & calligrapher. The garden is built around a pond, with the Longevity Pavilion on the north side, the Fry Pavilion on the east side, a dramatic rock garden on the south, & the creator's study, the Humble House, to the west.
Design of the classical garden

A Chinese garden was not meant to be seen all at once; the plan of a classical Chinese garden  presented the visitor with a series of perfectly composed & framed glimpses of scenery; a view of a pond, or of a rock, or a grove of bamboo, a blossoming tree, or a view of a distant mountain peak or a pagoda. The 16th-century Chinese writer & philosopher Ji Cheng instructed garden builders to "hide the vulgar & the common as far as the eye can see, & include the excellent & the splendid."

Chinese classical gardens varied greatly in size. The largest garden in Suzhou, the Humble Administrator's Garden, was a little over ten hectares in area, with one fifth of the garden occupied by the pond.  But they did not have to be large. Ji Cheng built a garden for Wu Youyu, the Treasurer of Jinling, that was just under one hectare in size, & the tour of the garden was only four hundred steps long from the entrance to the last viewing point, but Wu Youyu said it contained all the marvels of the province in a single place.

The classical garden was surrounded by a wall, usually painted white, which served as a pure backdrop for the flowers & trees. A pond of water was usually located in the center. Many structures, large & small, were arranged around the pond. In the garden described by Ji Cheng above, the structures occupied two-thirds of the hectare, while the garden itself occupied the other third. In a scholar garden the central building was usually a library or study, connected by galleries with other pavilions which served as observation points of the garden features. These structures also helped divide the garden into individual scenes or landscapes. The other essential elements of a scholar garden were plants, trees, & rocks, all carefully composed into small perfect landscapes. Scholar gardens also often used what was called "borrowed" scenery (借景 jiejing) ; where unexpected views of scenery outside the garden, such as mountain peaks, seemed to be an extension of the garden itself.

Architecture Classical gardens traditionally have these structures:

The ceremony hall (ting), or “room”. A building used for family celebrations or ceremonies, usually with an interior courtyard, not far from the entrance gate.

The principal pavilion (da ting), or “large room”, for the reception of guests, for banquets & for celebrating holidays, such as New Years & the Festival of Lanterns. It often has a veranda around the building to provide cool & shade.

The pavilion of flowers (hua ting), or “flower room”. Located near the residence, this building has a rear courtyard filled with flowers, plants, & a small rock garden.

The pavilion facing the four directions (si mian ting), or “four doors room”. This building has folding or movable walls, for opening up a panoramic view of the garden.

The lotus pavilion (he hua ting), or “lotus room”. Built next to a lotus pond, to see the flowers bloom & appreciate their aroma.

The pavilion of mandarin ducks (yuan yang ting), or “mandarin ducks room”. This building is divided into two sections; one facing north used in summer, facing a lotus pond which provided cool air; & the southern part used in winter, with a courtyard planted with pine trees, which remained evergreen, & plum trees, whose blossoms announced the arrival of spring.

In addition to these larger halls & pavilions, the garden is filled with smaller pavilions, (also called ting),or “room”, which are designed for providing shelter from the sun or rain, for contemplating a scene, reciting a poem, taking advantage of a breeze, or simply resting. Pavilions might be located where the dawn can best be watched, where the moonlight shines on the water, where autumn foliage is best seen, where the rain can best be heard on the banana leaves, or where the wind whistles through the bamboo stalks. They are sometimes attached to the wall of another building or sometimes stood by themselves at view points of the garden, by a pond or at the top of a hill. They often are open on three sides.

Sources - This article mostly from Wikipedia


Chaoxiong, Feng (2007). The Classical Gardens of Suzhou. Beijing: New World Press. ISBN 978-7-80228-508-8.

Chiu, Che Bing (2010). Jardins de Chine, ou la quête du paradis (in French). Paris: Éditions de la Martinière. ISBN 978-2-7324-4038-5.

Clunas, Craig (1996). Fruitful sites: garden culture in Ming dynasty China. Durham: Duke University Press.

Baridon, Michel (1998). Les Jardins- Paysagistes, Jardiniers, Poetes (in French). Paris: Éditions Robert Lafont. ISBN 978-2-221-06707-9.

Keswick, Maggie (2003). The Chinese garden: history, art, & architecture (3rd ed.). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Sirén, Osvald (1949). Gardens of China. New York, NY: Ronald Press.

Sirén, Osvald (1950). China & Gardens of Europe of the Eighteenth Century.

Song, Z.-S. (2005). Jardins classiques français et chinois: comparaison de deux modalités paysagères (in French). Paris: Editions You Feng.

Tong, Jun. 江南园林志 [Gazetteer of Jiangnan Gardens] (in Chinese).

Tan, Rémi (2009). Le Jardin Chinois par l'image (in French). Paris: Éditions You Feng. ISBN 978-2-84279-142-1.External links

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Bit of History - Gardens of the Middle East

One of the best reviews of Gardens in the Middle East was written in 1994 for his students by Safei El-Deen Hamed, an Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture at The University of Maryland at College Park. (Of course, I might be a little biased toward UofM College Park.)

Paradise on earth: Historical gardens of the arid Middle East by Safei El-Deen Hamed

The model for the historic Islamic gardens of the Middle East is found in the Qur'an, which in 164 verses scattered through four chapters describes the colors, sounds, smells, spatial elements, microclimates, trees, flowers, and waters of Heaven.

International garden designers in search of inspiration and useful ideas are exploring the old gardens of Islam, but many emphasize fanciful geometric patterns, elaborate water features, and colorful planting schemes at the expense of the historical, philosophical, metaphysical, and poetic dimensions of these "earthly paradises."

An Islamic garden is a landscape designed according to certain ideological principles, employing certain physical elements, and focused on certain intentions. The articulation of these elements and intentions is deeply rooted in the teachings of the Islamic faith and in the culture of the Muslim people.

Hanging Gardens of Babylon.  Athanasius Kircher. Turris Babel sive Archontologia. Amsterdam: Jansson-Waesberge 1679.

A subtle sense of unity
As geographically large and as culturally diverse as it may be, the Middle East is underlain by a subtle homogeneity. The landscape architecture historian Norman Newton (1971) discussed the similarity in ambiance between the gardens of the Alhambra, built in thirteenth-century Spain, and the Taj Mahal, built in sixteenth-century India:
The similarity between the two great Islamic monuments is not a matter of detailed form; it is not even an apparent physical sameness. It is a unity of spirit. The two are superb expressions of a plain but powerful truth: that for over a thousand years, among peoples united in religious belief but as diverse in geography and racial origins as the Moors and the Moguls, against all the odds of time and circumstances, feast and famine, there persisted unbroken a deep-seated love of the outdoors and a delight in expressing it. In the long run this affection took many varied forms, but fundamentally it was always there, for over a thousand years. No passing fancy this, but an abiding sense of affinity based on understanding and acceptance of simple virtue. To this end every Muslim was encouraged by the teachings of the Qur'an and by the customs of his religious observance. Of Islam's many remarkable accomplishments, this was by no means the least.
Also influential in developing the homogeneous thinking of the designers of the typical Islamic gardens of the Middle East were earlier civilizations, the arid environment, and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. For thousands of years the Middle East was the stage of various old civilizations: Ancient Egypt, Babylon, Mesopotamia, Persia, Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, and others. In less than 200 years, however, Islam swept across most of the region, adopting from and adapting to an array of contemporary cultures. This evolutionary development succeeded in blending the horticultural talents of the Persians, the agricultural skills of the Egyptians, and the experience in irrigated and dry farming of the bedouins of Arabia and North Africa.

The second influential source of design ideas was the desert environment itself, which affects every aspect of life. The climate of the region is characterized by high average temperature, high solar impact, strong wind, and fierce sandstorms. Ultimately, the lack of sufficient water is the limiting factor in design.

The last source of design ideas in Middle Eastern gardens is found in what Muslims call Al-Sunnah, which may be translated as "the traditions and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad," comprising what he said, did, and accepted in the customs and practices of other cultures.

Typical elements of the Islamic garden
The traditional Islamic gardens of the Middle East included certain shared design elements. The most common were enclosing walls, water features, trees and flowers, and extensive use of the arabesque, the Islamic geometric decoration. These gardens were planned in axial rectangular patterns of simplicity, clarity, discipline, and delicacy not to be found elsewhere during that time.
Many traditional gardens were surrounded by walls and/or a cluster of buildings. This inward-looking composition is interpreted in different ways by different scholars: as an attempt to isolate human-made order from the perceived chaos of the surrounding desert, to insulate the garden's inmates from the harsh desert environment and/or from the dust and pollution of the adjacent streets, to emphasize the privacy of the family and of its female members in particular, and to display a modest and humble exterior to the passing world.

Creswell (1968) sees the clustering of walls, buildings, and tall trees as a prerequisite for the privacy needed to develop the hidden qualities of the spirit. Lesiuk (1980), on the other hand, notes that enclosing the earthly garden with walls and buildings is a metaphoric gesture recalling its heavenly archetype; the surrounding desert on the outside represents desiccation and death, while within are flowers, fruits, shade, water and life. On the whole, there seems to be agreement that, owing to the harsh climate in most of the Muslim countries and to a great moral emphasis on family privacy, the enclosed garden became a typical component for even the simplest house in the Middle East (Newton, 1971).

The second design element of the historical garden of the Middle East was water. The innovative use of water in the Alhambra later was imitated and enriched by many European designers throughout the Western world (ElAraby 1972). To the nomads of the Arabian deserts, designing with water was in almost unbelievable contrast to their original arid environment. Their application of water as a design element was quite imaginative and highly colorful. Water played many roles within the garden design, emphasizing architectural elements, masking outdoor noise, producing pleasing sounds, irrigating plants, moisturizing and cooling the hot dry microclimate, soothing the dusty wind, and providing a source for ablutions before prayers. The scarcity of water and the difficulty of bringing it to the garden compelled Muslim designers to develop efficient methods of irrigation and to embrace a high regard for water as the indispensable support of life.

Another important design element in the Islamic garden was plants. The Muslims inherited a superb vocabulary of trees, shrubs, and flowers from the civilizations that preceded them. Poplars and cypresses gave climatological protection. Elms, willows, and oaks gave shade in summer and let the sun shine through in winter. In order to alleviate the problems of turbulence caused by walls, tall narrow-leafed-cypresses were added to filter the dust and to reduce windspeed within the garden. These were planted across the entire east and west sides and thus cast shadows across the whole garden throughout the day. Pines were used as a large-scale contrast. Animals, introduced to give animation to the garden, included swans, pheasants, pigeons, ducks and singing birds.

Citrus trees were treasured for their fruit and perfumed flowers. Fruit trees, in general, had a very high priority in the overall design scheme. They provided not only food and daytime color but also a canopy over the courtyard at night. This canopy restricted re-radiation losses from below and thus effectively trapped cool air. Traditional designers circulated this cool air from the garden through the house, thereby creating a natural cooling system.

Babylon Ancient Iraq  Athanasius Kircher. Turris Babel sive Archontologia. Amsterdam: Jansson-Waesberge 1679.

The dual paradigm
In contrast to the modern Western garden, which customarily is a place for extrovert show, the Islamic garden often is introverted, more a mental and spiritual exercise than an exercise in display, as Brookes (1987) noted:
But beneath the superficial delights of the Middle Eastern garden lies a far deeper significance: in Islam no pleasure is taken at random; each is part of greater unity, every individual aspect of Truth links laterally with other aspects and can be analyzed individually to discover its relevance within the whole.
The designer of the historic Islamic garden of the Middle East is a product of an age of reason based on faith (Hitti 1966). In Islam, absolute belief in God meant, by extension, a belief in the seen, including the unity of humanity and the continuity of the message, and a belief in the unseen, including the music of the spheres, in which God and men and nature exist in harmony. This dual paradigm of the object and the spirit is the basis of that subtle unity seen in the similarities that link the Taj Mahal and the Alhambra.

How was this unity achieved in landscape architecture? This question may be answered by examining seven different concepts: diversity, beauty, conservation, individualism, multiple-use, and moderation.

The concept of diversity
As in the theme and style of the Qur'an, the Islamic garden of the Middle East contains constant interplay between the real and the ideal, practicality and fantasy, the physical and the metaphysical, the tangible and the symbolic, and the natural and the urban. And as in most other forms of Islamic art, one finds a melding of science and art, of light and shadow, and a clear yet limitless space for imagination and freedom of the soul. This richness highlights another lesson of design, the simplicity underlying diversity, as noted by Moore (1988):
And the apparently limitless patterns are ingenious variations on very simple themes: the five thousand pieces of stucco in the Hall of the Two Sisters are of only eleven patterns, based on just four plane shapes. Beneath all the diversities of surface are just the seven possible frieze symmetries and the seventeen possible wallpaper symmetries.
In brief, the compositional message of the typical Islamic garden is that intricacy is more pleasing if based on order, and that diversity is more satisfying if it is attained through an element of unity.

The concept of beauty
Although Islam has serious reservations about making a divine image of statuary, it has always stressed beauty and aesthetic qualities as aspects of faith itself. Muslims produced numerous arts, ranging from that of dress and interior decoration to music and poetry. These were integrated into life rather than being a separate activity or product (Nasr 1988).
Beauty, scenic quality, and other sensory values are not a luxury to the Islamic mind. "God is beautiful and He loves beauty," is a saying of the Prophet Muhammad. This notion is reflected in many design decisions. Beauty without arrogance is a value rooted in the Islamic culture. Thus, the interiors of private homes and public buildings can be decorated to the highest levels of sophistication, while the exterior walls traditionally were plain, austere, simple. This contrast is a physical manifestation of an important moral teaching of Islam regarding the inner richness of the soul and the humble appearance of the body.

The concept of conservation
Water is a life-sustaining resource, and the Islamic garden designer treated it as such. Recognizing how limited such a natural resource is in the arid lands, he always used it with restraint. As an aesthetic element, it is not used as a gushing, spraying fountain but as a gentle, single, thin jet of water making soft, trickling sounds. And as Moore (1988) observed of the Court of Lions at the Alhambra:
The opulent play of overlaid patterns loses none of its luster when we discern the almost Spartan rigor behind all this complexity: There is really very little water, for instance, and a careful placement of the nozzles makes the most of every drop.
In brief, the emphasis is on the economical, but always aesthetic, use of water.

Tower of Babel  Athanasius Kircher. Turris Babel sive Archontologia. Amsterdam: Jansson-Waesberge 1679.

The concept of contextuality
Historians have concluded that some kind of zoning in old Middle Eastern cities actually existed (Goitein 1966):
Was there any zoning, e.g. compulsory division of the city into residential, commercial, and industrial quarters? That some such division existed is evident from the very names of many bazaars, markets, squares, streets and other localities - names which indicate a specialization in a certain trade or industry.
The orderly spatial relationship among different land uses apparent in various Islamic cities indicates a sense of conceptual planning. Examples of this are found in the placement of craftsmen's homes above their shops and of student dormitories above their madrassa (school), indicating a deliberate link between housing and learning or housing and business. To Muslim designers, contextuality is a two-sided issue. Architects and planners do not site their buildings, gardens, or any other development in an empty space where they are free to do whatever they like. Instead, they are reacting. Each design has to fit into two environments: the natural and the urban, the God-made and the man-made. If a Muslim designer disrespects the former he will be a sinner, and if he disregards the latter his action will be considered evidence of a lack of civility.

The concept of individualism
Islam requires that each individual stand on his own merit, find his own truth, and be responsible directly to God. There is no intermediary in this process. No saints, no clergymen, no prophets can help much beyond passing a message. This is true for most Islamic schools of thought. Individuals must make their decisions alone. Given such an attitude, the individuality of ideas and actions within an overall commonalty of purpose is pervasive. The bearing of all this on garden design and planning is both direct and obvious; the right decision in one development seldom can be transplanted directly to another development in another setting. Jellicoe (1975) offers an example:
While the Persian tradition of the char-bagn or fourfold garden was the basis of Mughal design, the emperors were no mere copyists. Their gardens were adapted and developed according to the demands of climate and site and even, upon occasion, reflected state policies toward foreign powers, particularly in their architecture.
This appreciation of regional variations among the Islamic gardens across the Middle East is the key to its rich and diversified typology.

The concept of multiple use
The typical Islamic garden is a life-sustaining oasis, benefiting humans, birds, and animals. It is an orchard/garden, growing fruits and often aromatic herbs for human consumption. Its trees provide food, water, and resting places for birds, and its walls may contain dovecotes. It provides water for all kinds of creatures. In short, it is as useful and productive as it is beautiful (Llewellyn 1983).
The current, Post-Renaissance notion of what constitutes a garden would have been unintelligible to a medieval Muslim. Producing food while at the same time displaying beauty and accommodating leisure activities is a multiple-use concept that has been declining through the centuries. On the whole, the Islamic concept of open space planning is an inseparable component of mixed-use built form. The functions may be combined hierarchically but they ultimately have to produce an organized complex of great internal clarity to accommodate such activities as movement, formal and informal gathering, prayer and meditation, individual and group learning, orientation and identification, and active and passive recreation (Skidmore and others 1981).

Nineveh Center of Royal Palace to the right of the Royal Tomb  Athanasius Kircher. Turris Babel sive Archontologia. Amsterdam: Jansson-Waesberge 1679.

The concept of moderation
In contrast to the profound dichotomy of European design thinking, represented on one hand by Le Notre in France and on the other by Capability Brown in England, the Islamic garden portrays an equilibrium of both the rational and the natural. Throughout Europe, the two European schools of thought in exterior design were demonstrated in its gardens. In France, Versailles conformed to Cartesian criteria, highlighting the triumph of reason over nature, with man imposing his will upon the external world. In England, the romantic landscape garden symbolized the unconditional surrender of human spirit to nature (MacDougal and Ettinghausen 1976). On the other coast of the Mediterranean, the Muslim designer reached out to a more balanced and newly synthesized position. Echoing the Qur'anic teaching of "we have indeed created you a middle nation," his effort was focused on seeking the Truth, the Way and the Divine Law anywhere they could be found.
In brief, noble intentions precede, in the mind of Muslim designers and craftsmen, any impressive patterns, traditional appearances, or attractive artifacts. As Hill (1964) notes:

The craftsmen of a thousand years ago worked towards some definite goal -- the completion of the Qur'an in honor of God, of a mausoleum in honor of their family or some such worthy object. Today the modern artist often fails when any commission for a modern decoration is given in that he simply works for himself, by himself and within himself, however much he may deny this.

Just as Muslim science and medicine preserved and finally passed on to the Western world much of the knowledge of the ancient world, so Islamic garden design was important both because of its own solutions of many great environmental problems and because it became the great mediating force between the landscape architecture of the Eastern world and the West, as well as one of the great inspirations behind many Renaissance gardens.
It is not a new era in the history of humankind when one culture influences another or one civilization shares the heritage of a former one. It is natural for every nation to build in its own way, first borrowing from the past and then passing to future generations its own special achievements.

To a modern designer, the Islamic gardens of the Middle East may provide new insights and fresh inspiration. They also may illustrate how people in different times and places have successfully related to arid and semiarid environments and how they have coexisted and thrived on the land.

It may not be appropriate today to replicate the old designs in every detail, but certain human needs persist, no matter what the time or place: fresh air to breathe, a warm place to sit and rest, a beautiful landscape to view, a nice sound to enjoy, and a private place to repose and to reflect, to meditate, and to come closer to nature and to one's soul.

References & further reading

Abdalati, H. 1975. Islam in focus. Brentwood (Maryland): American Trust Publications.

Ali, A. Y. 1977. The Holy Qur'an: Text, translation and commentary. Brentwood: American Trust Publications.

Bier, C. 1984. Earthly paradise: Garden and courtyard in Islam: A book review. Middle East Studies Association Bulletin 18(1):105-07.

Brookes, J. 1987. Gardens of paradise. New York: New Amsterdam Books.

Creswell, K.A.C. 1968. A short account of early Muslim architecture. Beirut: Lebanon Bookshop.

Crowe, S., and S. Haywood. 1972. The gardens of Mughul India. London: Thames and Hudson.

Eckbo, G. 1969. The landscapes we see. New York: McGraw Hill.

ElAraby, K. M. 1972. Arabesque: The legacy of Islamic architecture in Europe. Arab World. March-April.

Hamed, S. El-D. The Islamic garden. In The Arab city, edited by I. Serageldin and S. El-Sadek. Washington: Arab Urban Development Institute.

Hill, D. 1964. Islamic architecture and its decoration. London: MacLehose & Co.

Hitti, P.K. 1966. A short history of the Near East. Princeton: Van Nostrand.

Ibn-Taimiyya, T. 1982. Public duties in Islam: The institution of the Hisbah, translated by M. Holland. London: The Islamic Foundation.

Irving, W. 1979 (reissue). The Alhambra. New York: Crescent Books.

Jellicoe, G. and S. 1975. The landscape of man. London: Thames and Hudson.

Lesiuk, S. M. 1980. Landscape planning for energy conservation in the Middle East. Ekistics January/February: 66-68.

Llewellyn, O. 1982. Desert reclamation and Islamic law. Unpublished.

__. 1983. Shariah values pertaining to landscape planning and design. In Islamic architecture and urbanism, edited by A. Germen. Dammam (Saudi Arabia): King Fisal University.

MacDougal, E., and R. Ettinghausen (eds.). The Islamic garden. Washington: Dumberton Oaks.

Moore, C. W. and others. 1988. The poetics of gardens. New York: John Wiley & Co.

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Monday, July 17, 2017

A Bit of Landscape History - Erasmus, The Godly Feast (1522)

Erasmus, The Godly Feast (1522)

Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus (1466-1536), known as simply Erasmus, was a Dutch Renaissance humanist, Catholic priest, social critic, teacher, & theologian.  In this colloquy, friends meet in a garden for a banquet; their talk passes easily and happily from witty classical allusion to devout examination of Scriptural texts.
Workshop of Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553) Portrait of Erasmus

Erasmus, The Godly Feast (1522)

Eusebius. Now that the whole countryside is fresh and smiling, I marvel at people who take pleasure in smoky cities.
Timothy. Some people don’t enjoy the sight of flowers or verdant meadows or fountains or streams; or if they do, something else pleases them more. Thus pleasure succeeds pleasure, as nail drives out nail.
Euseb. Maybe you refer to moneylenders or to greedy merchants, who are just like them.
Tim. Those, yes, but not those alone, my good friend. No, countless others besides them, including the very priests and monks themselves, who for the sake of gain usually prefer to live in cities - the most populous cities. They follow not Pythagorean or Platonic doctrine but that of a certain blind beggar who rejoiced in the jostling of a crowd because, he would say, where there were people there was profit.
Euseb. Away with the blind and their profit! We’re philosophers.
Tim. Also, the philosopher Socrates preferred cities to fields, because he was eager to learn and cities afforded him means of learning. In the fields, to be sure, were trees and gardens, fountains and streams, to please the eye; but they had nothing to say and therefore taught nothing.
Euseb. Socrates was not altogether wrong if you mean roaming in the fields by yourself. In my opinion, however, Nature is not silent but speaks to us everywhere and teaches the observant man many things if she finds him attentive and receptive. What else does the charming countenance of blooming Nature proclaim than that God the Creator’s wisdom is equal to his goodness? But how many things Socrates teaches his Phaedrus in that retreat, and how many does he learn from him in turn!
Tim. If people of that sort were present, nothing could be more enjoyable than country life.
Euseb. Then would you care to try it? I’ve a little country place near town, a modest but well-cultivated place, to which I invite you for lunch tomorrow.
Tim. There are a good many of us. We’d eat you out of house and home.
Euseb. Oh, no, you’ll have a wholly green feast made, as Horace says, ’from food not bought.’ The place itself supplies the wine; the very trees all but drop melons large and small, figs, pears, apples, and nuts into your lap, as happens (if we believe Lucian) in the Fortunate Isles. Perhaps we can have a hen from the coop.
Tim. Well, we won’t decline.
Euseb. But let each one bring his shadow along if he likes. Thus, since there are four of you, we’ll equal the number of the Muses.
Tim. We’ll do it.
Euseb. One thing I want to warn you of: everybody should bring his own seasoning with him. I’ll furnish only the food.
Tim. What seasoning do you mean, pepper or sugar?
Euseb. No, something more common but more agreeable.
Tim. What?
Euseb. An appetite. A light supper today will supply that. Tomorrow a walk will sharpen it; and my little country place will furnish the walk, too. What hour do you like for lunch?
Tim. About ten, before the heat’s too great.
Euseb. I’ll arrange it...

Euseb. The charm of this garden entices many guests, but so strong is the force of custom that hardly any of them passes Jesus without greeting him. I’ve placed him here, instead of the filthy Priapus as protector not only of my garden but of everything I own; in short, of body and soul alike. Here, as you see, is a little fountain bubbling merrily with excellent water. It symbolizes in a manner that unique fountain which refreshes with its heavenly stream all those who labor and are heavy laden, and for which the soul, wearied by the evils of this world, pants as, according to the Psalmist, does the thirsty hart after tasting the flesh of serpents. Whoever thirsts is welcome to drink of it. And some for religion’s sake sprinkle themselves with the water. Some even drink, not because of thirst, but of religion.
I see you don’t like to be torn away from this spot, but meantime the hour warns us to visit the more cultivated garden that the walls of my domain enclose in a square. If there’s anything to be seen in the house, you’ll view it after lunch, when the sun’s heat will keep us indoors like snails for hours.
Tim. Oh! These must be Epicurean gardens, I see.
Euseb. This entire place is intended for pleasure - honest pleasure, that is: to feast the eyes, refresh the nostrils, restore the soul. Here nothing grows buy fragrant herbs, and those not just any herbs but only choice ones. Each kind has its own beds.
Tim. Your herbs here aren’t speechless, either, so far as I can see.
Euseb. Quite right. Other men have luxurious homes; I have one where there’s plenty of talk, in order that I may never seem lonely. You’ll say so even more emphatically when you’ve seen the whole thing. As the herbs are gathered into companies, so to speak, so each company has its banner, with an inscription. For instance, the marjoram here says ’Keep off, sow; I don’t smell for you,’ because swine positively hate this odor, though it is the sweetest of scents. Each kind likewise has its own label indicating the special virtue of that herb.
Tim. Thus far I’ve seen nothing more agreeable than this little fountain. Here in their midst it seems to smile on all the herbs and promises to keep them cool in the heat. But this narrow channel, which shows all the water so gracefully to men’s eyes, dividing the garden on either side in equal distances, and in which all its herbs are reflected as though in a mirror — is it made of marble?
Euseb. Marble, forsooth! Where would marble come from? It’s imitation marble made of cement, with a coating of white paint added.
Tim. Where does such a pretty stream finally bury itself?
Euseb. See how crude we are: after it has delighted our eyes here sufficiently, it drains the kitchen and carries that waste along to the sewer.
Tim. Tha’s callous, so help me!
Euseb. Callous, unless God’s goodness had made it for this use. We’re callous too when we pollute with our sins and wicked lusts the fountain of Sacred Scripture - a far more pleasing fountain than this, given to refresh as well as cleanse our souls - and misuse so unspeakable a gift of God. We do not misuse this water if we employ it for the various purposes for which it was given by him who provides abundantly for human needs.
Tim. What you say is altogether true. But why are even your garden’s artificial hedges green?
Euseb. To avoid having anything here that isn’t green. Some people prefer red because the addition of that color enhances green. I prefer this. Every man to his taste, even in gardens.
Tim. The garden by itself is charming, but its beauty is almost overshadowed by the three galleries.
Euseb. In these I study or stroll, conversing with myself or some close friend. Or, if the fancy strikes me, I have a meal here.
Tim. Those evenly space pillars that support the building, so fascinating by their marvelous variety of colors - are they marble?
Euseb. The same marble this channel is made of.
Tim. An artistic deception indeed! I’d have sworn they were marble.
Euseb. Let that be a warning to you not to believe or swear to anything rashly: appearances often deceive. We make up for lack of wealth by ingenuity.
[They turn now to the frescoes on the walls of the galleries.]
Tim. Wasn’t so neat and trim a garden good enough for you unless you painted other ones besides?
Euseb. One garden wasn’t enough to hold all kinds of plants. Moreover, we are twice pleased when we see a painted flower competing with a real one. In one we admire the cleverness of Nature, in the other the inventiveness of the painter; in each the goodness of God, who gives all these things for our use and is equally wonderful and kind in everything. Finally, a garden isn’t always green nor flowers always blooming. This garden grows and pleases even in midwinter.
Tim. Yet it isn’t fragrant.
Euseb. But on the other hand it needs no attention.
Tim. It pleases only the eyes.
Euseb. True, but it does this forever.
Tim. A picture, too, grows old.
Euseb. Yes, but it’s longer-lived than we are, and age commonly adds to it a grace we lose.
Tim. I wish you were wrong about that!
Euseb. In this gallery, which faces west, I enjoy the morning sun; in that one, which looks to the east, I sun myself sometimes; in the one looking south but open to the north I take refuge from the heat. Let’s walk around, if you like, to get a better view. See, the very ground is green, for the paving stones are beautifully colored and gladden one with painted flowers. This painted grove you observe, covering the entire wall, presents a varied spectacle. In the first place, you see as many varieties of trees as you do trees, each one represented with no little accuracy. You see as many species of birds as you do birds, especially those fairly rare and renowned for one reason or another. (What use to paint geese, hens and ducks?) Underneath are species of quadrupeds or of those birds that live on the ground like quadrupeds...

Euseb. You’ll now see what the back door has to show us. Here you see an ample garden, divided into two parts. In one are herbs for the table; my wife and maidservant rule here. In the other are all sorts of medicinal herbs, especially the rare ones. To the left is an open meadow with nothing but green grass, enclosed by a quickset hedge. There I stroll sometimes or entertain myself with company. To the right is an orchard in which, at your leisure, you’ll see many exotic trees. These I’m gradually training to accustom themselves to our climate.
Tim. Well! You outdo Alcinous himself.
Euseb. Here at the end, joining the upper gallery which you’ll see after lunch, is an aviary. You’ll see different shapes and hear different tongues. Equally diverse are the birds’ natures: among some, kinship and mutual affection; among others, irreconcilable enmity. Yet they’re all so tame that when the window there is opened at dinner, they fly down to the table and take food from your hands. Whenever I approach on the little arched bridge you see, talking with a friend, they sit nearby and listen, perching on my arms or shoulders, so fearless are they, because they know nobody harms them. At the far end of the orchard is the kingdom of the bees; no unattractive sight, either. I won’t let you look any more just now; I want you to have something to bring you back, as though to a new spectacle. After lunch I’ll show you the rest...

Euseb. Here you see the main part of my wealth. On the table you saw nothing but glass and pewter. There isn’t a silver vessel in the entire house; just one gilded cup, which I treasure out of affection for the person who gave it to me. This hanging globe puts the whole world before your eyes. Here on the walls every region is painted in a larger space. On the other walls you see pictures of famous teachers. To paint them all would have been an endless task. Christ, seated on the mountain with his hand outstretched, has the foremost place. The Father appears above his head, saying ’Hear ye him.’ With spreading wings the Holy Spirit enfolds him in dazzling light.
Tim. A work worthy of Apelles, so help me!
Euseb. Adjoining the library is a study, narrow but neat. When the board’s removed you see a small hearth to use if you’re cold. In summer it seems a solid wall.
Tim. To me everything here seems precious. And there’s a delightful scent.
Euseb. I try very hard to keep the house shining and fragrant. To do both is not expensive. The library has its own balcony, overlooking the garden; connected with it is a chapel.
Tim. A place fit for a deity.
Euseb. Now let’s go on to those three galleries above the ones you saw, the ones looking out on the kitchen garden. These upper ones have a view on each side, but through windows that can be closed - especially in these walls that do not face the inner garden - to make the house safer. Here on the left, because there is more light and the wall has fewer windows, is painted in order the entire life of Jesus as related by the four evangelists, up to the sending forth of the Holy Spirit and the first preaching of the apostles from Acts. Place names are added, too, to enable the spectator to learn by which water or on which mountain the event took place; also captions summarizing the whole story, for example, Jesus’ words, ’I will: be thou clean.’ Opposite are corresponding figures and prophecies of the Old Testament, particularly from the prophets and Psalms — which contain nothing other than the life of Christ and the apostles, told in a different manner. Here I stroll sometimes, conversing with myself and meditating upon that inexpressible purpose of God by which he willed to restore the human race through his son. Sometimes my wife, or a friend pleased by sacred subjects, keeps me company.
Tim. Who could be bored in this house?
Euseb. No one who has learned to live with himself. Along the top of the painting are added, as though supernumeraries, portraits of the popes with their names; opposite, portraits of the Caesars, to help one remember history. In each corner of the wings is a small bedchamber, where one can rest; from it one can see the orchard and my little birds. Here in the farthest corner of the meadow you see another small building, where we sometimes dine in summer and where anyone of the household who is stricken with a contagious disease is cared for.

Erasmus, Desiderius. The Colloquies of Erasmus. Transl. Craig R. Thompson. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1965.