As seen in tomb paintings
from 3000 BC, the Egyptians planted gardens within the walled enclosures
surrounding their homes. In time these gardens came to be formally laid out
around a rectangular fish pond flanked by rows of fruit trees and ornamental
In the highlands of
Mesopotamia, the Assyrians and Persians planned rectangular walled formal
gardens, irrigated by pools and canals and shaded by trees, usually set in
vast plains. These gardens symbolized paradise and inspired Persian carpet
Roman houses, similar to Greek
houses, included a colonnaded garden, as depicted in wall paintings at
Pompeii and as described by Pliny the Elder. The vast grounds of the Emperor
Hadrian's villa near Tivoli (2nd century AD) were magnificently landscaped.
The Roman populace enjoyed gardens attached to the public baths.
Living where the climate is
generally hot and dry, the Muslims were inspired by the desert oasis and the
ancient Persian paradise garden centered on water. Muslim gardens were
usually one or more enclosed courts surrounded by cool arcades and planted
with trees and shrubs. They were enlivened with colored tilework, fountains
and pools, and the interplay of light and shade. Before the 15th century, the
Moors in Spain built such gardens at Córdoba, Toledo, and especially at the
Alhambra in Granada. Similar gardens, in which flowers, fruit trees, water,
and shade were arranged in a unified composition, were built by the Mughals
in 17th- and 18th-century India. The most notable examples are the Taj Mahal
gardens in Agra and the Shalimar Gardens in Lahore.
In China, palaces, temples,
and houses were built around a series of courtyards, which might include
trees and plants (often in pots that could be changed with the seasons), and
pools. The Imperial City in Beijing contained elaborate pleasure gardens with
trees, artificial lakes and hillocks, bridges, and pavilions.
Japan has a long tradition of
gardens inspired by those of China and Korea. Kyoto was especially famous for
its gardens which included pools and waterfalls; rocks, stone, and sand; and
evergreens. Every element of a garden was carefully planned, sometimes by Zen
monks and painters, to create an effect of restraint, harmony, and peace.
Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque Periods
In medieval Europe at the
9th-century Swiss abbey of St. Gall, the large garden was divided into four
areas, for herbs, vegetables, fruits, and flowers. The gardens of most
monasteries were surrounded by cloistered walks and had a well or fountain at
the center, possibly inspired by Persian gardens, which was intended to
During the Renaissance in
Italy, castles gave way to palaces and villas with extensive grounds
landscaped in the Roman tradition. Borders of tall, dark cypresses and
clipped yew hedges, geometric flower beds, stone balustrades, fountains, and
sculptures conformed strictly to the overall plan. Examples from the 15th
century include the gardens of the Medici, Palmieri, and La Pietra villas in
or near Florence. Among increasingly formal and elaborate villa complexes
in the 16th century are the Villa Lante in Bagnaia and the Villa Farnese in
Caprarola. Others are the Villa Madama and the Villa Medici in Rome and the
Villa d'Este in Tivoli.
Italian gardens of the 17th
century became even more complex in the dramatic baroque style. They were
distinguished by lavish use of serpentine lines, groups of sculptured
allegorical figures in violent movement, and a multiplicity of spouting
fountains and waterfalls. Examples are the Villa Aldobrandini in Frascati,
Villa Garzoni in Collodi, Villa Giovio in Como, and the gardens on the Isola
Bella in Lake Maggiore.
Modified versions of Italian
Renaissance and baroque gardens appeared throughout Europe. In Spain,
Moorish and Renaissance elements were combined in the gardens of the Alcázar
in Seville. In France the great châteaus of the Loire valley, such as
Chambord and Chenonceaux, were laid out with formal gardens, and with
extensive forested parks.
In the 17th century, France
replaced Italy as the primary inspiration of architectural and landscape
design. The vast building programs of Louis XIV included miles of
symmetrically arranged gardens, which, like royal architecture of the period,
were designed to give an impression of limitless grandeur. The grounds were
regularly intersected by radiating alleys lined with trees or hedges and
embellished with fountains, pavilions, and statuary. Versailles and its
immense gardens spawned splendid imitations in dozens of kingdoms and
principalities throughout Europe.
In the late 18th century the
rise of romanticism, with its emphasis on untamed nature, the picturesque,
the past, and the exotic, led to important changes in landscape architecture
as well as in other arts. At such great houses as Blenheim Palace and
Chatsworth, English architects replaced the symmetrically arranged flower
beds and straight walks with sweeping lawns, sloping hills with curving paths,
and rivers and ponds punctuated by informally planted groups of trees and
shrubbery, to achieve the effect of a wilderness.
The English romantic style
spread to the rest of Europe by way of France, where a notable example of the
style was created at Ermenonville. It was introduced in North America at
Monticello, Jefferson's Virginia estate. The most important example of this
style is Central Park, New York City, designed in 1857.
Domestic architecture in the
first half of the 20th century attempted to achieve a closer integration of
the house with its surroundings. In areas with mild climates, such as
California, a garden might be continued within the house. With today's
apartment-style living, many architects seek to incorporate natural elements
into their interior designs. Indoor pools and water fountains are enjoying
great popularity in shopping malls, offices, and homes. They offer an oasis
of cool tranquility in an otherwise hectic world.