Thursday, July 9, 2009

Garden like an Eqyptian or an Italian or …

Most people, when looking for inspiration for their water garden, think of Koi & Japanese Gardens. You may be surprised to find that the Japanese were not the first culture to keep water in their garden. In fact there are many very diverse cultures that influence today’s water gardens.
The earliest depictions of a planned water garden actually dates back around 4000 years. Egyptians would plant their gardens inside the walls that surrounded their homes. Ancient records show hieroglyphics & paintings of formal water gardens, rectangular in shape, filled with fish, ducks & lotuses & surrounded by fruit trees, ornamental plants, & date palms. The Lotus was believed to be a symbol of the sun, to them, it represented creation and rebirth because it would close at night & re-open in the day.
One of the seven wonders of the ancient world is the Hanging Gardens of Babylon created by Nebuchadnezzar II for his wife. These formal Persian walled gardens with their pools & irrigation canals symbolized paradise in an otherwise hot & arid climate. There were rooftop & terrace gardens & fountains to cool the area. Water was brought to the top of the artificial mountain from the river below with a system of buckets, pulleys & pumps & men to power the system.
In the hills of northern Italy is the Villa d’ Este palace. This 16th Century garden is dedicated to water features of all sizes. The neatest fountain at the palace is called the Organ fountain. The organ’s pipes which are hidden under the water actually play music. Everything there is turned into a water feature from cement statues to stairs with rivulets. Another 16th Century garden is the Villa Medici which is very similar to the Babylon gardens. Unlike the Persian gardens, the Italian garden is on a hillside making it much easier for the water to flow over the waterfalls.
Many Roman gardens where built in conjunction with the public baths giving them a serene spot to meditate.
Moorish gardens from the 13th to the 16th century in Spain were primarily created with water, fruit trees & shade. The pools with ornate tiles & spouting fountains would be the center piece of the courtyard garden surrounded by shade trees & colorful plantings.
For 2500 years classic Chinese gardens have contained one or more ponds along with pavilions, bridges & bright colored flowers. These peaceful gardens are usually surrounded by white walls with a fancy gate or doorway. The Chinese use four elements in their gardens, water, plants, rocks & architecture, they believe that the garden symbolizes a living organism with the rocks being the bones, the water is the blood & the plants are the dressing. Chinese gardens are meant to bring balance, soothe the spirit & be spiritually uplifting.
Japanese gardens may be famous for their beautiful graceful Koi ponds but they draw inspiration from the Chinese gardens. A Japanese garden is a reflection of a larger natural landscape. Although water is a very important element in Japanese garden along with manicured shrubs, stone & moss it doesn’t necessarily have to be literal, as in a Koi pond, stream & small basin. Water can be simply represented by a dry stream or raked bed of pebbles surrounding a large boulder.
With varying tastes & styles, modern American gardens use elements of historic gardens from all over the world. The gardens of Europe being the biggest influence on North American water gardens. If you ask me a garden isn’t a garden without water.

"Of all the elements, the Sage should take water as his preceptor. Water is yielding but all-conquering. Water extinguishes Fire or, finding itself likely to be defeated, escapes as steam and reforms. Water washes away soft Earth or, when confronted by rocks, seeks a way around. . . It saturates the atmosphere so that Wind dies. Water gives way to obstacles with deceptive humility, for no power can prevent it following its destined course to the sea. Water conquers by yielding; it never attacks but always wins the last battle." (John Blofeld's The Wheel of Life)

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