National Geographic : 1947 Jul
"In a Persian Garden" WITH the steady increase in aridity throughout western Asia during the last 5,000 years or more, the peoples of this region were more and more forced to depend on irrigation for success with their plants. Pleasure plots of trees and flowers, when clearly apart from the irrigated fruit and vege table gardens, of necessity had to be some what restricted in size. This led to experimentation on the most economical spacing of the plants employed as well as considerable attention to the combina tion of species so that no part of a garden would long be devoid of bloom. Concentration on these details could lead to only one thing raising of the art of gardening to an exceed ingly high level. Religion also often has played an impor tant part in directing the trend of garden prac tices, and there certainly is no exception to this in western Asia. Those who held to the ancient faith of Zoroaster firmly believed that the Heaven to which they eventually would go was a Garden or Paradise. And the much later teachings of Mohammed did nothing to dispel this fundamental faith; in fact, Mo hammed increased the number of Heavenly Gardens considerably. In addition to spar kling fountains, shade trees with wide-spread ing branches, and banks of fragrant flowers, it was promised the Faithful that one of these Persian Paradises would have attendants "with complexions like rubies and pearls"; another was scheduled to be attended by brunettes "with fine black eyes." To the old Persian, a Garden and Paradise were the same thing. And that is why Omar the Tentmaker could pay no prettier compli ment to his ladylove than to say that if she would but sit beside him singing in the wilder ness it would be Paradise enough. Being an Oriental lady, she probably understood his desire for further solace from a loaf of bread and jug of wine. One thing the Koran forbade; that was the making of images. Therefore the gardens of the Mohammedan period were neither cluttered with statuary nor tortured with examples of clipped topiary work. The innate love of de sign and form which the Persians had was entirely concentrated on the working out of intricate patterns in the garden itself. Usually rectangular in shape, the garden almost invari ably centered around a well, or storage pool a necessity in a dry region. Generally there were four main paths meet ing at the well, these bordered by water canals. From these the smaller irrigation channels in turn led directly to the various plots. Because of this necessary irrigation system in a rela tively small space, the entire garden became geometric in form. But those cold Persian winters and the clammy tile floors of the homes! What, then, would be more natural than to cover those chilly tiles with warm rugs "when the rose is dead and the last bird flown"? To one who loved to stroll through his garden, the months ahead would indeed be drear. And so we can easily imagine some aged satrap ordering his rug weavers to make a copy of his summer garden, this to be placed upon the cold tile floor to bring him comfort and pleasure through the bleak winter months. Such old Persian rugs still exist and may be seen in museums. In execution they are com plete from the central pool, or well, to the paths and irrigation ditches, even to the indi vidual trees and flowering plants. Some of these are so well done that we can recognize the species. Later these lesser details were stylized and became only parts of the general geometric pattern. Many modern rugs, made today on me chanical looms, still retain the basic design of a central "pool" with the four main paths, two leading to the pool from the sides and two from the ends. If the border of the rug is of one type, it represents the tiled or pebble-strewn path which surrounded the garden; if the border is of another type, its design goes back to the original pattern of trees and rose arbors which bounded the gar den itself. Of the many kinds of flowers which the Persians grew, only two are shown on the opposite page; both are native in the Persian hills. CROWN IMPERIAL (Fritillariaimperialis): Lifting its "crown" of green leaves to the height of two or three feet, this bulbous mem ber of the Lily Family is a striking plant when in bloom. Originally the flowers were a rather dull yellowish red, but deep brick-red and almost yellow garden forms are now known. ORIENTAL POPPY (Papaver orientale): In the wild state, this showy and easily grown perennial has scarlet flowers with black cen ters. Garden forms now occur in various patterns and colors; some of these have been derived by hybridization with Papaver brac teatum, another species which occurs wild in Persia. Unlike other species of garden poppy, this group can be propagated from root cut tings. This has led to the production of a large series of handsome named varieties, many of which are offered by the trade.