National Geographic : 1947 Jul
The National Geographic Magazine Occasionally these hanging gardens were wide-based towers. One of these seems to have been built by Nebuchadnezzar the Great for his little bride, homesick for the green hills of her native Media. Husbands still can feel some kinship with old Neb when the little woman pointedly remarks that it is about time to get out into the garden and do the spring spading. The Greek historians Strabo and Diodorus saw one of these hanging gardens before it crumbled. They tell us that it was about 1,500 feet long on one side, that it was set back in ascending tiers of terraces, and that because of the plants it held it looked like a green mountain. The topmost terrace, on which was situated the principal garden, was supported by a hollow arch 150 feet high. Beginnings of the Persian Garden In 539 B. c. the Chaldean Empire collapsed under the attack of Cyrus, the Persian. The Persians already had garden traditions, but, now in full power, they began a new cycle of intensive garden development. The idea of the formal garden with the plants in rows and an equal spacing between plants had been brought into Mesopotamia in the time of Assurbanipal. Under the Per sians this developed into a real system, especially with the advent of increasing num bers of purely ornamental plants and flowers. With the Persians, horticulture was considered a royal occupation, and special classes of in struction in the art were conducted by and for the nobility. Cyrus is reputed to have boasted of designing his own palace gardens and even of setting out many of the plants himself. When, in 330 B. c., Alexander the Great looked on the dead body of the last of these Persian monarchs, the Persian garden had developed into a thing of remarkable beauty. The Greeks did not destroy the gardens which they found, as some other conquerors have done.* Instead, they cherished them and encouraged their cultivation. Marveling at their beauty and magnificence, the Greeks "discovered" the Persian gardens and brought back to Europe some of the plants they con tained. However, it was the Romans, some what later, who really did the job (page 26). So far we have merely mentioned Egypt, noting that the formal type of garden came into Mesopotamia from there during the seventh century B. c. Let us roll back the centuries again and see what was happening in Egypt.' When the doors of recorded history begin to swing open along the Nile, the art of gardening already had developed to a re- markable degree. Fortunately, these early Egyptians left us a series of carvings and paintings depicting not only the general plan of their gardens but also many of the plants they contained. From such garden pictures we may readily note that not all the plants they grew were native in the immediate region. Therefore, we must conclude that already many of them had been introduced. To help us in this, we also have carvings showing vessels with their decks crowded with trees and other plants being brought to Egypt. One of these is the record of a notable plant-hunting expedition which was organized and sent out by Queen Hatshepsut to the "Land of Punt" (page 12). The love of ornamental plants and flowers finally became so marked in Egypt that Rameses the Great is said to have boasted that he had furnished at least 19,000,000 cere monial bouquets to the temples. Other items which we take for granted in our everyday lives can be traced back to this Egyptian love of garden plants and flowers. At some time in their past the Egyptians had begun decorating their temples with sprays of leaves and flowers. Later the supporting columns often were decorated with carved flowers, the water-lily a favorite, with the palm leaf, papyrus, and others also used. The papyrus design, for example, was made to simulate a bundle of the reedy stems capped by the spreading tops. When stylized and worked in stone, this became a fluted column. The Greeks may have picked up this archi tectural item from the Egyptians. At least it survives to this day in the fluted columns of many of our public buildings. Origin of Flowered Wallpaper Another thing which the Egyptians started was the painting of their walls and floors with garden scenes. The custom of painting garden scenes on the inner walls of houses was taken over by the Romans after they made cultural contact with the Egyptians. Excellent examples of such Roman garden scenes are to be found in the excavations at Pompeii. We got the idea from the Romans, and it still survives in our modern figured wallpaper. Early Persian travelers apparently also saw this Egyptian custom of floor and wall * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, "Greece-the Birthplace of Science and Free Speech," by Richard Stillwell, and "Greek Way," by Edith Hamilton, March, 1944. t See "Daily Life in Ancient Egypt," by William C. Haves, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, October, 1941.