National Geographic : 1947 Jul
The National Geographic Magazine sance, so far as gardens are concerned. While in it the humble and middle-class folk were encouraged to have gardens if at all possible, it was the upper class and nobility who were enjoined to sponsor the building of gardens and on a magnificent scale. The culmination of the development of the formal gardens of the Renaissance-a form which was based on the Roman garden-was reached in the gardens at Versailles developed by Andre Le Notre for Louis XIV.* The Dutch garden, although unlike the French garden with its great vistas, was also formal, being cut up into small flower beds. These types both went to England and there the two styles were mingled. The English formal garden also usually exhibited consider able "bush barbering," or topiary work and clipped hedges. This type came to colonial American gardens. Thus we trace the geographical wanderings of the formal garden from Egypt to some of our own back yards. Odyssey of the Informal Garden Following the odyssey of the informal orna mental garden will take us farther. As we already have noted, it began in Mesopotamia. From there it went to India and on to China. Between the years 1735 and 1772 a series of books on Chinese and other Oriental gar dens, written by keen observers who had been there and seen them, appeared in England. While some who tried to imitate and follow these descriptions got no further than sticking mock pagodas into their gardens, others caught the spirit of the studied informality of the Chinese garden and put it to excellent use. Coupled with greensward, this Anglo-Chi nese garden became what we now call the typical English garden-a lawn surrounded by a mixed border of ornamental plants in an informal but pleasing array. More re cently, this type of garden has become in creasingly popular in America. Different as are these two garden types, they still have one thing in common-the ancient water supply. When gardening first began, it was noted that there were occasional periods when the plants needed water. For convenience the gardens were located near a spring or pool. In spite of our hoses and automatic sprink ler systems, we still almost always manage to slip the time-honored water supply into our gardens in some form. The pool will still be there, or a combination fountain and pool. In * See "Palace of Versailles-Its Park and the Trianons." by Franklin L. Fisher, NATIONAL GEO GRAPHIC MAGAZINE, January, 1925. this instance the fountain represents the original bubbling spring. There is a pool in the garden of my one friend. My other friend stoutly denies that he has a pool. But it is there just the same. All he has done is to raise it into the air, put a pedestal under it, and call it a birdbath. Californians have every reason to be proud of their patio gardens. Imitations have been attempted in the North, but they come short of expectation because the plants characteriz ing them usually will not stand cold. But this interesting garden type is not Californian. And, for that matter, it is not Mexican. It goes back much further. The Persian garden was carried on the crest of the wave of Moslem conquest across North Africa and ultimately into Spain, where the Moors built great gardens. The first Spanish Emir, Abd-ar-Rahman, chose Cordova as his capital in 755. There he fashioned a garden such as he had known in his youth in Damascus. It is said that he sent agents and plant explorers from Spain as far east as Syria, to the borders of China in Turkistan, and even into India, to collect plants for this garden. It was not until 1492 that the last of the Moslem strongholds in Spain surren dered to Ferdinand and Isabella. A fertility and blessing-of-the-crops rite was celebrated among the ancient Babylonians and Assyrians. This spread to an offshoot of this culture, to the Phoenicians. It was taken to Cyprus, an old Phoenician colony, and later to Greece where, about the seventh century B. c., we find it celebrated as the Adonis festival. How Potted House Plants Began At first in this festival, quick-growing plants such as lettuce were put in pots. Later more permanent and decorative plants were used. And so began the custom of raising plants in pots around the house. This custom was picked up by the Romans and taken to Spain. There it was welded into the Mohammedan garden and became the Spanish type. When Cortes conquered Mexico, he found excellent gardens, much better, in fact, than anything at that time in Europe. But these Aztecan gardens were destroyed by the Con quistadores, so that today only slight vestiges of them remain. Consequently, when the Spanish settlers and clergy began to flock to Mexico, they had to start their gardens all over again. Naturally they used the type with which they were most familiar-the garden they had left behind in Spain.