4 minute read


Garden As Paradise And Enclosure.

In 401 B.C.E., the Greek historian Xenophon, in his Oeconomicus, Book IV, introduced the idea of the pleasure garden (Persian, paradeisos, "enclosure") to Greece, based on gardens he had seen while fighting in Persia, and recommended its imitation. Xenophon's description of the Persian gardens was again popularized in 1692 by the Englishman William Temple in his influential Essay upon the Gardens of Epicurs: Or, of Gardening, in the Year 1685 (1692):

a paradise among them [the Persians] seems to have been a large Space of Ground, adorned and beautified with all Sorts of Trees, both of Fruits and of Forest, either found there before it was inclosed [ sic ], or planted after; either cultivated like Gardens, for Shades and for Walks, with Fountains or Streams, and all Sorts of Plants usual in the Climate, and pleasant to the Eye, the Smell, or the Taste; or else employed, like our Parks, for Inclosure [ sic ] and Harbour of all Sorts of Wild Beasts, as well as for the Pleasure of Riding and Walking: And so they were of more or less Extent, and of differing Entertainment, according to the several Humours of the Princes that ordered and inclosed [ sic ] them.… (quoted in Hunt and Willis, pp. 96–97)

Enclosure is central to many types of gardens, including ancient Roman courtyards, which were surrounded by the house, Chinese and Korean coutyard gardens, and Japanese dry rock gardens (karesansui). Unlike the medieval European cloister gardens derived from them, Roman gardens often included mural paintings of gods and landscapes.

The Persian model of the garden as a paradise on earth later evolved into the Islamic chahar-bagh, an enclosed quadrangular garden with central perpendicular paths or canals dividing it into four equal sections. Later made famous in carpets and brought to India by the Mughals, chahar-bagh s, the most famous example of which is the Taj Mahal, reached Europe as the medieval hortus conclusus, or enclosed garden, as a result of the Crusades (1050–1150) and through Islamic gardens in Spain, Italy, and Sicily. Many twentieth-century rose gardens continue this form. Like its Islamic prototypes, the medieval garden was practical and symbolic, evoking the earthly and spiritual pleasures of the biblical Paradise and the Garden of Eden. Secular poetry such as the medieval French Le Roman de la Rose, purportedly composed during a dream in a rose garden, extended the hortus conclusus to include romantic love and Platonic ideals of fulfilment. Paintings and tapestries, too, especially the unicorn tapestries at Cluny Medieval France. Bonnefont Cloister and Herb Garden, modeled after medieval gardens, The Cloisters, New York City. © GAIL MOONEY /CORBIS and the Cloisters of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, showing unicorns and the "Lady in the Garden," take on various symbolic and allegorical readings.

The Garden of Eden, of course, is also a "lost home." Eden is described in Genesis as a kind of chahar- bagh, enclosed, divided into quarters by rivers meeting at right angles in the center, containing the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Construed by Jews, Christians, and Muslims as an actual place from the human past, it was distinguished from Paradise, which was an ideal realm to be experienced by the righteous or the beloved of God in the future, and for Christians after their death or after the Second Coming. Eden as a prototype for European gardens was vastly expanded by the literary version John Milton presented in his epic Paradise Lost (1667) as a natural landscape (Hunt, p. 79).

The earliest East Asian depictions of the four Buddhist paradises show Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in palaces surrounded by fragrant trees and flowers, dancers, and musicians. As cave paintings at Dunhuang (China) show, the religious significance of lotus suggested using the visual image of the lotus floating in a pond; azure rectangles of water with pink blossoms began to appear, growing larger, eventually with buds showing souls reborn in paradise as babies. This inspired actual gardens, including the famous Buddhist garden at Anapchi, in Kyongju, Korea (674 C.E.).

The pond at Anapchi shows a second visual allusion to paradise, the Daoist Isles of the Immortals. Depicted here as actual islands, they are sometimes represented by rocks on an "ocean" of dry gravel. Originating with the Chinese emperor Wudi (141–87 B.C.E.), such depictions were originally intended to attract the Immortals themselves, in the hope they would share their secrets.

A number of Fujiwara-period (989–1185) Japanese gardens, starting with the Byodo-in's Phoenix Hall (a villa in Uji outside Kyoto), simulated the Mahayana Paradise described in a sutra that attested to women's ability to reach enlightenment (yiengpruksawan). These gardens were designed to make paradise tangible and imaginable. Since the daughters of the Fujiwara clan were consistently married off to emperors, their eventual enlightenment was important both to their families and to the nation. The ability to visualize paradise was believed to facilitate enlightenment (legendary Queen Vaidehi's instruction by Buddha in meditation through visualization, including visualization of Paradise, was painted at Dunhuang). The construction of gardens as an aid to such visualization meant that the empresses would actually attain Paradise more easily.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Formate to GastropodaGarden - Death, Time And Temporality, Order And Plenty, The Lost Home, Garden As Paradise And Enclosure. - Gardens in the History of Ideas