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4‚000 YEARS


A brief history of Western gardening


by Shauna Dobbie T


he difference between agriculture and gardening is obvious today, with massive industrial farms and


monocultural fields so clearly differ- ent from the high aesthetic of a public garden or the emphasis on personal satisfaction evident in a residential garden. But go back 4,000 years and it seems certain that the line would be blurred. First off, where do you place the line?


At the first time someone cultivated a plant strictly for the way it looked, having no utilitarian purpose whether for food, medicine or spiritual use? Is it a garden plant if its purpose is to scent the air, to mask unpleasant smells from the world around? According to the Bible, the Lord


Painting from the wall of the tomb of Egyptian Pharaoh Nebamun, dating to about 1350 BCE. A pool of ducks, fish and lotus flowers is depicted, surrounded by papyrus, figs and palms and other plants and bushes.


planted a garden in the east which included “every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food”. Whether you consider that literal or literary, the line is still blurred—garden plants must be both beautiful and useful in Eden. When did beauty usurp utility? Perhaps asking the question at all exposes an intellectual separation of use and beauty that has not always existed. Ancient gardens


By 1500 BCE, images of gardens


were etched into the walls of Egyp- tian tombs. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon are said to have been built on the order of King Nebuchadnezzar II in Babylon around 600 BCE (though there is much argument as to whether they ever existed at all). Ancient Persia was renown as a place


of beautiful gardens. In a show of human dominance over nature, water was diverted from snowmelt in the surrounding mountains


to the harsh


and arid land to enable growth of lush oases for Persian royalty. King Cyrus of the sixth century BCE kept his throne in his garden, beginning a tradi- tion followed by various Persian kings through the centuries. The typical Persian garden was divid-


This is from a bas-relief of a royal garden thought to depict the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. 50 • Fall 2016


ed geometrically into quadrants by two canals, intersecting at the site of a pavil-


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