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Painting by Kölner Maler from about 1430 depicts the Virgin Mary in an enclosed garden, an example of her association with the hortus conclusus.


ion in the centre of the garden. The four quadrants were representative of the ancient concept of the four corners of the earth. The canals bring to mind the rivers of Paradise, an idea more firmly resonant centuries later in Islamic Persia. The gardens were enclosed but the walls were permeable, with carved screens and archways. This style char- acterised Moorish gardens both in the Middle East and in Europe well into the medieval period. Spain, influenced by Islamic occupation from the eighth to the 11th centuries, constructed elabo- rate gardens with walls and tiles in the 14th century that were more sophisti- cated than any in the rest of Europe. Little is known of gardens in Classical


Greece before the fourth century BCE. In 322 BCE, Theophrastus inherited Aristotle’s garden and there he lectured students, becoming what is tradition- ally considered to be the first botanist. Garden historians believe his was more a botanical garden than a pleasure garden. In 306 BCE, Epicurus founded a


school in Athens he called The Garden, being located in his garden, and he met with students there. Epicurus’s philoso- phy (epicureanism) was that the great- est good was achieved through a state of tranquility, which was to be attained through simple pleasures; simple plea- sures were to be found in friendship, knowledge and denial of excessive bodily desires. Although the modern


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Annunciation, painted by Fra Angelico about 1446, has the Virgin Mary in an enclosed garden.


vernacular use of epicurean refers to gourmet food and wine, the tastes of the original epicureans were a good deal less luxuriant. Based on this (for there are no extant descriptions) it would seem that The Garden was more of a simple farm garden than anything terri- bly decorative. Roman civilization is where the resi-


dential garden became commonplace, a place of refuge for all landed classes and not just the very wealthy. Excavations from Pompeii (depicting a snapshot of life in 79 CE on the day that Mount Vesuvius erupted) show that gardens were grown in whatever land a home permitted; someone living in a tiny house would have a tiny garden while grand villas had grand gardens. We know, too, that aesthetic considerations were valued in the Roman garden; Cato the Elder and Horace both made refer- ence to flowerbeds in their writings. In urban areas, apartment dwellers kept window boxes or roof gardens. The typical Roman residential garden


began with an open portico off the house leading to a terrace. A step down would bring you into an area planted with flowers and trees, large enough for a stroll if the house were big but other- wise scaled down. Middle Ages


Gardening continued to be popu-


lar in the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantium, surrounding the Mediterra- nean through northern Europe’s Dark


Ages, judging by the settings for fiction of the time and many extant copies of gardening texts. Through this period and into the Renaissance, developments in horticulture (and viticulture) were made at monasteries. One of the great things about monks, from a historian’s perspective, is that they kept detailed notes of their gardening activities. A monastery might tend several


gardens and orchards, all with a stated purpose unrelated to beauty. Production of food and medicine were chief among these purposes and collected knowledge about the curative properties of herbs was great among monks. A monastery would also have a central courtyard— the cloister—typically sparsely planted but layed out with two intersecting pathways and a pool or fountain in the middle. Here the monks would go for meditation and contemplation. Cloisters developed directly out of


the enclosed Roman gardens because the remains of old villas were common- ly made over into monasteries. The enclosed garden took on religious meaning, not only as a symbol of para- dise lost but as an emblem of the Virgin Mary. (The enclosed garden relating to her unimpeached uterus in the Immac- ulate Conception.) In fact, the Latin words for closed garden, Hortus Conclu- sus, became a title for the Virgin in poetry and she was frequently portrayed in a garden in art, showing her as more accessible—in a Renaissance, seculariz-


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