Monty Don on the ‘Paradise Gardens’ of Islam

Monty Don is my favourite TV garden presenter but watching his BBC2 series on “””Paradise Gardens”””” has been a mixed pleasure. He has the talents to be a good garden historian. But he does not have the time. So the BBC should involve more experts. On Islamic gardens (as they are often, if misleadingly called) the best source of reference is Islamic Gardens and Landscapes by D. Fairchild Ruggles. She argues, convincingly, that before the sixteenth century the gardens Monty Don has visited (at speed) were NOT conceived as Paradise Gardens. The concept of paradise was found in the Qur’an but was not applied to real world gardens until tomb gardens came to be made in Mughal India. Retrofitting the paradise concept to earlier gardens is a flight of fancy of a kind the BBC should spurn. It makes no more sense than would a discussion of motor vehicles in eighteenth century gardens or in Roman gardens.

Monty is stronger on the planting of Islamic Gardens and it was a pleasure to hear him draw attention to the British planting of the Taj Mahal Garden  and Humayun’s Tomb Garden. He, or his research assistants, had the good sense to consult local experts. A British viceroy did his disappointing best to convert the Taj Mahal garden to the Gardenesque Style of  Victorian England. ‘George Nathaniel Viscount Curzon was really a very superior person’.

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