Where was the world's first garden made?

The garden of the House of Venus at Pompeii is one of the oldest surviving gardens in the world (image courtesy John Keogh)

The garden of the House of Venus at Pompeii is one of the oldest surviving gardens in the world (image courtesy John Keogh)

Cultivation and the domestication of plants began in the Levantine Corridor, which runs from Dead Sea to the Damascus Basin, and quite probably outside Jericho. This is known because the earliest domesticated plants are all native to this region and radio-carbon dating reveals that horticultural activity began c9,000 BCE. Plants were cultivated by hand and with digging sticks, not with the plough, but the plants cultivated were all cereals and pulses, making ‘farming’ a better description of the activity than ‘gardening’ or ‘horticulture’ in the modern sense of ‘not ploughed’.

The first literary evidence of gardening comes from Sumer in Lower Mesopotamia. Gilgamesh mentions that his city (Uruk) was ‘one third gardens’ – but the gardens were were palm orchards. Some flowers may have been grown but the main purpose was growing food and the gardens are unlikely to have been beside houses. People lived on dry mounds (tells) and required irrigation to grow fruit and vegetables. The Garden of Eden was ‘located’ in Sumer but its status is mythological rather than historical.

China is another candidate for having made the first gardens but the only places we know of were more like National Parks than anything we would call a garden. Chinese imperial parks were fast tracts of wild landscape set aside for hunting, as at Changan. There were altars in the parks, and pavilions at a later date, and crops were cultivated but they are better described as parks than as ‘gardens’.

The next candidate country for having had the ‘world’s first garden’ is Egypt and since the Egyptians had gardens in the exact sense in which the word is now used,  ‘Egypt’ is the best answer to the question ‘Where was the world’s first garden made?’ Some temple gardens (sanctuaries, like Karnak) survive in Egypt but the only representations of domestic gardens are paintings and models. The oldest garden layout known to archaeology may be at Passargadae in Iran.

So where was Europe’s first garden made? The possibilities are Crete, mainland Greece, Sicily and mainland Italy. The inhabitants of Greece (who did not speak Greek) were cultivators by 7000 BCE, which is 2000 years before the Egyptians, and practiced ornamental horticulture in classical times (500 BCE). But Europe’s first gardens in the modern sense of enclosed and planted spaces designed in conjunction with dwellings were probably in Italy – and the oldest surviving examples are certainly in Pompeii (above image courtesy John Keogh) with some of them made by Greek-speaking people.

[See also: Previous post on Asian gardens and landscapes]

15 thoughts on “Where was the world's first garden made?

  1. Christine

    Do you know of any other conservatories/gardens dedicated to flowers? [http://www.conservatoryofflowers.org/history/index.htm]The Queen Victoria Gardens,[http://www.melbourne.vic.gov.au/info.cfm?top=25&pa=1273&pg=1296],part of the Domain group of gardens, [http://www.melbourne.vic.gov.au/rsrc/PDFs/Parks/NewMapPDFs/DomainGardensNew.pdf] were created with an emphasis on floral displays. The gardens are famous for the floral clock….
    [http://flickr.com/photos/8068243@N04/1886251187/] however it would seem that prolonged drought conditions have affected the ability to maintain the floral emphasis.[lh3.ggpht.com/…/MElseuIDzmg/DSCF7028.JPG]

  2. Tom Turner Post author

    I’m a little puzzled by your question. Botanic gardens (and botanical conservatories) tend to be dedicated to science, and vegetable gardens to food, but many other public gardens are dedicated to flowers in one way or another.

  3. Pingback: Re-creation of the world’s oldest garden design in Egypt | Gardenvisit.com Blog

  4. Mark


    I am currently researching the history of Public Parks. Have you got any suggestions on where I would find more information on the first known public park in history? I have found plenty on the first Publi Parks in American and England but not the first Public Parks globally.

    Any help would be appreciated,


  5. Tom Turner Post author

    There is a note from me on the origins of public parks and open space here http://www.gardenvisit.com/history_theory/library_online_ebooks/architecture_city_as_landscape/public_parks_boundless_space and there is a note from Gothein here http://www.gardenvisit.com/history_theory/library_online_ebooks/ml_gothein_history_garden_art_design/public_parks_europe_america But the answer to your question turns entirely on definitions. Does ‘public’ mean owned by the public, paid for by the public, accessible to the public or managed by the public – or something else? And does ‘park’ mean a fenced enclosure, a animal park, a place for ornamental horticulture, a vegetated green space in a town – or something else?

  6. Christine

    After reading the links you gave above I started wondering what impact Monet’s impressionism had on the fashion, fascination for or development of flower gardens? [http://giverny-impression.com/category/monet-painting/]

  7. Christine

    ps. I don’t know if an English garden with a strong chronology, ie the Newstead Abbey gardens would throw some light on the subject? [http://www.nottinghamcity.gov.uk/newstead/gardens/default.asp]

  8. Tom Turner Post author

    I have made a note to plan a visit to Newstead Abbey. It looks interesting but I doubt if the design has any connection with Impressionist painting.

  9. Christine

    I wonder if tracing the history of the role of flowers in perfume production in the Middle Ages would be enlightening? [http://blog.metmuseum.org/cloistersgardens/2008/09/11/yasimin-jessamine/#more-229]

  10. Christine

    It would seem according to Michael Conan in ‘Middle East Garden Traditions that the Egytians harvested lilies and that roses were grown and harvested for perfume similar to an agricultural crop in the ‘valley of the Roses’ in Turkey.

  11. Hassan Taghvaei

    Dear Sirs

    Hi,I am assistant professor of landscape architecture at department of landscape architecture_ Shahid Beheshti University, Iran. I am currently researching and teaching both landscape design studios and “Persian gardening” as we say “Iranian Gardening”.
    First of all, many thanks and appreciating you and colleagues for all attentions and researches about gardening and landscaping for the years. Now a days I think we need more attentions to Persian gardens as the one of oldest and most important archetypes on gardening in new books. it is because the lack of this matter in a lot of book for past decades.
    I think the “Asian gardens and landscapes” book could be able to help this.

    Best Regards,

    Assistant Professor
    Department of Landscape Architecture
    School of Architecture and Urban Studies
    Shahid Beheshti University

  12. Tom Turner Post author

    Hassan, thank you for your comment. You may be interested to note that our eBook on the Principles of Garden design has been translated into Farsi by Alireza Feiznejad Siadohoni.

  13. Shereen Amendra

    The Mahameghavana Uyana (Park of the Great Cloud)is in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon). This park with trees and flowering plants was dedicated 247 – 207 BCE as mentioned in the Chronicles. Many other gardens existed at the time (Nandana Garden) and others. The Mahameghavana Park was said to have existed even previous to this time being known by other names (Mahatiththaka Grove, Mahanoma garden and Mahasagara garden). Some plants in these parks are named. There are very many books and articles in relation to this. Do visit Sri Lanka.
    Shereen Amendra
    Chartered Architect/Landscape Architect
    Mt. Lavinia, Sri Lanka

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      I think there are older records of identifiable Buddhist gardens in the Indian subcontinent than other types of garden. But, as with other aspects of Buddhism, they probably drew on older Hindu traditions.
      I have not visited Sri Lanka (though I would have been there about 5 years ago if I had not been ill) and often think of visiting the country.


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