The Garden Guide

Book: History of Garden Design and Gardening
Chapter: Chapter 1: Gardening in the Ancient World

Greek Gardens

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VI. Grecian Gardens. B. C. 500 28. The Greeks copied the gardening of the Persians, as they did their manners and architecture, as far as the difference of climate and state of society would admit. Xenophon, a Greek philosopher of the fourth century before Christ, admired the gardens of the Persian prince Cyrus, at Sardis; and Diogenes Laertius informs us that Epicurus delighted in the pleasures of the garden, and made choice of one as the spot where he taught his philosophy. This garden, Chandler informs us, was in the city of Athens, on the side towards Dipylon, on the road to the Academy. The teacher of ease, it is recorded, was the first who introduced that refined species of gratification, the enjoyment of the country in town. The garden of the philosopher Melanthius was opposite to the statue of Minerva P�onia, which is mentioned as the first in the Memnis. It was on the way to the Academy; for Lycurgus, son of Lycophron, with some of his descendants, were buried in it at the public expense. On the graves were placed flat slabs with inscriptions. The Lacydum, or garden of Lacydes, was in the Academy. (Hob., Trav. in Asia Min., vol. ii. p. 138.) Plato lays the scene of his dialogue on beauty on the umbrageous banks of the river Ilissus. In the first eclogue of Theocritus, the scene is laid under the shade of a pine tree, and the beauty of Helen is compared to that of a cypress in a garden. It would appear from this, and other circumstances, that the love of resinous trees, so general in Persia and the other eastern countries, was also prevalent in Greece; and the same flowers (made choice of for their brilliant colours and odoriferous perfumes) appear to have been common to both countries: Among these may be enumerated the narcissus, the violet, and the rose. (Historical View, p. 30. et seq.) �The rich and polished Athenians,� observes Gilbert Laing Meason, �preferred a residence in the country, that they might withdraw themselves from the jealousy of envious citizens. In villa gardening they borrowed from Asia Minor; they had myrtles and roses; the box and the lime tree, were planted for topiary works; and Theophrastus tells us that flowers and fruits were cultivated in the winter, and that the violet was in profusion in the market of Athens while snow was on the ground.� There are many curious observations on this subject in Stackhouse's edition of Theophrastus. Lord Bacon, in his Essay on Gardens, and George Mason, concur in considering gardening as rather a neglected art in Greece, notwithstanding the progress of the sister art of architecture; which gave rise to the remark of the former, �that when ages grow to civility and elegancy, men come to build stately sooner than to garden finely, as if gardening were the greater perfection.'