The Garden Guide

Book: History of Garden Design and Gardening
Chapter: Chapter 2: The Influence of Climates on Gardens

Style in garden design

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964. The fitness and beauty of any style must depend on the purposes to which it is applied, and the kind of rural beauty already prevalent in the country of its adoption. The gardens of the East, we have every reason to believe, were used more as arbours or conservatories are in this country, than as places of exercise and active enjoyment. The object was repose, indolent recreation, sedentary or luxurious enjoyment. To breathe the fresh air, shaded from a tropical sun ; to inhale the odour of flowers ; to listen to the murmur of breezes or fountains, to the singing of birds ; or to observe the minute beauties of the surrounding foliage, were, and still continue to be, the ordinary class of beauties desired in an Eastern garden. A higher and more voluptuous kind consisted in using it as a banqueting-place, bath, or seraglio, as is still the case in Turkey and Persia; in feasting the eyes with the sight of dancing beauties ; in ravishing the ears with concerts of vocal or instrumental music, and in firing every sense with wine. Exercise was incompatible with that languor of body, which is attendant on a warm climate and a distant prospect; inconsistent with security from wild beasts, and that privacy which selfishness or jealousy might dictate. ' The Persians,' Chardin observes, ' do not walk in gardens so much as we do, but content themselves with a bare prospect, and breathing the fresh air. For this reason, they set themselves down in some part of the garden at their first coming in, and never move from their seats till they are going out of it.' (Travels, ch. vi.) ' Nothing surprises the people of the East Indies so much as to see Europeans take pleasure in exercise. They are astonished to see people walk who might sit still.' (Kinderley's Letters from the East Indies, p. 182.) Add to this, that the natural surface of warm countries is generally so parched with heat, as to be far less agreeable to look on than the verdure of a limited space, kept luxuriant by water. ' Before the end of May,' Russel remarks, ' the whole country round Aleppo puts on so parched and barren an aspect, that one would scarcely think it capable of producing any thing but the very few plants which still have vigour enough to resist the extreme heats.' (Russel's Aleppo, p. 13.) If to these we subjoin the use of fruit, and, what is common to every exertion of man, a desire of obtaining applause for the employment of wealth and skill, we shall include every object sought in an Eastern garden. An Eastern garden, therefore, appears to have been a collection, in one spot, of all those beauties which are found scattered about in general nature, in order to adapt them to the use and enjoyment of man.