The Garden Guide

Book: History of Garden Design and Gardening
Chapter: Chapter 3: European Gardens (500AD-1850)

Botany in Turkish cemeteries

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535. The cemeteries of countries such as Turkey may, in one sense, be considered the most interesting of their gardens. To botanists and refined horticulturists of other parts of the world, there may be a great deal of interest in seeing the plants which are rare in their own countries, common in the neighbourhood of Constantinople. Even the want of fences, and of trees and shrubs, and regular plantations, may, by contrast with what is common in cultivated countries, be a source of interest; but all this says nothing for the gardening of Turkey. In order to form an estimate of the state of horticulture, or of any other branch of gardening, in any country, we must not compare that country with other countries, but compare the garden productions raised there by art, with those spontaneously produced by nature. The finest garden productions in the world are to be found in a wild state in Persia and India, countries where gardening is at its very lowest ebb. The state of gardening in the neighbourhood of Constantinople, about 1816, was such as might be conceived by any reflecting mind, acquainted with the low degree of civilization which then existed in that part of the world. In short, it may be said that there was no gardening in Turkey, scarcely even excepting the grounds of the grand signior. In horticulture no productions were raised but what were indigenous to the soil and climate; and what were grown were neither forced nor retarded by art. It is clear, therefore, that the horticulture of Turkey was then, as we believe it is now, of the very simplest kind. With respect to floriculture, some few showy flowers from Persia and Syria, not natives of the shores of the Bosphorus, were to be found in some gardens; but, beyond the tulip and the polyanthus narcissus, there were few. The rose and the jasmine, which are the favourite flowers among the Turks, are indigenous, or so common as to be believed to be so. With respect to the arboriculture of Turkey, though the greater part of the boxwood on which woodcuts are generally engraved is imported from, that part of the world, it does not appear that a single timber tree is planted with a view to profit. The box (Buxus balearicus) grows wild on all the rocky surfaces of the country, both on the European and on the Asiatic shores, and may be said to correspond to the holly in the woods of Europe. Landscape-gardening cannot be expected to be practised in such a country; because the grand signior has no country residences, with parks and pleasure-grounds attached; and there is no aristocracy, or wealthy commercial or manufacturing class. The insecurity of the higher classes from the military despotism of the government, and the frequency of insurrections, to which the wealthy and powerful generally fall victims, are also great bars to any extensive improvements in landed property. The only scene in Turkey where the landscape-gardener can display his art is the burial-ground; and here his resources are limited to the indigenous trees of the country, and the prescribed forms of its religion. On the whole, therefore, whatever may be the excellence of the native productions of Turkey, and however much they may be admired by the gardeners and botanists of other countries, it is evident that, speaking technically, that part of the world is as far behind in our art, as it is in every other.