The Garden Guide

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

Botany in Turkish gardens

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537. The botany of the neighbourhood of Constantinople has been examined and remarked upon, in a very interesting manner, by the Rev. Dr. Robert Walsh; and the result was communicated to the Horticultural Society of London in 1824. The following is the essence of Dr. Walsh's very interesting paper: - Cercis Siliquastrum, but not the kerkis of Theophrastus, is found clothing the shores of the Bosphorus and Mount Libanus: the flowers burst out from every part of the branches and trunk, nearly down to the root, and they are gathered and used in salads. Ceratonia Siliqua, described by Dioscorides and Pliny; almost the only tree that grows at Malta; also in the islands of the Archipelago, and in great abundance in the wilderness of Palestine, where its produce is at this day used for food. The substance of the pod is thick, and the pulp within is remarkably sweet and nutritious, resembling manna in taste and consistence. It is sent from Palestine to Alexandria in ship-loads, and from thence over the Mediterranean, and as far as Constantinople, where it is sold in all the shops. It is occasionally to be bought in London, under its Spanish name of Algaroba bran. Celtis australis; common; conjectured by Sibthorp to be the lotos of Dioscorides, which Homer says has so sweet a taste, that those who eat it forget their own country. 'It bears a berry of a light yellow, which changes to dark brown: it has a sweet pleasant taste, and the modern Greeks are very fond of it.' Cupressus horizontalis 'was supposed by Pliny to be the male of C. sempervirens, and modern botanists consider it only a variety, but undoubtedly it is a different species. The character of the whole tree is distinct and permanent, the branches project as horizontally as those of the oak, and the tree more resembles a pine than a cypress. It is in great abundance, mixed with the C. sempervirens, in all the Turkish cemeteries. Wherever a Turk of respectability buries one of his family, he plants a young cypress at the head of the grave, as well because its aromatic resin qualities the putrid effluvia of the place, as because its evergreen foliage is an emblem of immortality. It is never planted in the cemeteries of the modern Greeks, though it was from them, perhaps, the Turks adopted the practice.' Diospyros Lotus is not described by the ancients, but is found everywhere along the Bosphorus. 'It was originally brought from the country between the Euxine and Caspian seas; and is therefore called the date of Trebisond. It bears abundantly a light brown fruit, nearly as large as a walnut, which is sometimes sold in the markets under the name of Tarabresan Curmasi. The recent fruit is austere, but would make a good conserve,' Eloeagnus angustifolia, the wild olive of Theophrastus, Dioscorides, and Pliny, is common about Constantinople, in low moist situations. 'The fruit is sold in the markets under the name of Ighide agaghi, and is usually brought from the low grounds about Scutari and other similar places on the Asiatic shore. It abounds with a dry, mealy, saccharine substance, which is sweet and pleasant, and has the property of retaining: a long time its usual size and form.' Zizyphus vulgaris. 'This tree has excited great controversy among botanist); and Linnaeus, Willdenow, Michaux, and Persoon, all differ in their description of it. Shaw supposes it was like the lotus of Theophrastus and Pliny, and Sir James Smith, that it was the paliurus. What is certain, however, is, that it is the tree which produces the fruit sold in abundance in the markets of Constantinople, under the name of Hunnab agaghi, and which has for a long time been imported into the west of Europe under the name of Jujube. It is minutely and accurately described by Pomet, Lemery, and Tournefort, and forms an article in the old pharmacopoeias. I met with it frequently in the Ionian Islands; and the Turks of Constantinople plant it before their coffee-houses, with other trees, to enjoy the shade and fruit in their season.' Paliurus aculeatus forms the hedges of Asia, which are most impassable fences. 'I am disposed to think that this is the real Christ's Thorn, rather than that called Spina Christi. The seeds are sold in the herb-shops of Constantinople, and the native hakims, or doctors, prescribe them in many complaints, under the name of Xalle. They are also used as a dye.' Melia Azedarach was not known to the ancients, though found 'abundantly all through the Mediterranean and the Archipelago, in Europe, Asia, and Africa. It is always planted in the area of a monastery; and the caloyers, or Greek monks, form the furrowed seeds into beads, and hence it is called the bead tree. The white pulpy exterior of the seeds is said to be highly poisonous, and Avicenna, the Arabian physician, cautions people even against the leaves and wood: hence the Arabs call it zederact, which signifies poison; the seeds are never eaten by birds. It is, however, a very beautiful tree, with large, compound, pinnate foliage, and rich spikes of lilac flowers.' Acacia Julibrissin; an exceedingly beautiful tree, and the largest of the genus: that in the British palace garden at Constantinople has a trunk of a foot in diameter. The foliage is highly susceptible of the variations of the atmosphere; it affords a thick shade on a bright day, but when it threatens rain, or when a cloud obscures the sun, the leaflets immediately close their under surface together, till the sun again appears. 'The flowers consist of large pencils or clusters of stamens, of a bright pink hue, and rick silky texture; and hence the Turks, who are particularly fond of the tree, have given it the soft and fanciful name of gul-ibrisim, the silk-rose, and hence is derived its specific name with botanists. It is now found in all the gardens of the Bosphorus, but it is not a native, nor is it described by the ancients.' Pistacia Terebinthus, known and described by Dioscorides, Theophrastus, and Pliny. Gnat-like Insects breed in the leaves, the cuticles of which, by being punctured, become fungous, and swell into fleshy follicles, of a bright scarlet hue, strong resinous odour, and clammy feel, full of turpentine. 'These are so abundant, sometimes, as to cover the whole surface of the tree, and give it the appearance of bearing rich flowers or fruit. The trunk of the tree, when perforated, yields abundantly that fine.resinous oil called Cyprus turpentine. For its aromatic quality, the Greeks and Armenians plant the tree in their cemeteries, as they do the cypress. Here the Turks make them butts to discharge their topeks or pistols at: the stems, therefore, are all perforated, and continually, in the season, stream with turpentine. There is one in the British palace garden, which has been noticed, by Sestini and others, for its size and remarkable beauty: it measures twelve feet in circumference, rises nearly as high as the top of the palace, and shades a circle of one hundred and eighty yards. Notwithstanding their size, they are sometimes epiphytical, growing out of other trees. A phenomenon of this kind exists at the promontory of Chalcedon, where an enormous pistacia is growing out of a more enormous cypress; and this is noticed by Andreossi in his work on the Bosphorus. They grow every where among the ruins of the walls of Constantinople, particularly in the breach where the Turks entered, 'marking,' as Clarke says, 'the spot where the last of the Palï¾µologi fell.' Pistacia Lentiscus; common in the days of Theophrastus and Dioscorides, as at present, in the island of Scio, and producing then, as now, great abundance of the transparent gum called mastic. It is much used by Turkish women to preserve their teeth and improve their breath. Smilax aspera and excelsa; described by Theophrastus; common in the woods and hills of the Bosphorus; and the roots are used in decoctions as a substitute for sarsaparilla. 'S. excelsa climbs to the top of the highest trees, and, descending in streaming branches, forms a lofty green wall by the road side, which looks curious; and, when covered with a profusion of rich red berries, in autumn, is very beautiful. It is well adapted for forming arbours.' Prunus Cerasus, two varieties. 'The first of these varieties is a cherry of enormous size, which grows along the northern coast of Asia Minor, from whence the original cherry was brought to Europe. It is cultivated in gardens, always as a standard, and by a graft. The gardens there consist wholly of cherry trees, and each garden occupies several acres of ground. You are permitted to enter these, and eat as much fruit as you please, without payment; but, if you wish to take any with you, you pay ten paras an oke, about a halfpenny per pound. The second variety is an amber-coloured transparent cherry, of a delicious flavour. It grows in the woods, in the interior of Asia Minor, particularly on the banks of the Sakari, the ancient Sangarius. The trees attain a gigantic size; they are ascended by perpendicular ladders, suspended from the lowest branches. I measured the trunk of one: the circumference was five feet; and the height, where the first branches issued, forty feet; the summit of the highest branch was from 90 to 100 feet; and this immense tree was loaded with fruit.' Ph£'nix dactylifera. 'A fruit-bearing branch of this tree was sent to me from Damietta, in Egypt, as a kind which is rare, and highly prized. The fruit was not ripe; but I was directed to cover the end of the branch with a piece of bladder, and hang the branch against the wall: the fruit, by this process, gradually ripened, was of a large size and a good flavour.' Platanus orientalis. 'The Turks, on the birth of a son, plant a platanus; as they do a cypress on the death of one. In the court of the seraglio is a venerable tree of this species, which, tradition says, was planted by Mahomet II. after the taking of Constantinople, to commemorate the birth of his son, Bajazet II., the trunk of which is fifty feet in circumference. There is another, of more enormous size, at Buyuk-dere, on the Bosphorus; it stands in a valley, and measures forty-seven yards in circumference ! It, in fact, now consists of fourteen large branches, some of which issue from below the present surface, while others do not divide till they are seven or eight feet above it. One of these tree-like branches has been hollowed out by fire, and affords a cabin for sheltering a husbandman.' (Dr. Walsh's Residence at Constantinople.) 'The Turks sometimes encamp here; and the Ben Bashee pitches his tents in the centre of this tree of trees. The immense size to which the platanus attains has been the wonder of antiquity: Pliny describes several, in one of which Lucinius Mucianus gave a supper to a company of twenty-two friends.' Among the other trees and shrubs may be mentioned: Cistus crispus, creticus, and salvifolius, 'which cover all the hills in the islands of the Archipelago and Sea of Marmora: they are gummiferous; and, in June and July, secrete copiously a very fragrant gum, which adheres to the goats' beards that browse on the plant, and is combed off, like the ladanum, for which it is sometimes substituted. They are all distinguished by hypocistis, a succulent parasitic, of a rich red colour, which I found growing from the roots, as described by Dioscorides.' Poterium spindsum; common among the above-named Cisti, with prickly branches, like furze in England; known to the ancients, but whether under the name of stoebe or poterion is uncertain. Vitex A'gnus castus; found on the banks of all the rivers of Greece and Asia Minor, along with Nerium Oleander. It was called agnos (lamb) by the ancients, because carried by the priestesses in the feast of Ceres, a lamb being the usual animal sacrificed. Quercus ᆭ'gilops, coccifera, and pubescens; common in the islands of the Archipelago. Pinus maritima and Pinea; common in the islands of the Sea of Marmora. 'The cones of P. Pinea are gathered and sold in the markets. When exposed to the fire, they open, and the seeds, as large as hazel-nuts, then drop out; they are eaten like nuts, and called by the Turks fistik.' Lavandula St£'chas; the latter name by Dioscorides from the St£chades, now the Hieres Islands, near Marseilles, from whence it first came. It is very difficult to cultivate in a garden. It covers the hills in all the islands of the Archipelago and Sea of Marmora. Euonymus europï¾µ'us var. The arillus is of a rich scarlet, which, when the capsule opens, becomes conspicuous and remarkable. Cassia sp. ? The leaves are used for those of senna, to which they have a strong resemblance. Hedera chrysocarpa. Yellow-berried ivy. Dioscorides and Pliny. Rare, seeds medicinal. Ruscus racemosus, the Daphne alexandria, or Alexandrian laurel of Dioscorides, found in the islands of the Archipelago. Kï¾µlreuteria paniculata; a native of China. A plant remaining in what was Sherad's garden at Tedikui, about ten miles from Smyrna; and Artemisia sp. Pretty, aromatic; produced spontaneously in gardens, and used in salads. Among the herbaceous plants are; Erigeron graveolens. The conyza of Dioscorides; stinking; used against the bite of all manner of vermin; found in large patches in the islands of Marmora. Ricinus communis, called Kroton, and Ricinus, from the resemblance of the seeds to the tick insect, which fastens on dogs' ears. Seeds taken as pills for a purgative; abundant on the rock of Gibraltar, but does not ripen its seeds on the Bosphorus. Pancratium maritimum called pancration, or all excelling, by Dioscorides. 'Forskal found it in great abundance in Palestine, and supposes it was the lily of the Scripture, like to which, our Saviour said, Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed. It grows in all the sandy plains of Asia Minor, and is propagated by seed as well as bulbs. I found it among the ruins of Teos, and am disposed to think it was the lily of Anacreon.' A'run Dracunculus. Dioscorides. Found in the plains of Brusa. Ferula sp.: eight feet high; covers the islands of Marmora like a forest of young trees; the narthex of Dioscorides. and ferula of Pliny. Phytolacca decandra; introduced to Constantinople from America, along with tobacco; now common in humid situations. 'The berries yield a rich purple juice, which was formerly used to colour red wine, but is now confined to sherbet sugar, which the Turks manufacture of a rich red colour.' Cyperus esculentus. The tuberous knobs of the roots are sold in the markets. The manna of the Greeks, abdalassis of the Turks, and kuperios of Dioscorides. Centaurea solstitialis; pretty; found sparingly on the hills about Constantinople. Momordica Elaterium. Pliny. The capsule is a tube, 'without valves, from whence the seeds seem to be projected by a process similar to that of shot from an air-gun, namely, the expansion of some elastic fluid within the tube.' It is abundant around Constantinople; used in medicine, as in England, and for jaundice by the Turks, as it was in the time of Dioscorides. Solanum ï¾µgyptiacum, sodamï¾µ'um, and ovigerum, were not known to the ancients. 'The first of them bears a bright scarlet fruit; and is a rare plant at Constantinople, never sold in the markets, and seldom met with in private gardens. It is used in soups. The second bears a large, rich, dark purple fruit, which looks very inviting. It is sometimes punctured by a species of cynips, which gangrenes the fruit, and converts the interior into a dry powder like ashes, while the outside retains its plump and beautiful aspect; and hence it is called the apple of Sodom. Hasselquist found it on the shores of the Dead Sea. It is distinguished by spines on the stem and calyx. The third bears a long black fruit, of which there are several varieties in shape and colour. It is sold in the markets in almost as great abundance as gourds and melons, and used in the same manner in soups. It is called by the Turks patlindjam; and its first appearance in the markets is always attended with a strong north-east wind, which for that reason is called, in the Armenian Almanack, patlindjam melktem; and all the ships bound for the Black Sea hasten to sail before the fruit appears in the market and the wind sets in, as it continues several weeks.' Brassica gongylodes and Eruca sativa. 'The first of these has a protuberant swelling of the stem, from whence the leaves issue, and this is the only part of the plant used. The second is a fetid, offensive plant, but highly esteemed by the Greeks and Turks, who prefer it to any other salad, perhaps for its aphrodisial properties.' Hibiscus esculentus. The unripe pod is stewed with sauce; sold in the markets green, for imme diate use, and dry on strings. Onopordum elatum adorns all the hills about Constantinople. Papaver somniferum; the Opon of Dioscorides. Cicer arietinum and E'rvum Lens. Dioscorides and Pliny. The first 'is used in great quantities in Constantinople, and mixed with all their dishes and pilafs, where it is always whole, and never bruised. It is also used in great abundance parched, when it is called leblevi. This operation is performed by Arabs, who have a peculiar skill in detaching it from the cuticle while toasting it. When prepared in this way, it is sold about the streets in sieves, by the Arabs, who are called Leblevige, and form a numerous body. The practice of parching this pea is of great antiquity; it is not only mentioned by Plautus and Aristophanes, but Shaw supposes it to be the 'parched pulse' mentioned in Scripture. The second species is not so abundant: it is called by the Turks mergimets. It is flattish on one side, and convex on the other, and hence called lens.' Phaseolus nanus and chonda; 'sold in great abundance in the markets, and called by the Turks beyas fasiula, or white bean, to distinguish them from scarlet runners.' Lablab vulgaris; cultivated in all the gardens, but not sold in the markets. Ipom£'a purpurea, villosa, and coccinea. 'These grow in Constantinople with great luxuriance and beauty; they twine round poles and climb up trees, forming with their rich and varied flowers the brightest wreaths.' Amaranthus hybridus and caudatus. 'The first is a native, and grows spontaneously; the second is exotic: they both attain to a great size, altogether uncommon in England. The A. caudatus is trained to a pole, and rises to the height of six or seven feet, from whence the pendent spikes of flowers hang down with great beauty, and are so long as sometimes to trail upon the ground.' 'Among the gourds, the most remarkable are: Cucurbita lagenaria and claviformis. 'These are varieties of the same gourd: the first exactly resembles a bottle; the second a club, which sometimes attains the length of six or seven feet. The ancients were fond of cultivating this gourd; and Pliny is minute in describing the mode and uses, which are the same nearly as at the present day. I imagine this to have been the real gourd of Jonas. They grow rapidly when well watered, and wither immediately when left dry; in a few weeks forming dense shady arbours, under which the people of the East sit and smoke. When the fruit is young, it hangs down inside the arbour like candles: in this state it is cut, and boiled with forced meat, stuffed in the hollow part with rice; it is then called dolma by the Turks; and is in such general use, that a large district in the vicinity of Pera is called Dolma Baktche, or Gourd Gardens, from the cultivation of these plants.' Cucurbita cidariformis. 'The production of this gourd, as given by the ancient writers, is curious: a gourd was planted in Campania, in the vicinity of a quince, and it immediately adopted its form in addition to its own. In fact, it resembles a large quince, laid on the top of a flat melon. This curious fruit is called here the Turk's turban, which it resembles in shape and vivid colours. It is too rare to be sold in the markets, but is cultivated in private gardens, and used in soups.' Cucurbita aurantia and pyriformis. 'These exactly resemble the fruit after which they are named; the one an orange, and the other a pear.' Cucurbita Potira. 'The gourd most in use in Constantinople; the fruit is heaped up in large piles, and kept under tents in the markets for six months in the year. There are two kinds or varieties: one long, with orange-coloured fruit; the other round, with white coloured fruit. They are called by the Turks bal cabaghi, and used in all their soups.' Cucurbita sp. (Evadghi cavac, Turkish); by far the largest gourd in these countries; it is quite white, and in the markets resembles huge snow-balls, particularly so, as it is in season in winter. Cucumis Citrullus. The famous water-melon, so highly prized and universally used all over the East: it is the great luxury of the common people in Constantinople, and refreshes the hammals, or porters, like ale in England, and tea in China. Strangers are warned by writers against the intense cold of this fruit; but the people of Constantinople devour it alone, without pepper, or any other aromatic, in the hottest weather, with perfect impunity. The Turks call it carpoos; and give the same name to their artificial globes, from their resemblance to this fruit, which is a perfect sphere. Cucumis Melo; several varieties. 'Six varieties of melon are cultivated in Asia Minor, particularly about Angora. There is one variety so very delicate, that the seeds were given to me carefully sealed up in a bottle, with directions that it should not be opened till the seeds were about to be sown, lest the essence should evaporate. The following directions were also sent as to the time and manner of cultivation: - In the beginning of May the seeds are thrown into water; those; that float are thrown away, and those that sink are suffered to remain twelve hours. The ground is chosen rich, and manured with pigeons' dung. A small cavity is made, in which several seeds are sown together: when they come up, three or four only of the most vigorous plants are suffered to remain; the rest are pulled up and thrown away. The fruit ripens in August, and is so rich that no sugar or other seasoning is ever used with it. The other kinds of melons cultivated about Constantinople, and sold in the markets, are called by the general name of cavun; and, when they are larger or longer than usual, vodina cavun. They generally sell for about twenty paras the oke, or about a penny per pound. One variety is called kiskaduo by the Turks, and is much esteemed.'