The Landscape Guide



Greek gardens

The Ancient Greeks were filled with amazement when they first beheld the magnificent parks of Eastern potentates. Their own civilisation had produced nothing to compare with the achievements of these mighty satraps and imperial kings. In the best period, when the other arts in Greece were rapidly advancing to their highest point of development, we hear nothing about Greek garden culture. Nor, through excavation, do we expect  any satisfactory evidence of this most perishable of all the arts. Moreover, the witnesses who give us pictures of Oriental and Egyptian gardens—poets, historians, and painters—are silent here. So it is only by listening for chance remarks in literature that we can trace any development of the Greek gardens, so simple yet so important in its results.

The reason for this remarkable gap in. Greek art of the best period is the design and layout of their cities. It was a sort of frame enclosing the whole life, intellectual and political, of the Greeks. It allowed no space, even at the time of its greatest expansion, for the cultivation of private gardens. In all ages any important development of the art has been due to the educated class, who are politically powerful and artistically refined. But the growing democracy watched with a jealous eye lest any mental superiority should raise a man’s family to high station. If in spite of this the Greek spirit in its results has proved important, we must seek for garden development in a quite different place.

Greece had known a time when the conditions for horticulture were favourable enough—the great time of Cretan and Mycenæan art. But unluckily no light from literature is thrown back so far as this. Every year new excavations have given proofs of the amazing importance of the epoch, and have revealed buildings of mighty strength and size, together with a manner of life refined to the utmost pitch of luxury. Palaces of every sort and size have been brought to light, but the indications of gardening are dubious and leave room for little more than guesswork. Castles on the mainland of Greece were for the most part fortresses, and had so small a space within, owing to the densely packed houses near the palace, that there must have been even less room for gardens than at the castles of later times.

In Crete, of which our present knowledge reveals the whole civilisation from its first beginnings to its highest development, the situation was very different. Here reigned royal families in profound peace, protected by the sea. Here there were no fortress walls to restrict severely the palace grounds. We can see their love of the plant world from the ornamentation of the vessels which they used, the painting on their vases, the frescoes that decorated their rooms : flowers and trees are portrayed with astonishingly artistic skill (Fig. 46). Cleverly choosing a site, protected in winter from rough winds, open in summer to cool airs, on the slope of the hill they built the wing to live in, three stories one 

Illustrations on CD edition of Garden Visit and Travel Guide - see


above the other, at the palace at Knossos. From open pillared halls and terraces you look down upon the lovely green secluded valley (Fig. 47) . Steps at the side lead down to it.
Illustrations on CD edition of Garden Visit and Travel Guide - see


Unfortunately the excavations do not take us any farther; but one must needs think that lovely pleasure-gardens adjoined, to gratify the aesthetic taste of a noble and wealthy lord. This page in the history of Cretan art, which its monuments are year by year disclosing, must for us unhappily remain a blank.