Landscape design styles – part 1

One of my recently completed landscape design lessons required researching three major landscape styles and submitting a report on my findings and how each style – Paradise Gardens, the English Landscape Movement, and Japanese Gardens – impacts modern garden design.

We often don’t think where design ideas originate. We may copy aspects of other gardens seen in books, magazines, or in person, but where did the inspiration for these gardens come from?  We may inherently know certain sites better avail themselves to geometrically planned garden beds while other sites call for less formal and more curvaceous lines … and we all recognize sites of visual discord, but outside of ingrained creativity where does the gut sense that one design works while another does not come from?  What’s the history behind what we do as modern gardeners?

Here’s an excerpt from the first part of my report. It briefly covers Paradise Gardens.

Modern garden design draws on gardening styles developed over centuries. People from multiple geographical regions sculpted landscapes to fit their needs, desires, and beliefs. Contemporary garden designs utilize aspects of three major historical landscape styles. Each style reflects how humans of certain periods shaped the terrain on which they lived into varied forms and functions.

The peoples of arid regions developed gardening methods that tapped into local water supplies and protected precious food crops from the harsh climate. Drawings from ancient Egyptian tombs as old as 3000 B.C. depict walled, symmetrically planted gardens irrigated with redirected waters from nearby rivers and streams. Hand excavated canals delivered water to areas previously unable to grow vegetation. The combination of walled structure and availability of water gave rise to the planting of groves of trees, the creation of fish filled pools, and garden areas in which to grow food crops.

Paradise Gardens

clip_image002Gardens in the “Paradise” style have a central focus from which other aspects flow outward. In Persia (300 – 500 B.C.) these gardens were typically quadripartite with a central fountain or pool of water – or Fountain of Life – from which four “rivers” flowed. The term Paradise likely comes from ancient Persian words pairi and daeza meaning around and wall. Persians built walls to enclose their plantings and as protection from the harsh, arid climate and predators. Within the walls they grew scented flowers with religious significance and fresh fruits for sustenance. The gardens afforded people protection, shade, and areas for quiet thought.

Persians were not the first or only people to develop and follow this garden style. Walled, symmetrically-planted gardens irrigated with water from nearby sources are historically evident in multiple arid regions. Drawings from ancient Egyptian tombs as old as 3000 B.C. depict such gardens fed by hand excavated canals to transport water from the Nile River. Gardens of the Bible and Quran followed similar design – a central object from which waters flow and sectioned-off planting areas for edible, medicinal, and religiously significant plants.

Gardens were mans’ oases or Garden of Eden, feeding both body and soul. Islamic conquests helped spread the concept that heaven is a garden, but each culture that modeled enclosed, geometrically-planted garden areas fashioned them according to their own geography, needs, and beliefs.

Afghan’s customized Paradise gardens with raised platforms that seemingly floated above water sources and the plantings below. The Romans and Turks expanded the walled garden concept to encompass entire cities from which leaders could live, entertain, and rule while safely surrounded by all things beautiful.

The Gardens of Pompeii, excavated from beneath the volcanic ash of Vesuvius (79 AD), reveal walled rectangular courtyards, covered walkways, underground cisterns for water collection, ornamental pools, outside dining, trellises, and pergolas. Roman-influenced gardens in Spain tapped irrigated water into sunlit reflecting pools to cool and brighten adjacent interior rooms.

Gardens based on geometrically planned quadrants became the foundation for formal European gardens, as massively illustrated at Versailles. There, in the mid 1600’s, France’s Louis the 14th had an entire town and valley re-constructed into acres and acres of formal gardens expanding out from a grand canal via multiple intersecting avenues and paths, many lined or enclosed by walls of manicured greenery and highlighted by reflecting pools.

Think of what in your gardens reflect aspects of Paradise Gardens – symmetrical beds, a central fountain, bird bath, or pool; is your garden your Paradise; do you plant edible crops in visually pleasing designs; do you plant certain vegetation because of its meaning or religious significance?

The next segment of this four part series on landscape design styles will reflect on the English Landscape movement. Part 3 will cover Japanese gardens, and part 4 will bring these historical styles into modern gardens. Stay tuned.

Want to learn more? Check the local library for Landscape Design: A Cultural and Architectural History by Elizabeth Barlow Rogers or Paradise on Earth: The Gardens of Western Europe by Gabrielle van Zuylen.

6 comments for “Landscape design styles – part 1

  1. August 5, 2010 at 6:37 am


    An interesting post. I’ll look forward to reading the next few installments. A book I found helpful is The History of Gardening by Penelope Hobhouse. What I enjoyed was seeing how garden design trends, like trends in many other artistic fields, were often a ‘correction’ of the prior trend.

  2. joenesgarden
    August 5, 2010 at 9:34 pm

    This is an interesting aspect of landscape design styles, Debbie. The English Landscape Movement – subject of my next post – is a direct response to the geometrical plans of Paradise and similar garden design.

  3. August 12, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    Our rose garden is our Paradise garden
    Have only just found these posts via a comment you left on jean’s plot.

    • joenesgarden
      August 13, 2010 at 6:24 pm

      The fragrance alone must be paradise for you, Elephant’s Eye. Thanks for stopping by.

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