In the first post of our “Hints & Tips” series, I shared my excitement for the journey into the world of garden design. From the oases of Egyptian gardens, I am looking back in time to uncover the roots of our modern garden paradigms. In this post still, in the heart of ancient Mediterranean cultures, I find myself immersed in Greek and Roman gardens two styles that left indelible marks on our contemporary landscaping practices.
While the Egyptians ingeniously blended ornamental and culinary plants in their gardens, foreshadowing the importance of multi-functional green spaces. The Greek and Roman legacies, gifted us the first recorded botanic garden, a testament to their appreciation for the botanical world. They also started with an important emphasis on harmony and scale, pioneers of the techniques that continue to shape the gardens of today.
Each region and time period have contributed distinct improvements to landscaping, in the aspects of innovation, aesthetics, and functionality that continue to influence modern gardening practices:
For the Romans water played a central role in the gardens, elaborate fountains, pools, and aqueducts were common features that not only added a decorative touch but also served practical purposes such as irrigation and cooling. Also, Roman gardens often incorporated elements from mythology and symbolism such as statues of gods and mythological figures adorning the landscapes, connecting the garden with the broader cultural and religious beliefs of the time.
The Greeks and Romans’ concept of a garden is an immersive experience, where beauty and purpose coexist, blending man-made elements with the natural landscape, creating seamless transitions between the two into a harmonious balance between aesthetics and utility that emphasises the importance of understanding the environment before embarking on any project.
The Greeks believed that humans were an integral part of nature, not separate from it.
This philosophical stance, often attributed to thinkers like Plato and Aristotle, influenced how they approached various aspects of life, including garden design. Gardens were seen as extensions of the natural world, a way to commune with the beauty and order found in nature.
As in the above representation of a garden paradise, the gardens of Romans and Greeks play a pivotal role in public and daily life as epicentres of political, intellectual, and social discourse. The “Hortus” and “Ágoras” gardens epitomized communal identity and interaction, serving as both celebration venues and intellectual hubs. Gymnasiums were adorned with gardens where athletes trained, and philosophical debates took place amidst lush greenery some gardens held religious significance and were dedicated to deities:
Temples and sanctuaries often had gardens adorned with sculptures, fountains, and offerings. These gardens were places of reflection, prayer, and connection with the divine. The sacred nature of these spaces deepened the Greeks’ sense of spirituality intertwined with nature. In general, these gardens symbolized unity, facilitating discussions, fostering relationships, and shaping societal norms.
However, today’s gardens have experienced a perceptible shift. In contrast to the Greek and Roman ethos of communal involvement, our contemporary gardens often lack the vibrant public life that once defined them and the privacy and seclusion offered by private gardens built behind fences reflect a sad societal evolution where gardens have transitioned from vibrant spaces of community engagement to sanctuaries of solitude.
Commercial activities have relocated to malls, intellectual exchange to schools and entertainment to virtual/internet, leaving too often gardens as mere ornamental backdrops. This movement is evidenced by the growth in demand not for garden designers but for artificial grass installation professionals.
A Call to Reconnect and Revitalize
As a garden design student and practitioner of gardening myself, I am sincerely intrigued by this social transition. At the same time, I understand the design should encompass people’s needs, but it’s a long way to rescue and re-evaluating the ways we interact with nature and my aim, as a professional one day, will certainly be to encourage individuals to interact with gardens not only as a view from the window, bringing back the communal and interactive spirit of these spaces.
Perhaps the solution lies not solely in changing the gardens themselves, but in changing our perception and approach. Modern society yearns for reconnection with public spaces, nature, and one another and gardens have the power to bridge this gap.
By weaving together historical wisdom with contemporary needs, we can cultivate gardens that are not only visually enchanting but also community catalysts, embracing the legacy of the Greeks and Romans and rekindling their spirit in our own time.
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