Whether it be for their historical importance, expression of beauty or just sheer whimsy, gardens are important. Modern day gardens are like a work of art, but one that’s ever-changing. They have the potential for perfection but as a living thing, they’re never finished. By contrast, the earliest gardens were pretty functional affairs. Around 10,000 BC open space was enclosed to protect the plants from animals and people looking for food. Over the centuries the idea of a garden was slowly transformed from being purely agricultural to an aesthetic ideal.
As early as 1600 BC wealthy Egyptians created gardens to celebrate beauty. Nebuchadnezzar built the Hanging Gardens of Babylon for his wide Amytis, around a thousand years later. She was missing her mountain home so he had the so-called hanging gardens, actually a series of terraces, created to make her feel better. Then in 400 BC the Persians introduced symmetry as a design element in horticulture, while the Romans contributed water features and fountains, as an expression of their love of water. Chinese and Japanese influences came into play around the 4th century with a focus on Zen minimalism, the ultimate in less is more.
By the 15th and 16th centuries Renaissance gardens reigned supreme. They were at the other end of the scale of decorative opulence with elaborate and sometimes over-the-top designs. More recently, eco-centric and sustainable gardening is being included in the planning of ornamental gardens, mixing function with form.
The same design elements are still in place, but the plants have to earn their keep as well as look good, as shown in the vertical gardens in Milan, Italy.