You don’t need to be a keen gardener nor to know every Latin names of the plants to appreciate the chance for contemplation and reflection that a stroll through the garden offers. The explosion of colors, forms, textures, and shapes within the gardens, and the persistence and inventiveness of the plants that are so determined to assert their right to live and beauty, may obliterate for us the unsettling elements of daily life.
However, gardens are also tied to their religious and political past, and traces of this are evident in our constant fascination with the gardens. The connection between the renowned garden in Versailles, which was at one time the most sought-after property by Louis XIV, and our own backyard garden is more extensive than we think.
Read more: Friday essay: what is it about Versailles?
In the book of Genesis , our creation begins in Eden , the “garden of God” which our ancestors, Adam and Eve, failed to appreciate. Having lost our privileged access to this divine garden because of their sin, we perpetually try to re-create it – in our homes, in our cities, in our heads. The earthly garden, as a reflection of the paradise we can hope to experience after death, is also a central motif in the Qur’an , a promise delivered by Allah himself.
Adam and Eve Chased out of the Terrestrial Paradise. Jean Achille Benouville, 1841. Wikimedia
Gods and Kings
In the early Near East, in whose fertile soils the Biblical customs were developed, the King (who typically assumed priestly duties) was believed to be the only one with the power to interact with the gods of the royal gardens. This was viewed as an analogy to the divine garden.
The Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh (from about 2000 BCE) The hero-king Gilgamesh journeys to the enchanting garden of the sun god, where the flowers display exquisite gems instead of leaves in an attempt to be immortal. While immortality isn’t a reality for Gilgamesh the divine garden gives him knowledge. So equipped, he returns to his home city, Uruk, also known as “the garden of Gilgamesh,” and erects impressive walls that will forever mark his name in the history of the world.
Read more: Guide to the Classics: the Epic of Gilgamesh
In another story , despite his uneasy relationship with the fertility goddess Inanna, whose advances he eventually rejects, Gilgamesh poses as her dedicated gardener. He carves a throne and a bed for Inanna from the Huluppu tree while she makes him a magical drum and drumstick from it to summon warriors to battle. When Inanna’s favourite tree is threatened by a serpent nesting at its roots, only Gilgamesh and his companions rush to her aid.
All over all of the Near East, the garden was a place where the gods verified the legitimateness of the kings. Sargon I (1920-1881 BCE), the founding father of the Akkadian-Sumerian Empire, is depicted in The epic The Legend of Sargon as an unassuming gardener. was selected by goddesses to be the King.
The ancient Near Eastern kings invested exorbitant amounts of money to build stunning palace gardens stunning architectural marvels that have etched into the minds of people their unique connection to gods. Sennacherib (704-681 BC) likely ordered the famed hanging garden to be constructed close to his capital city of Nineveh. However, we frequently use the term “hanging gardens” to refer to them as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
“Garden party of Assurbanipal relief that was reproduced with consent of Trustees of the British Museum. The relief was found in Nineveh, Iraq, dated about 645 BCE. British Museum
The concept was also attributed to the Israelite King Solomon (circa 970-93 BCE) who proclaimed his creation of extravagant, well-irrigated gardens and groves. The concept was extensively utilized for his ancestors, the Achaemenids (a Persian dynasty). In actual fact, the Persian word used to describe a garden enclosed, the pairi-daeza, was translated in Greek in the form of paradeisos (“paradise”) by the historian Xenophon.