The desire of man to have a garden is as old as civilization and is so ingrained that the first signs are manifested since the beginning of the history of peoples in all parts of the world.
The very first source of tradition is the religious one, so the gardens are born as appendages of the temples. Every religion of antiquity has its mythical garden: the Jewish Garden of Eden, the Eridu of the Assyrians, the Ida-Vasha of Hinduism. Parallel to the religious origin was the development of an enclosed land to grow food, thus making the garden a link between the spiritual and physical needs of man. These terrestrial paradises, at the service of one or both aspects of the dual human nature, are found in the desert oasis garden, in the enclosed hunting parks created by the Assyrians and in the medieval monastic gardens with their herbaceous plants, the fish ponds, and flowers for the altar. The idea that inspires all these early gardens is expressed in the word of Arab-Hispanic origin Glorietta, the small private paradise. In any case, they express the idea of paradise as conceived by their creators.
The earliest known gardens are those of Egypt, and here, as is natural enough, the idea of paradise was centered on the fruitfulness of the oasis. Water, without which there could be neither flowers nor fruit nor the shadow of the trees, became the central theme of the garden, both for necessity and for symbolism, representing the river of life. From this theme of water as a source of fertility all the Asian irrigation gardens developed, including those Arabs, Persians and the Mogul gardens in northern India. His influence penetrated deep into the Western world, into classical eras through Greek and Roman conquests, into medieval Europe through the return of the Crusaders, and finally, in a purer form, entering Spain with the invading Moors.
The characteristics of its fundamental form are the logical result of its origin. The garden is fenced, to leave out the surrounding desert, it is formal and leveled, because its central feature is the water enclosed in a canal or in a rectangular basin.
On each side of the watercourse are the trees and flowers of the idealized oasis. This simple design developed and changed through the various countries, under the influence of the land and often the religion of its users. Waterfalls were created in the hills of Persia, and the water-filled canals became the four rivers of life in Muslim India. This tradition of the oasis merged in Asia with another that originated from a very different terrain, that of the wooded hills of Assyria.
Here, the idea that the king had of paradise was a hunting forest, more beautiful and richer in the game than any natural forest.
He was the true ancestor of the park, large in comparison to the garden-oasis – since there was no desert around it – and informal in treatment, since it was born from the natural fertility of the countryside instead of following the straight lines of irrigation. From these two sources – the irrigation of the desert and the idealization of the forest – the Persian garden was born, whose design has been handed down to us through the motifs of Persian carpets.
The irrigation structure takes the form of canals that represent the four rivers of paradise and form a cross in the middle. Often the garden is also surrounded by a wall-enclosed ditch. At the four corners are the fruits and flowers of the oasis and sometimes also a symbolic trace that recalls the largest forest of the Assyrians.
The Arabs, great masters of irrigation, adopted the same pattern that we still find in the garden of the Alhambra in southern Spain. In the same Persia, these paradise gardens had a great bloom even up to the sixteenth century, and it is possible, thanks to what has remained and the news reached to us, still, appreciate today the enormous impression that they left to all those who could see them. They were precious gardens for conception, almost of jewels. Often the water flowed on blue tiles and in the parterre between the intertwined canals, there were flower beds with carefully grouped flowers, or sometimes whole gardens of one type of flower. There were fruit trees, and there was a great use of the symbolic grouping of the eternal cypresses with the almond tree which renews its birth every spring. A variant of the Persian-oasis garden came in the five-hundreds to northern India, where it gave rise to one of the great world traditions in the creation of gardens. The Mogul emperors united a passionate love for the gardens to the desire of conquest. They created gardens in the lands they conquered, and because they were imbued with Persian culture and often married Persian women, their gardens were based on the theme of the four rivers of life. The Moguls were creators, not imitators, and the theme was adapted to the place and climate depending on the location where the gardens were made. In torrid Punjab, the waters of life expanded into broad, fresh expanses. In Kashmir, the beauty of the surrounding landscape made the garden no longer an oasis within a hostile world, but a gem in the heart of paradise. The gardens of Shalamar Nishat and Chasma Shahi, located around the shores of Dal Lake and against the backdrop of the amphitheater of the foothills of the Himalayas, must be considered among the most beautiful examples of gardens, which derive so much from man’s desires. as for the spirit of the surrounding landscape. These gardens, which were described by Villiers-Stuart in the Gardens of the Great Mughals, can still be visited. They have a place among the largest gardens in the world, are rooted in a more ancient tradition, but take on new form and vitality from the character of the country of adoption. Long before India collected the heritage of Persia, India itself had influenced the gardens of the Far Orient. Indian Buddhism reached China and from there, in the sixth century, arrived in Japan, bringing with it the idea of the Buddhist temple garden, with its hills, its lotus ponds and trees; an informal composition, in complete contrast with the straight channels and the oblong parterre of the irrigation garden. These temple gardens added their influence to the extraordinary tradition of Sino-Japanese garden.