The Primordial Idea of a Garden
For most of human history, the garden represents a well-defined closed area in contrast with the outside world. This happened up until the Renaissance and, above all, until the English landscape garden which will revolutionize most of the fundamental principles of the art of gardening up till now predominant.
Since ancient times the garden represents an enclosed space that safeguards the plant of life, like in some Sumerian tales, or the tree of knowledge of good and evil, like in the biblical story of the Genesis.
The garden in ancient times is a hymn to the earth’s fertility and able to generate life. For this reason it is associated with the womb and a women’s fertility who is also a giver of life. The association between womb-garden can be found in many images depicted in jewelry and other ancient objects where a stylized plant replaces the image of that of a woman.
The ancient garden is, therefore, a place that is strongly in contrast with the outside world and in safekeeping of the most important values: order as opposed to disorder; knowledge as opposed to ignorance; good versus evil; life versus death.
We will find this basic concept again in all the ancient gardens such as the Egyptian garden, the Arab garden and more than ever in the medieval garden where the closure to the outside world reaches perhaps its highest levels.
Only in the Renaissance period, from the year 1400, that closed up garden will begin to open to the outside world, merging and becoming one with the landscape as in the English landscape garden.
A Sumerian grafogram dated 3000 a.C. is illustrated on the left. This image depicts the original idea of a garden: a closed up area with a stylized tree, protected and kept inside.
If you want to pursue this subject, I suggest you read the book by Massimo Venturi Ferriolo “In Life’s Womb. The Origins of The Idea of a Garden” (“Nel Grembo della Vita. Le Origini dell’Idea di giardino”).