Public gardens – the beautiful centerpieces to cities and large communities. Filled with different assortments of flora and fauna, they are the bright and colorful beacon in the middle of a large and dully-colored metropolis. They’re a reminder of the beauty that nature holds, a great place for picnics, and taking kids out for a play date. But where did the first public garden originate and when? Come with us as we delve into the past of Public Gardens Day!
The History of Public Gardens Day
Mesopotamia, the “land between the Rivers” Tigris and Euphrates, comprises a hilly and mountainous northern area and a flat, alluvial south. Its peoples were urban and literate from about 3,000 BC. Evidence for their gardens comes from written texts, pictorial sculpture, and archaeology. In western tradition, Mesopotamia was the location of the Garden of Eden and the Hanging gardens of Babylon. Temple gardens developed from the representation of a sacred grove. Several distinct styles of royal garden are also known.
The courtyard garden was enclosed by the walls of a palace. On a larger scale was a cultivated place inside the city walls. At Mari on the Middle Euphrates (c 1,800BC) one of the huge palace courtyards was called the Court of the Palms. It is crossed by raised walkways of baked brick; the king and his entourage would dine there. At Ugarit (1,400BC) there was a stone water basin, not located centrally as in later Persian gardens, for the central feature was probably a tree (date palm or tamarisk). The 7th century BC Assyrian king Assurbanipal is shown on a sculpture feasting with his queen, reclining on a couch beneath an arbor of vines, and attended by musicians. Trophies of conquest are on display, including the dismembered head of the king of Elam hanging from a fragrant pine branch! A Babylonian text from the same period is divided into sections as if showing beds of soil with the names of medicinal, vegetable, and herbal plants written into each square, perhaps representing a parterre design.
On a larger scale, royal hunting parks were established to hold the exotic animals and plants which the king had acquired on his foreign campaigns. King Tiglath Pileser I (1,000BC) lists horses, oxen, asses, deer, gazelle, and ibex, boasting “I numbered them like flocks of sheep.”
From around 1,000 BC the Assyrian kings developed a style of city gardening incorporating a naturalistic layout, running water supplied from river headwaters, and exotic plants from their foreign campaigns. Assurnasirpal II (883-859BC) lists pines of different kinds, including cypresses, junipers, almonds, dates, ebony, rosewood, olive, oak, tamarisk, walnut, terebinth, ash, fir pomegranate, pear, quince, fig and grapevines. “The canal water gushes from above into the gardens; fragrance pervades the walkways; streams of water as numerous as the stars of heaven flow in the pleasure garden…. Like a squirrel I pick fruit in the garden of delights.” The city garden reached its zenith with the palace design of Sennacherib(704-681BC) whose water system stretched for 50 km into the hills. The garden was higher and more ornate than any other and he boasted of the complex technologies he deployed, calling his garden palace “a Wonder for all Peoples”.
The biblical Book of Genesis mentions the Tigris and Euphrates as two of the four rivers bounding the Garden of Eden. No specific place has been identified although there are many theories.
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon are listed by classical Greek writers as one of the Seven Wonders of The World. The excavated ruins of Babylon do not reveal any suitable evidence, which has led some scholars to suggest that they may have been purely legendary. Mesopotamia is believed to be the origin of the public garden and we’d have to say we don’t disagree.
How to Celebrate Public Gardens Day
From roses to chrysanthemums, all we have to do is go outside to a public garden and admire the variety of flora. The beauty of nature is not one to take lightly. So, let’s get out there! Maybe we can even plant our own gardens to add some color to our homes.