International Historic Gardens

International Historic Gardens

Presentation by Jeff de Jong        December 1, 2015

Jeff de Jong leads garden tours around the world. He gave an overview of historical garden design trends and how they influence our gardens today. His highly informative and entertaining presentation included the design of ancient Egyptian, Chinese, and Japanese gardens.

The Egyptians were the first leave a record of their ancient gardens which were outdoor living spaces shielded from the sun and edible. Growing conditions were severe so the design called for walled gardens for protection and straight line planting rows to facilitate irrigation. Grapes were grown under pergolas to protect them from the sun. Everything in the garden served a purpose, providing food, medicines, funerary preservatives, perfumes and drink (wine). Water features held fish and water fowl to supplement their diet.

Roman gardens were heavily influenced by Egyptian design but were not as utilitarian. The Romans wanted to be delighted, amazed and inspired by their gardens, and used hardscapes such as statuary, water features and pergolas. They followed the straight line planting method of the Egyptians using the aqueducts for irrigation. They grew food in containers and used silks to soften the hardscape features. Being able to irrigate showed status and wealth. While these gardens were only for the rich they were careful to show only to the extent required to portray that they were doing well. The Italian garden at Royal Roads University showcases many of these design features.

Chinese gardens reflect their reverence for the natural landscape – mountains, rivers and lakes. A design trick to make small gardens feel bigger is to use a small scale. Openings such as moon gates frame a small scene that is reflective of the larger garden within. Whether a garden is small or large, the same elements are included – only the scale is changed. They use decorative stonework on paths and are masters at using a borrowed landscape to make a small garden seem larger. Chinese gardens use water lavishly which usually provides a home for colourful fish. They use colour on garden structures with red being most auspicious. Paths are made to look like a river and zigzag bridges are used to keep out evil spirits.

Japanese gardens remind us that we are “human beings not humans doing”. They use Prunus, pine and bamboo to create visual appeal throughout the year. Japan originally borrowed from Chinese designs but evolved quite a different style that is in keeping with Japanese culture. Statuary in the form of Pagodas was adopted from India. The greenness of Japanese gardens helps to restore energy and produce feelings of tranquility. Gravel or sand is used to represent water and raked to create that effect. Cherry and plum blossoms are considered good luck and if blossoms fall on your head you are very lucky indeed.

We have Louis XIV of France to thank, or blame, for ubiquitous lawns even when conditions would dictate otherwise. The Garden of Versailles begun in 1662 popularized lawns and revolutionized garden design. These first lawns were a symbol of prestige because they required hand grooming and many people to attend them. The grass seed came from China and Louis grew it in large patterned areas. The point of the garden at Versailles was to show that nature could be controlled. We gardeners know better, don’t we!

 (The December meeting was a special social event.  No workshop was held.)