by Sue Hasker
The History of Gardening
Gardening for food has been an essential part of human life since before recorded history and the earliest forms of garden were created out of peoples basic need for food, so they grew vegetables and herbs. Gardening for ornamental purposes has also been apparent for centuries and there are many famous examples in history, such as the hanging gardens of Babylon, where gardening for a decorative purpose has been recorded.
Some of the earliest forms of gardening for ornamental purposes have been recorded in ancient Egypt where people of high status used walled gardens as a place to relax in the shade of trees and show-off their wealth. These gardens were also used to pay homage to their Gods and also to grow vines for grapes used to produce wine. The Egyptians are credited with cultivating many of the plant species we see around us today, they enjoyed experimenting with different types of tree and are known to have grown sycamore, date palms, nut trees and pomegranate. Although it wasn’t only trees they planted, the Egyptians also experimented with roses, poppies, daisies and cornflowers. Other beautiful, ornamental and decorative gardens in history can be attributed to Romans and Assyrians. The latter responsible for creating large hunting parks and expansive gardens, often irrigated by canals.
It wasn’t until the late 13th century that gardening for decoration really took hold in Europe, until then, gardens were seen as very much a means of producing food. These ornamental gardens would have been protected from animals by walls and other fencing. The Europeans had soon added lawns, trellises of roses and raised flower beds to their gardening repertoire and fruit trees also developed. Monasteries were often seen as a place where gardening was being pioneered as they were places where monks grew herbs and vegetables for food and medicinal purposes.
Throughout the centuries after that, gardening grew and grew, different plants were cultivated and became popular at different intervals. Some century’s, such as the 17th, also brought different gardening styles and decoration like symmetry, uses of decorative hedges and water features.
Moving into the 19th Century gardening became a pastime that was more affordable and not exclusively for the rich.
In modern history, the two world wars could have caused the end of the more cultivated and ornamental garden but when rationing began, households recognised the importance of gardening for fruit and vegetables to get them through the tougher times and so they became popular and in some ways essential again.
In modern times, gardening has become one of the most popular pursuits thanks to new housing estates and the accessibility of urban public spaces.