Some 40,000 years ago, the intelligent man appeared on earth. He was guided by his intelligence to socialise, form families and communities and lived by hunting, picking wild fruits, berries and digging out tubers. With experience he learned to sow seeds in the vicinity of his hut and harvest the crops. It is presumed that this was the origin of the kitchen garden, which many families nurture with passion in their backyard; they probably ignore the fact that this was a gift which has been transmitted by our distant ancestors. Although time has modified our way of life and technology has revolutionised agriculture, seeds still have to be sown and crops harvested. Corn, a cereal which is still much appreciated, was one of the first crops cultivated by ancient civilisations.
When adequate food production was ensured, work in the fields became less tedious and many women chose to dedicate more time to domestic chores and rear their young. Natural attraction to flowers guided them to express their femininity by creating gardens. They skillfully arranged flowers to embellish their environment, adorn their hair, add charm to their homes or offer them to Gods. Presenting a bouquet to a lady as an expression of respect and love has become a universal tradition.
Gardens have existed since the dawn of time. The Sumerians practised the art of gardening which has been transmitted to modern civilisation very early in the history of mankind. Different civilisations have created gardens to integrate their cultures and traditions. Eastern architectural aspirations were far older than the Romans or Greeks and Oriental philosophy has given a spiritual dimension to their gardens by including pagodas to match with the scenery of their regions. The design of Buddhist temples with their roof corners pointing stylishly heavenward was influenced by the graceful folk dances of their people. The Greeks integrated temples in their public gardens to honour their gods. The Garden of Eden, an evocation of Paradise on earth, inspired biblical writings. Adam and Eve were the first humans to inhabit this sacred piece of land where they led a joyful life until they were banned for disobedience.
The hanging gardens of Babylon are still considered as one of the wonders of the world.
The history of French gardens can be traced back to Italian Renaissance. They were planned geometrically and embellished with statues and water fountains in contrast with English gardens which have been designed to integrate their scenic beauty. Water is one of the main attractions of gardens. Still pools, watercourses and waterfalls add more charm to the surroundings. The murmuring sound of water has a soothing effect on the mind. Strolling around a pond of colourful water lilies and watching the graceful movement of fishes or just listening to the rumbling of streams are moments of sheer joy.
The Japanese have used their gardening skills acquired over 3000 years to create a new breed of miniature plants by the bonsaï method. Emperors, kings and maharajas created wonderful gardens which they have dedicated to their wives as a sign of love. Believers in God are convinced that nature is the work of a divine designer and agnostics stick to the fact that man has created gardens for his pleasure by using his creative mind and imagination. He has glorified his species by transforming natural beauty into works of art for the pleasure of posterity.
The human being considers his garden as his piece of paradise on earth, a haven of peace and tranquility where he can take a pause before resuming his daily chores hoping that the gates of real paradise will open for him someday.
A public garden is a sanctuary for busy citizens who live in luxurious concrete towers where garden spaces have been replaced by parking lots. Parks and gardens offer them the opportunity of spending a few blissful moments by opening their senses to nature far from the maddening crowds.
Many poets and artists have drawn their inspiration from silence and delicious solitude. The pervasiveness of nature stimulated their thoughts and sparked poetic creativity. Wordsworth composed his poem “The Daffodils” while he was wandering lonely as a cloud. He was thrilled by the host of golden daffodils which filled his heart with joy, flashed upon his inward eye and made him gleeful. He imagined the daisy as a sweet silent creature.
Children are fascinated by gardens. The colourful bunches of flowers stimulate their power of observation. Garden denizens, birds, butterflies and other insects arouse their curiosity. They are thrilled and amazed when they discover fairy tale objects in gardens or watch the flight of the busy bee from flower to flower in its graceful show of aerial acrobatics. A garden is a perfect place to introduce nature study to children and initiate them to train their green fingers.
Amateur gardeners exhibit a natural love for plants. They live moments of exultation in their garden and find personal fulfilment by watching plants grow from seeds buried in the soil a few days earlier reach maturity, bear flowers, vegetables or fruits which they look forward to enjoy with their family or proudly offer to friends and neighbours. Sharing is a thrilling event which has deep sentimental values that promote spiritual friendship and generate tender emotions around a group of persons.
Expressions of joy, a complimentary comment on one’s gardening skills or gestures of appreciation are highly rewarding to the giver. It is reported that plant lovers are able to communicate secretly with their plants. However, there is still no scientific evidence of this esoteric connection between two entirely different species. Eastern mysticism affirms that this is possible as the universe is an “interconnected whole”.
A lady who had the feeling of love for a French President was emotionally overwhelmed when the latter invited her to visit the garden of L’Elysee. It is not reported whether he sang to her the song “Combien de roses je dois te donner pour que tu m’aimes” but this short stroll in the garden of roses did touch her feelings and it ended up in a wedding ceremony sometime after.
Gardening is an activity which can be practised by plant lovers of all ages. It is a pleasurable pastime which suppresses negative emotions. The participation of family members strengthens family ties and consolidates bonds of love.
The following citation illustrates the state of mind of men who spend most of their time in five-star offices and are too busy to create the opportunity for enjoying the gifts of nature.
“Le jardin de L’Élysée est délicieux. C’est vraiment lui qui me permet de supporter la tristesse de ma prison.” – Raymond Poincaré.
* Published in print edition on 20 June 2014