Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Paradise: A Glimpse of the Persian Garden

We love the soothing sensuousness and mystery sequestered behind the walls of a Persian garden.

Garden at The Alcazar, Sevilla, Spain

Is it the restrained ying and yang that balances the space, the delicate blossoms of roses and citrus that shamelessly flirt with the stoic evergreens or is it the cool drops of water that tease the hot, dry air?  Could it be man's perennial ambition to order nature even its natural absence.

Perhaps it's all of the above, coyly whispering to the visitor, "Shh...stay...linger with us awhile."

The fabulous Christine E. O'Hara, assistant professor in the landscape architecture department of California Polytechnic State University, joins a panel of experts this Friday for a day-long Garden Conservancy seminar to explore and celebrate the beauty created within the walls of a Persian garden.

Her focus: water and plant lessons for the California garden from the Moors, North Africans who converted to Islam bringing the Persian Garden with them when they moved to Spain about 800 A.D.

A fountain in The Alcazar, Sevilla Spain
Image by Christy O'Hara

"The philosophy of a Persian garden," she says, "was originally based on Islamic doctrine of the paradise garden. Fragrant, lush and cooling, a place of meditation oftentimes."

 Images of The Alhambra, Grenada, Spain

According to O'Hara, Persian gardens are walled with a strong geometric layout, typically planted with evergreens, such as cypress and myrtle, to give year-round structure to the garden, supplemented with fragrant and colorful plants including roses, geraniums, hollyhocks, and fruit trees.

 The royal gardens of The Alcazar in Sevilla, Spain
by Christy O'Hara

The Alhambra, Grenada, Spain
Image by Christy O'Hara

Detail from a painting by L.H. Fischer, 1885
Patio de la Acqueia at the Generalife, Spain

"Hardscape came from local materials," she adds. "In Andalusia in southern Spain, the hardscape was from rock from the rivers and tiles in beautiful patterns or flagstone. Alternatively, decomposed granite was used in the larger garden spaces and, while there is often lots of hardscape, it doesn't feel sterile because all materials are natural." 

The Alcazar, Sevilla, Spain
by Christy O'Hara

A contemporary example of the principles seen in the Persian garden: the Getty Villa in Malibu, California

 The Getty Villa
courtesy of Michael DeHart,
Gift of Persia panelist and
Superintendant of Grounds and Gardens, Getty Villa

"Contemporary landscape design is going back to stronger axial lines so I see great application in these forms and structure," O'Hara says, adding that great garden design lessons from the Persian garden are to "use water preciously and aesthetically and use regional materials and plants to create a sense of place and appropriateness."

For a Persian garden plant list, composed in 1013 a.d.,  see Islamic Gardens and Landscapes (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008) by D. Fairchild Ruggles.  Many of these plants are found in today's American garden, O'Hara says.

Gift of Persia: Exotic Gardens for California • 
The Moorish, Mughal and Mediterranean influence on California Gardens
A horticultural and design history seminar • 
sponsored by the Garden Conservancy and the Ruth Bancroft Garden
July 15, 2011 • 
8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. •
The Gardens at Heather Farm, Walnut Creek, California • 
$105. includes buffet lunch, refreshments and wine reception • 
415.441.4300 •


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