Gardening is the practice of growing and cultivating plants as part of horticulture. In gardens, ornamental plants are often grown for their flowers, foliage, or overall appearance; useful plants, such as root vegetables, leaf vegetables, fruits, and herbs, are grown for consumption, for use as dyes, or for medicinal or cosmetic use. Gardening is considered to be a relaxing activity for many people.
Gardening ranges in scale from fruit orchards, to long boulevard plantings with one or more different types of shrubs, trees, and herbaceous plants, to residential yards including lawns and foundation plantings, to plants in large or small containers grown inside or outside. Gardening may be very specialized, with only one type of plant grown, or involve a large number of different plants in mixed plantings. It involves an active participation in the growing of plants, and tends to be labor-intensive, which differentiates it from farming or forestry.
Wealthy ancient Egyptians used gardens for providing shade. Egyptians associated trees and gardens with gods as they believed that their deities were pleased by gardens. Gardens in ancient Egypt were often surrounded by walls with trees planted in rows. Among the most popular species planted were date palms, sycamores, fir trees, nut trees, and willows. These gardens were a sign of higher socioeconomic status. In addition, wealthy ancient Egyptians grew vineyards, as wine was a sign of the higher social classes. Roses, poppies, daisies and irises could all also be found in the gardens of the Egyptians.
The Assyrians were also renowned for their beautiful gardens. These tended to be wide and large, some of them used for hunting game—rather like a game reserve today—and others as leisure gardens. Cypresses and palms were some of the most frequently planted types of trees.
Ancient Roman gardens were laid out with hedges and vines and contained a wide variety of flowers—acanthus, cornflowers, crocus, cyclamen, hyacinth, iris, ivy, lavender, lilies, myrtle, narcissus, poppy, rosemary and violets—as well as statues and sculptures. Flower beds were popular in the courtyards of rich Romans.
The Middle Age represented a period of decline in gardens for aesthetic purposes, in what concerns gardening. After the fall of Rome, gardening was done for the purpose of growing medicinal herbs and/or decorating church altars. Monasteries carried on a tradition of garden design and intense horticultural techniques during the medieval period in Europe. Generally, monastic garden types consisted of kitchen gardens, infirmary gardens, cemetery orchards, cloister garths and vineyards. Individual monasteries might also have had a “green court”, a plot of grass and trees where horses could graze, as well as a cellarer’s garden or private gardens for obedientiaries, monks who held specific posts within the monastery.
Islamic gardens were built after the model of Persian gardens and they were usually enclosed by walls and divided in 4 by watercourses. Commonly, the center of the garden would have a pool or pavilion. Specific to the Islamic gardens are the mosaics and glazed tiles used to decorate the rills and fountains that were built in these gardens.
By the late 13th century, rich Europeans began to grow gardens for leisure and for medicinal herbs and vegetables. They surrounded the gardens by walls to protect them from animals and to provide seclusion. During the next two centuries, Europeans started planting lawns and raising flowerbeds and trellises of roses. Fruit trees were common in these gardens and also in some, there were turf seats. At the same time, the gardens in the monasteries were a place to grow flowers and medicinal herbs but they were also a space where the monks could enjoy nature and relax.
The gardens in the 16th and 17th century were symmetric, proportioned and balanced with a more classical appearance. Most of these gardens were built around a central axis and they were divided into different parts by hedges. Commonly, gardens had flowerbeds laid out in squares and separated by gravel paths.