If, for whatever reason, you watch Gardeners’ World on the BBC, you will be familiar with Monty Don.
With the reassuring authority of a geography teacher and an outfit to match, Don has spent the past two decades regaling the nation on matters of weeding, mulching and pruning; while serving as the reliable face of everyone’s favourite plant pageant (we presume), the Chelsea Flower Show.
Next month, Don will host a lecture at Kew Gardens based on his 2018 series ‘Paradise Gardens: The World’s Most Beautiful Islamic Gardens’. As part of the show, Don travelled the Islamic world visiting ‘Paradise Gardens’, gardens built by Islamic kingdoms to provide an oasis in otherwise dry, arid lands.
The lecture, like the TV show before it, will celebrate the richness of Islamic culture through the creation of paradise on earth. As Don wrote at the time:
“In an age when there is so much misunderstanding and suspicion between Islam and other faiths I wanted to explore and celebrate the major achievements that bind us all together through that great cultural leveller – the garden.”
With the lecture approaching, we wanted to explore a few of these gardens ourselves.
Real Alcázar de Sevilla
The Real Alcázar in Seville, Spain is the oldest continuously occupied royal palace in Europe and a historic architectural beauty. The structure and garden was built by Castilian Christians on the site of an Abbadid Muslim residential fortress following the Christian conquest of Seville.
As such, the Islamic influence can still be seen in the building’s design and, most notably, across the garden, where the old wall of the Muslim fortress was transformed into a viewing platform in the 16th Century.
Bagh-e Fin, also known as the Fin Garden, in Kashan, Iran was completed in 1590 under the reign of Abbas I of Persia, making it the oldest Persian garden of its kind in the country.
Like all Persian gardens, Bagh-e Fin was designed to evoke heaven with an array of lush plants, clear water features and symmetrical lines. In contrast with its arid surroundings, the garden continues to flow with warm water channeled through a natural spring.
The garden also contains Kashan’s Fin Bath, where King Nasereddin Shah sent an assassin to kill Amir Kabir, the Qajarid chancellor, in 1852.
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The Alhambra, in Granada, Spain, is arguably the most recognisable example of Moorish architecture in southern Spain.
The fortress was originally built on the ruins of Roman fortifications by the Emirate of Granada, the last independent Muslim state on the Iberian Peninsula.
Despite great upheaval and shifts in power as the Centuries passed, the Alhambra remains as a relatively pristine example of Muslim art and architecture in Europe.
This is particularly evident in its outdoor spaces, which are lined with the water features, cloistered courtyards and greenery typical of Paradise Gardens.
Humayan was the second emperor of the Mughal Empire, territory in what is now Afghanistan, Pakistan, and portions of northern India and Bangladesh, who ruled from 1530 to 1540 and again from 1555–1556.
Following his death in 1556, his first wife, Empress Bega Begum hired Persian architects to create his tomb in the style of Paradise gardens.
It exists today as a fine example of Indo-Islamic architecture, with a quadrilateral layout, green spaces and water features lining the grounds.
The Carpet Garden, Highgrove House
Following a sold out summer of Supper Tours, two new dates have been added due to popular demand – 1st & 3rd of September!
— Highgrove Gardens (@HighgroveGarden) August 8, 2018
Highgrove House is the Gloucestershire home of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall. Prince Charles, who has always had a great interest in Islamic history, enlisted an expert on Islamic gardens to design one section of the estate.
The Carpet Garden was influenced by a Turkish rug in the house. In the middle of the square sits a circular fountain elevated on a mosaic-tiled plinth, the design evocative of the Paradise gardens of Iran.
The ‘Paradise Gardens: The World’s Most Beautiful Islamic Gardens’ lecture takes place on 7 January 2019. For more information, visit the Kew Gardens website.