The garden crosses the history of civilizations and creates a link between cultures that are foreign to each other through the same play on mythical references and the same search for an artistic elaboration of nature. A space marked by duality, it is both a real geographical site and a space where all the mythological, symbolic and ideological references of the civilization that gave birth to it are summoned.
The garden in fact is not nature, but a representation of nature, and more particularly of the relationship that man has with nature. This is why it is not confused with the notion of landscape, which is close to, but much later on, in appearance. Place of memory, it is however, and this is its paradox, an ephemeral art, which very often, is only accessible in art and literature.
The garden is also the symbol of man’s power, of his power over a nature he wants to control. Symbol of the culture opposed to wild nature, the garden is opposed to the forest full of dangers.
In the Far East the garden is the summary of the cosmic order, it is the world in small. In the Amerindian civilizations the garden was also conceived as a summary of the universe.
The symbolism of Garden
This may seem simplistic and meaningless to the layman, but gardening is a job, an activity, a complete profession that requires constant effort and discipline. We work with living elements.
It takes time to see a mature garden. Patience is generous and a source of joy. It is the daughter of observation and listening to your senses.
The more I observe my garden and my plants, the more I notice the deficiencies or successes. We go through failures, repeated failures… until the solution is found, because there are always failures.
In ancient mythology
Ancient mythologies often evoke idyllic and natural gardens. For example, in Greek mythology, the Garden of the Hesperides is one such pleasant garden. Also, these places are often associated with fertility.
The double mythological dimension of the gardens of the origins can be found in ancient mythology. The Theogony of Hesiod thus offers us a vision of the primordial universe which gives birth to Aphrodite and at the same time to the myth of Kythera.
Greek mythology abounds in ideal gardens. These are the Sacred Woods, natural places blessed by the gods, where nature, left untended, is pleasant and fertile. The most famous are Arcadia, the Garden of Hesperides and the rose gardens of King Midas.
Some deities also link this ideal place to the myths of fertility. This is the case of the Roman goddess Flora, whom Ovid links to the Greek nymph Chloris. According to Ovid also, Flora would be at the origin of the birth of Mars. Following the birth of Minerva, sprung from the head of Jupiter, Juno would also have wanted to give birth alone. Flora then gave him a flower that made it fertile.
The Bible also gives great importance to the garden. Indeed, the Garden of Eden is a fundamental place that represents both paradise on earth and original sin. Thus, the Garden of Eden symbolizes both wholeness and disobedience. More precisely, by tasting the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve lose their innocence and the paradisiacal garden is henceforth inaccessible to them. The Garden of Eden is thus associated with the need for innocence.
A fundamental reference in Western culture, the Garden of Eden presents itself in a double dimension: place of paradise on earth and place of Adam and Eve’s fault. This myth of the origins presents an ideal garden, which is also a place of fertility: Adam and Eve had to “cultivate and keep” the garden of Eden. However, two interpretations of the fault will see the light of day, the one, in conformity with Christian doctrine, of the Fall and Redemption and the one, more modern, of the freedom of Adam and Eve and their will to open the process of knowledge, to set time in motion.
Other Old Testament texts also play a primordial role in the figure of the garden: Psalm 104 and the Song of Songs, so important for the aesthetics and medieval ideology of the garden of the soul and the Marian enclosure.
Finally, the New Testament proposes two gardens that also influenced literature: the Olive Garden and the Easter Garden where Christ, coming out of the tomb, appears to Mary Magdalene in the guise of a gardener.
Gardening is not just about growing vegetables. The garden nourishes, but also: it gathers, makes you dream, blossoms, heals, mobilizes. We see it in the city as well as in the country. It is the friend of the bursar and the poet, the activist and the loner, the survivor, the pedagogue and the designer. Third part of this section: the garden in art, and the art of gardens.