As a gardener, I’ve often wondered about where or how this whole gardening thing got started. Who first thought of it (and thanks for doing so by the way)? If gardening began with the first moves toward agriculture, then it has a very long history. As I explored this further, I found that the history of gardening, from thousands of years ago to the present, has varied greatly, reflecting the changing needs, tastes, culture, medicine, and more of its gardeners.
Gardening in the Past
Humans first cultivated plants about 12,000 years ago when they transitioned from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to farming. They figured out how to domesticate wild grasses and grow cereal crops for sustenance. This important first step in gardening is what allowed us to settle down and build villages, towns, cities, and civilizations.
Gardening in the past was, for a long time, mostly based on need, a need for food or medicine. Some of the earliest gardens designed simply for ornamentation, recreation, and luxury were in ancient Egypt and the Middle East. They planted trees, flowering plants, fragrant herbs, and other plants to create shady, relaxing spaces for royalty and wealthy people to enjoy.
In ancient Rome, wealthy citizens took inspiration from those ancient eastern gardens and crafted beautiful outdoor spaces at their villas. Roman gardens added topiary and statues. In Medieval Europe and during the dark ages, much of gardening returned to practicality, growing plants for food and herbs for medicine.
The Renaissance brought back more decorative gardening, and over the next few centuries Europe saw both modest gardens, like English cottage gardens and more elaborate spaces like the gardens at Versailles.
Notable Gardens Through the Years
The purpose and fashions in ornamental gardens have shifted over time and continue to evolve. From ancient times, perhaps the most famous is the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, there are no remains, but the garden was thought to include several tiers with plants hanging over each level.
One of the most elaborate gardens from history is the grounds of Versailles in France. Designed for beauty, another purpose of these amazing gardens was to show off the wealth and power of the French king. Even earlier in history, Chinese emperors were already using this strategy, designing and building huge, impressive gardens for recreation and relaxation but also to demonstrate wealth.
In more recent U.S. history, people planted Victory gardens during World Wars I and II. These gardens provided food for local areas and individual families and communities so that other resources could be reserved for the troops.
Today, gardens continue to serve important functions and also provide recreation and a relaxing respite from the indoor world.