Large or small, grandiose scheme or intimate enclosure, gardens have all mirrored the cultural achievements of a period in history or expressed a way of life, according to Julia S. Berrall, who conducts garden tours in England and on the Continent and has lectured widely about gardens of the past, flowers through the centuries, and the symbolism of flowers and fruits in Christian art.
Berrall is the author of a superb book, "The Garden, an Illustrated History" (Penguin Books, 388 pages, $11.95 paperback).
There are 203 illustrations, many in full color, of some of the most famous gardens the world has known.
During the several thousand years of ancient Egyptian civilization, flowers were such an important part of daily living that many gardeners, men, women and children, were employed to cultivate them, Berrall says. The Egyptian, firmly believing in a life hereafter, planned his tomb long before old age. By custom, when he died, all the appurtenances that had provided comfort and happiness during his lifetime were placed in the tomb for his future needs. Since gardens and flowers had furnished many of the pleasantest moments in life, they were frequently depicted.
It seems likely, she says, that in Japan the art of garden-making, like many other things, was imported from China, either directly or by way of Korea.
At the end of the 8th century the capital was shifted to Kyoto, and here in long succession many large and extravagant gardens came into being.
In the 20th century, until World War II, many great gardens were developed on large estates in most sections of the United States. Famous plant collections were made for formal gardens, which usually followed French or Italian models and sometimes English or Spanish.
By the mid-20th century, gardening entered a new phase. Social conditions had so changed that the labor needed for the upkeep of even moderate gardens was difficult to find, let alone pay for. Today few can afford it and gardening has largely become a do-it-yourself proposition.
Of all the beautiful gardens that were once created on colonial plantations in the South, only two are left with pre-Revoluntionary antecedents -- Middleton Place and Magnolia Gardens (formerly known as Drayton Hall). These are still owned by the descendants of the original families, and have retained their reputation for beauty. Both gardens are situated on the Ashley River, near Charleston, and both have splendid river views and majestic trees.
Magnolia Gardens is enjoyed for its extensive naturalistic plantings of camellias and azaleas, first set about the grounds in the early 1840s. Informal woodland paths wind past lakes which reflect the brilliant shrubbery and tall cypresses.
Soldier, statesman, and above all a country gentleman, George Washington deeply loved his land. He spent many years developing Mount Vernon, his estate on the Potomac River.
Washington did not see Mount Vernon from the time he left to attend the Continental Congress in Philadelphia until six years later. After Yorktown, but before Washington became president, the garden plan was completed in a successful blend of the formal and informal style. In all its detail it reveals his fine sense of design coupled with a broad knowledge of plant materials, Berrall says.
After two terms as president, he again found tranquility there for 2 1/2 years until he died.