If you were to ask the average person on the street, 'what was the earliest form of Garden?' they would probably reply.... 'The Garden of Eden'. Eden was a very early form of 'gardening in the mind' to create a mental vision dating back to the birth of Christianity and many other religions - but gardens of one type or another were undergoing design and construction around the same time as Eden. For example, Nebuchadnezzar II built The Hanging Gardens Of Babylon1 during his reign from 605 - 562 BC. They were designed and built for his homesick wife, who was longing for the wooded mountains and hills of her native country of Persia. Even before this Wonder had been imagined, there are recorded historical documents describing the practices of the Assyrian King Sargon II (ruled 721-705 BC) and his son, Sennacherib, who 'laid out gardens and parks in the capital of Nineveh in an attempt to re-create the marshlands of Southern Babylonia. When Herons came to nest in his simulated environment, it was proven that his efforts were successful'.

Although we can trace back centuries of Western gardens and designs, it was initially the Romans who first introduced gardens similar to those we know today into Britain. The Romans were very civilised, and their gardens were no exception. Roman 'Atria' were genuine outside living rooms, set within the house itself, looking something like a courtyard surrounded by four walls - a style that is now being reproduced in contemporary garden design. During an archaeological excavation at Fishbourne (near Chichester), it was discovered that, due to the heavy clay soils of the district, the Romans found it necessary to prepare special trenches for their plants. It has therefore been possible, in one of the earliest instances of 'garden archaeology', to trace the main outlines of the Roman garden . However, with the collapse of the Roman Empire, Britain was divided into small territories. Life became increasingly insecure, and gardens could survive and develop only where security could be assured - in the monasteries and castles.

In Medieval Britain, Monasteries continued the development of the garden within the shelter of the cloisters, mainly with the cultivation of herbs for cooking and medicine. The art of garden making had sustained an appalling loss since the fall of the Roman Empire. The earliest documentary evidence of Medieval Gardens dates from the Carolingian Empire, when Charlemagne (ruled 800-14) attempted to retrieve the dying art of gardening with his Decree concerning towns - each town in 'all crown lands' were to plant a garden with a specified quantity and selection of specimens. The gardening tradition was preserved, and the gardens that remained took on a new character. The monastic gardens flourished and England blossomed as never before. One of the earliest recorded Medieval drawn plans was for an 'ideal Benedictine monastery' in St Gall, Switzerland . Probably drawn by Abbot Haito of Reichenau in the 9th century, the plan for St Gall clearly shows various buildings grouped around a series of cloisters and rectangular beds, each devoted to one type of plant - a pattern very similar in monasteries throughout Medieval Europe and Britain.

Although no complete gardens and very few records survive from the period before 1650, research through archaeology, estate records, etc., shows that early British Gardens were essentially rectangular walled enclosures , which provided their owners with a place to grow plants and an opportunity to enjoy the pleasures of outside life. Such designed gardens were known as hortus conclusus, or enclosed gardens. The main characteristics of this style incorporated flowers, herbs and trelliswork. By the 13th Century, the monasteries controlled larger estates than previously noted, and gradually the impetus for the making of gardens shifted form the monasteries to the King and his noble subjects, and in the 56 year reign of Henry III, a new taste for luxurious living developed and gardens flourished. Henry III himself developed and embellished 9 major gardens, including Windsor, Nottingham Castle, Kempton, Woodstock and Winchester Castle. With the immense work involved in these and other projects, the regular appointment of Master Gardeners produced one of the first opportunities to enter the field of Landscape Design.

Tudor Gardens
Coming out of the Medieval and Gothic era and entering into the reign of the Tudors, the principles of Garden design changed considerably. The accession of Henry VIII in 1509 marks the point at which gardens became a symbol of power and prestige of the court. In a futile attempt to regain the King's favour, Thomas Wolsey, Archbishop of York, gave Hampton Court to Henry VIII in 1529. The King began immediately to enlarge and elaborate upon Wolsey's already splendid palace by extending the existing gardens and also incorporating new garden areas,
"...gardens sweet, enclosed with walls strong, Embanked with benches to sit and take my rest; ...with arbours and alleys so pleasant and so dulce, The pestilent airs with flavours to repulse."

Within the Tudor garden, the crude rustic structures of the medieval garden had evolved into elegant shelters. Galleries arched over with trellis interlaced with ivy and other evergreens connected arbours and summerhouses. The re-invention of mazes and labyrinths became popular and widespread, and water, ornamented by fountains and sculptures, was now an essential aspect for these new 'gardens of pleasure'. On the whole, gardens took on a more decorative appearance, with patterned planting, and eventually whole gardens planned around circles, squares, hexagons, triangles and pentagons. Plantings of short-lived herbs gave way to the likes of box and yew, thus bringing an introduction to the popularity of the art of Topiary, and the delights of Knot Gardens. Wolsey's garden at Hampton Court apparently had 'the knots so enknotted it cannot be expressed!' . Although the garden features of the Tudor period are recognizably medieval in origin, there were two new features that set the Tudor garden aside. The first was the introduction of the mount as a deliberate garden feature. A mount was a raised mound of earth crowned with an arbour or seat - giving views out over the enclosing walls to the wilds of nature beyond, and down over the formally designed gardens below. The second Tudor feature was the treatment of the garden as whole rather than separate areas. Although Tudor style gardens have all but disappeared, remains of many great houses and their gardens may still be found in Northamptonshire by tracing the terracing and slight depressions or moundings of land left remaining from the purposefully built architectural features. Classic examples are Harrington, Holdenby, Lyveden and Wakerley.

Under the Tudors the garden evolved considerably but by the end of Elizabeth's reign, British gardens were far behind their European counterparts. The Renaissance period style evolved slowly, with geometrical designs and symmetrical planting. The two centuries that followed saw many variations on Italian and French themes, where water and tree cover played a larger role. Perhaps the most supreme of all gardens of this era are those created by André Le Nôtre for Louis VIX, the most famous being Vaux and Versailles. Le Nôtre's feel for unity, balance and proportion, and his insistence on sunlit spaces and unimpeded vistas, brought the French garden to a peak of classical perfection , their designs deliberately setting the garden apart from nature to demonstrate the status of the owner. Tastes were changing - and so were design ideals!

Stuart Gardens
Following the death of Elizabeth and the close of the Tudor period, the Stuart form of gardening initially resembled the Elizabethan styles. Books became more readily available - especially those focused on gardens and gardening. William Lawson's A New Orchard and Garden, bound together with The Country Housewife's Garden was originally published in 1618. Lawson was greatly connected with the Tudor ideas and use of Mounts, but his outlook of practicalities is displayed in other aspects of garden planning. One of the most significant suggestions made by Lawson was that the garden should be 'compartmented, thus separating the pleasure garden from vegetables and fruit so that the appreciation of flowers is not marred by the odours of onions and cabbages' .

With the return of Charles II from France in 1660 a new age in gardening was born. Charles had spent a great deal of time at the palace of Versailles, and new inspirations from the palace were to be introduced into Britain. With the appointment of two brothers, Andre and Gabriel Mollet (both trained by Le Nôtre as royal gardeners in Versailles), Charles incorporated a vast semicircular walkway, lined with Lime trees and avenues at Hampton Court, very nearly transforming it into a miniature Versailles! With the radical changes and new ideas being styled in Britain, plants were becoming scarce. England did not at that time have many native varieties, and those that were available were somewhat insignificant compared to the foreign plants that were being brought into the country. The Stuart age saw the introduction of spectacular purpose built greenhouses into the country, and also the first types of nurseries so that plants could be propagated to meet demand. This also introduced a universally recognised system of both naming plants and of standardising varieties.