For thousands of years civilisations the world over have adopted belief systems that give a key role to the natural world and the trees, fruit and flowers to be found there.
In his excellent book ‘Paradise Gardens – Spiritual Inspiration and Earthly Expression’, Toby Musgrave explores how these belief systems have defined our gardens and how their ideas were often transferred into counterparts on earth.
We are taken on a journey from classical and ancient belief systems to the Abrahamic religions, Eastern religions, Pantheism and Polytheism and finally to New beliefs to discover how their various influences are reflected in our landscapes and gardens.
This is a scholarly book and I found Dr Musgrave;s narration fascinating and absorbing. One of the amazing facts, as the author points out in the Introduction, is that so many different religions so geographically and chronologically disparate share the same themes, begging the question “why?”
As we move through the book, the author explores this complex subject pointing to similarities and differences and exploring the symbolism both within the religious framework and also within the wider contexts of garden history. He does this with consummate skill. This is an intelligent and thoughtful book; carefully crafted to explore and interpret 17 belief systems grouped into five themed sections.
I found the references to garden plants like the lily and the lotus, which have their own meanings and associations, fascinating. There are lots of nuggets of information – the use of evergreens as a symbol of eternity and Henry VIII’s love song that used the evergreen nature of the holly and ivy as an allegory for undying love.
The author brings the book right up to date with new-belief gardens such as the Leichtag Family Healing Garden in San Diego and the stunning image of the Tower of London poppies, so we have a complete picture taking us from the symbolic role of plants in ancient to current belief systems covering some 5,000 years.
The photography is inspirational and the book is wonderfully illustrated with a mix of historic images as well as expert photography of contemporary gardens.
‘Paradise Gardens – Spiritual Inspiration and Earthly Expression’ will be a treasured addition to the gardening bookshelf and will bring a whole new area of understanding to those who seek a deeper appreciation of garden history and how belief systems have influenced our planting and design. It is a book you will want to read again and again and it has certainly broadened my understanding of garden history.
Dr Toby Musgrave is one of the UK’s leading authorities on garden and plant history. He is the author of several books including Courtyard Gardens (2001) and Heritage Fruits and Vegetables (2012). He writes for magazines such as Gardens Illustrated and The Garden.
‘Paradise Gardens – Spiritual Inspiration and Earthly Expression’ is in hardback and published by Frances Lincoln. Please see our special offer below to order Paradise Gardens at a special discounted price.
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