ART/ARCHITECTURE THE ART OF THE ISLAMIC GARDEN By Emma Clark Crowood Press, 2004 208 pages, 1861 26609X Hb
The Art of the Islamic Garden is not merely a book describing the great Islamic gardens of the past but rather an excellent hands-on guide to understanding the underlying principles in Islamic garden design and how to apply them today. As an English Muslim, the author brings together her spiritual understanding of the Islamic garden with her love of the English gardening tradition and puts this combination to practical use.
The author warns that whitewashed walls, a water-feature and some colourful geometric tiles do not make a garden “Islamic”. She explains that there is a fundamental underlying unity that is essential in a traditional Islamic garden; that it has a centre which draws the whole composition together in a harmonious manner. The Islamic garden “is about simplicity, purity, and harmony between geometry and nature, reflecting more than anything else a peaceful resignation to the natural order. It is not about being original and different but is focused on capturing a fragment of the eternal in our ephemeral world.”
The book describes the various components of the traditional Islamic garden and explains their design, and symbolism. The Islamic garden, the author asserts, is a reminder of the gardens of paradise portrayed in the Qur’an in which the promise of jannat for the righteous and “Gardens underneath which rivers flow” is repeated many times.
In particular, she explores the significance of the chahar-bagh or fourfold garden. Geometry, landscaping and architectural features are also discussed. The book goes on to make suggestions and recommendations when selecting trees, shrubs and flowers for an Islamic garden in a cooler climate.
Proof that such a garden in the western world can work is found in the final chapter of the book dedicated to HRH the Prince of Wales’s Carpet Garden now at Highgrove. The Princes’ Carpet Garden, which Emma Clark helped to design, serves to demonstrate that an Islamic garden is possible in the UK and similar environments provided that care is taken with regards to choice of plants, fauna and other design features. Furthermore, one of the reasons for its success is that the garden has its own Mediterranean/North African style walls that separate it from the rest of the Gloucestershire countryside.
Emma Clark does assure us that we do not need huge backyards to have an Islamic garden and insists that however small, such a garden “can become a source of sanity in an increasingly complex and frenetic world”. This is where the strength of the book lies: in the way that it imparts an understanding of the art of the Islamic garden by making it relevant forallofustoday. The Art of the Islamic Garden is a must-read for anyone interested in gardening.