When I was six years old I remember visiting friends of my parents who lived in the middle a busy German city. Everywhere you looked there was traffic, concrete and glass but when they invited us into their home, an amazing vista opened up to their back garden. Within a relatively small back garden they had created a stunning city haven, a kaleidoscope of riotous summer colour. I think the best way to describe my memory of this well designed and masterfully planted space would be ‘paradise’.
Many years later, when studying garden design, I learned that the word garden has its origins in Old Persian language. I loved learning that the original meaning of paradise was a ‘walled in compound’ from ‘pairi’, meaning around and ‘daeza’ or ‘diz’, meaning wall or brick, and that it aimed to create a paradise on earth for the user. The origins of all gardens can be traced back to Persian gardens, the oldest having been recorded in the fourteenth century in Iran by the legendary Moroccan explorer Ibn Battuta. These well thought out spaces of beauty were places for relaxing, entertaining and praying. Sophisticated design elements dealing with sunlight, water, and blending inside with outside spaces are still the basis of our practices today as designers and inform many of my own design choices on a daily basis.
The plant I have chosen for this week - the Persian Buttercup - or Ranunculus asiaticus, also has its origins in what is today called Iran. The pretty flower has a beautiful shape and form, its delicate, crepe-like petals reminiscent of lush roses and filled poppies. The perennial flower, which is also used in floristry, is available in a vast array of colours from dusty and deep pinks to golden yellows, rich oranges and pure whites. This plant is a tuber plant and would be planted in a similar way to the bulbs of a Tulip or Crocus. They like loose, sandy soil and full sun. One important thing to keep in mind is that these delicate flowers will not survive temperatures of under 10 degrees so unless you dig them up for the winter months like Dahlias, then these will likely be an annual flower. The particular variety I chose has a lovely golden orange and would brighten up any garden at this time of the year. I planted two of these orange gems in a glazed turquoise pot for a great colour contrast. They would also be a lovely addition if mass planted in a garden at the front of a colourful border.
Now, far from Persia, I think back again to my first experience of a paradise garden as a child in Germany and I know these gorgeous flowers would be a perfect starting point to your very own paradise on earth.
The most stunning gardens I have ever been to are those of the Generalife, at the palaces of the Alhambra in Granada. These Moorish gardens in Andalucía, Spain are an incredible example of a Medieval Persian paradise garden. The gardens are at their best in early Spring when everything is lush in bloom and scent.
For more go to alhambradegranada.org
Originally published by the Irish Independent Weekend Magazine, 11 April 2015