Because we refer to a garden and not simply a ‘field’ of flowers, we imply the labor, toiling and love involved in cultivating such resplendence. As such, a garden may be representative of how we view ourselves and moreover, the ‘fruits’ of our labor. Accordingly, we need to analyze the condition of the garden. Is it laid out creatively and lush and magnificent, or is it covered with weeds and wilting flowers? We may need to interpret the specific flowers and plants as well as the geometrical layout of the garden for more detailed symbolic meanings.
1. A garden may be a symbol of your true self, particularly if the garden is symmetrical: square or rectangular or circular, and with a central point.
2. Lush growth in the garden may symbolize (a promise of) personal growth.
3. A pool or fountain in the garden may symbolize a source of (new) life in your psyche; or the pure uncontaminated life of the person who is true to himself or herself, who has not exchanged the truth of himself or herself for a false persona.
4. Any disorder in the garden will probably represent your own disordered psyche - weeds instead of flowers, decay instead of growth. Have you been pursuing wrong aims to the neglect of your true self, your ‘destiny’?
Gardens are a symbol of the Earthly Paradise, of the Cosmos of which it is the centre, of the Heavenly Paradise of which it is a prefiguration and of those spiritual states which correspond to the enjoyment of that Paradise.
Genesis tells us that the Earthly Paradise was the Garden of Eden and that Adam was set by God in this garden. This would correspond to the dominance of plant life at the beginning of a cyclical period, while the Heavenly Jerusalem, which will mark its close, will be a city. Ancient Roman gardens might be described as recollections of Paradise Lost, but they were also epitomes of the world, as, in our own day, are world-famous Japanese and Persian gardens.
The Ancient Egyptians were gardening enthusiasts and depicted gardens with pools and banks of flowers on the walls and floors of their palaces. Each flower had its own language. Mandragora berries were symbols of love, while the open petals of the lotus suggested the solar wheel and the lotus roots, entangled in the waters, the birth of the world.
The wedding feast of Zeus and Hera was held in the wonderful and mythical Garden of the hesperides, a symbol of the eternal cycle of fertility. However, Ancient Greek gardens were a luxury, of which they discovered the attractions during the Asiatic conquests of Alexander the Great. The Romans carried garden design to ever greater heights of sophistication, combining buildings, statues, stairways, springs, grottoes, wells and fountains with the colourful charm of plants grown to rules imposed by man. The Quincunx, or Garden of Cyrus, in particular, displayed a symbol of man’s power to tame Nature. On a higher plane, gardens may be regarded as symbols of civilization as opposed to raw nature, of the considered as opposed to the unpremeditated, of order as opposed to disorder and of the conscious as opposed to the unconscious.
Gardens were a source of musical inspiration and, constantly, of literary simile, the beloved being likened to cypress, rose, jasmine and so on. Major poets asked to be buried in gardens, which are related thematically to oases and islands: cool, shady places of refuge. They were carried into the design of Persian ‘garden’ rugs (see carpet), their surface divided into squares by the straight lines of canals with fish swimming in them. These squares are themselves filled with flowers and shrubs.
The typical Sassanid park was arranged as a cross, its four arms meeting at right angles, with the palace in the centre. This corresponded to the cosmological notion of a universe divided into four quarters and watered by four rivers flowing from the Earthly Paradise. Typical Persian gardens on this rectangular plan are also related to the ancient ground-plan of cities. In some versions of this quadripartite cosmology a mountain was set in its centre. This is imitated in a number of both Persian gardens and Indian Mogul gardens as well. Persian gardens were always surrounded by walls to preserve their privacy, and they were never scentless. A whole range of symbols are based upon the perfume of flowers. The scent of jasmine is the scent of kings; that of roses, of the beloved. The scent of saman, a species of white jasmine, is like the scent of one’s own children. The narcissus is the scent of youth, the blue lotus that of power and wealth and so on.
Craftsmen specialized in creating miniature gardens. Princes had gold and silver trees made for them with leaves and fruits of precious stones. At Karakorum, Mangu Khan (c. 1250) had a silver tree with so capacious a trunk that a man could hide inside it; round it four golden serpents were twined and at its foot four silver lions sat dispensing white mare’s milk. Once again the symbolism of the four quarters of the world and the four rivers of Paradise recurs. The garden is a dream-world to take you out of the real world.
Jalal-al-Dln Muhammad Rum! regarded the beauty of flowers as a sign to remind the soul of its immortality since, in its ascension, it had experienced every level of being and knew what it was to live as a plant.
Both the ultimate reality and heavenly bliss are interpreted by the Koran (18: 55 etc.) in terms of a garden, a home beyond the grave preserved for the Elect where they will be close to the throne of God. Paradise is a garden, gardens a paradise.
Amerindian civilization also conceived of gardens as epitomes of the universe. The Aztec pleasure gardens, however, combined the traditional function of the private garden with those of the botanical garden and the zoo. There they preserved not only plants, but all species of bird and wild beast, with a staff of 600 men to tend them. In addition they housed human specimens of dwarfs, albinos and those bom with different degrees of physical deformity.
In dreams, gardens are often regarded as agreeable expressions of pure desire free from all anxiety. They are places ‘of growth and for the cultivation of vital internal phenomena.’
There the cycle of seasonal change occurs within a strictly regulated pattern... and life in all its abundance is displayed in the most miraculous of ways. The garden wall protects the internal forces which flourish within it... Entrance to the garden is only through a narrow gateway. The dreamer is often forced to circle the walls in search of the gate. This expresses visually a long psychic development which has arrived at internal richness... When a tall tree or a fountain stands in the centre of the garden, the garden may be an allegory of the self... Frequently the garden stands, in the male psyche, for the female sexual organs. However, behind the whole allegory of the tiny Garden of Eden... religious mystical verse carries far more than the expression of mere love and its embodiment, it searches for and enthusiastically lauds the inner depths of the soul.