The Art of the Islamic Garden

by Emma Clark – Crowood Press PB edition 2010
Reviewed by Valerie Joynt

The Art of the Islamic Garden was first published in 2004.  It is written by Emma Clark, an authority on Islamic gardens who was part of the team that created an Islamic-inspired garden for the Chelsea Flower Show of 2001.  The idea for that garden came from HRH The Prince of Wales and following the show, in which it won a Gold Medal, the garden was transferred to the Prince’s own garden at Highgrove where it can be seen today.  The ideas behind this creation, called  the Carpet Garden, are fully explained in the final chapter of this book.

The greater part of this book is an excellent explanation by the author of the design, planting and ethos of the traditional Islamic garden.  It is not a glossy coffee-table tome – indeed some of the photographs are now quite dated, but the text provides a highly readable guide to the principles of Islam and the Qur’an written by an author who is herself a convert to Islam and who understands the Western-European ignorance of much of the symbolism in Islamic Art.

This is not a gazetteer of Persian and Islamic gardens; the author restricts her work to a handful of exemplars of the main themes into which Islamic gardens can be sorted: the classic char-bagh or fourfold garden; the bustan or orchard; the gulistan or rose garden; and the mausoleum garden.  Examples of these can be seen in the Alhambra and the Generalife in Granada, the Mughal gardens of Kashmir, the Shalimar gardens in Lahore; the Taj Mahal; the courtyards of old Damascus and the large public gardens of Marrakech.  Chapter headings are: History and Symbolism; Design; Geometry & Architectural Ornament; Water; Trees; Plants and Flowers; Highgrove.

Emma Clark seeks to explain to the reader the correct interpretation of the teaching and symbolism of the Qur’an.  She wants the reader to understand the Islamic garden and then to be inspired to create one in UK conditions.  I found that this book hit the right level of instruction; the illustrations were relevant but sometimes a bit fuzzy and dated where they had not been replaced since the 2004 edition.  Above all, I wish I had taken this book with me on my last trip to Cordoba and Granada – I would have been so much better informed!