History of Garden Fountains – From Ancient World to 20th Century
The Egyptians began planting gardens around their homes as early as 3,000 BC. Their gardens evolved to be commonly situated around fish ponds of various sizes, with flowers, plants and fruit trees planted around the decorative ponds.
The Persians and Assyrians of the Mesopotamia highlands irrigated their garden spaces with pools of flowing water. The gardens were set in large plains, shaded by planted trees. Such gardens are often depicted on traditional Persian carpets.
Homes in ancient Rome and Greece were decorated with elaborate colonnaded gardens, particularly those of wealthy and high-ranking citizens. Public baths were also adorned with garden spaces.
The hot, dry desert climate inspired the gardens Muslims created, which were centered on water. They consisted of close courts full of decorative shrubs and trees and had passageways defined by arches and supporting columns. Pools, fountains and ornate tile work enlivened the spaces.
In 14th century Spain, the Moors built similar gardens full of fruit trees and flowers, incorporating water as a centerpiece and for irrigation purposes. The Mughals in India favored unified compositions, but built gardens with similar components. The Taj Mahal is the most notable example, attracting tens of thousands of visitors each year.
In China, gardens were created in pots for seasonal changes and adorned with pools in courtyards around homes, temples and palaces. A notable example is in Beijing, where the gardens of Imperial City are elaborately sculpted with beautiful flora, man-made lakes, bridges and hillocks.
Japanese gardens were inspired by those of neighboring Korea and China. The gardens of Kyoto were elaborately built with evergreens, waterfalls, still pools, rock and sand. Constructing a garden was an art form practiced by many painters and monks in which every element was placed deliberately and the components carefully edited.
Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque Periods
The garden spaces of 9th century medieval Europe contained partitioned segments for flowers, fruits, herbs and vegetables. Monastery gardens had fountains as centerpieces and were bordered by cloistered trails, borrowing from Persian gardens to create ideal spaces for meditation.
In Italy during the Renaissance gardens were surrounded by cypress trees and filled with fountains, ornate sculptures, balustrades and geometric flower beds. Notable gardens from the 15th century include those found in the vicinity of Florence in the Medici and La Pietra villas. Highlights from the 16th century include the Villa Farnese in Caprarola and the Villa Lante of Bagnaia. Rome boasted the breathtaking Villas Medici and Madama, while Tivoli was recognized for the sublime Villa d’Este.
The 17th century saw an even more dramatic and complex baroque style which featured myriad fountains, pools and waterfalls; heavy use of serpentine lines and displays of exquisite, dynamic sculptures. Standout gardens from this century include Lake Maggiore’s Isola Bella, Villa Giovio of Como, Colodi’s Villa Garzoni and the famous Villa Aldobrandini of Frascati.
The baroque gardens of Europe and the Renaissance inspired masterpieces of Italy inspired the region. The gardens of Alcazar in Seville combined Renaissance and Moorish elements, while the Loire valley chateaus boasted formal gardens with similar aesthetics elements. Chateau Chenonceaux and Chateau Chambord had especially inspired gardens surrounded by forested parks.
In 17th century France, Louis XIV commissioned acres upon acres of gardens in tight symmetrical arrangements as part of a wide-reaching building program. The grandeur of these indulgent gardens was unequalled. Tree-lined radiating alleys intersected the grounds, which were studded with incredible flora, pavilions, fountains and sculptures. The splendid gardens of Versailles were imitated but never equaled throughout the countries of Europe across the following century.
The 18th century saw a number of aesthetic changes, many of which were attributed to the rise of romanticism. This affected the arts as a whole, bringing about a new sensibility in landscape architecture. The uptight symmetry of the 17th century, typified by highly sculpted and structured spaces, gave way to informal arrangements of trees and shrubs surrounded by ponds, winding paths, gentle hills and sprawling grass. Gardens at grand estates such as Chatsworth and Blenheim Palace began to take on the unplanned qualities of the wilderness—a dramatic change from the gardens of previous centuries.
The romantic style caught on all over Europe, with the garden at Ermenonville in France becoming a template for Thomas Jefferson’s estate at Monticello. This is also the style in which Central Park in New York City was designed in the late 1850s.
In the 20th century gardens became more integrated parts of the home, sometimes extending from the yard into the home. In areas with mild climates such as southern California, landscape designers explored the possibilities such an amenable climate offered, coming up with unique new designs using exotic flora and varied flowing water elements. In urban areas where space is limited, indoor fountains and pools are commonly seen in shopping malls, office buildings and even inside homes.
Garden fountains have evolved over the century, as have the gardens they are found in. The traditional styles from these periods are incorporated into modern designs intended to add water elements to backyards, patios and indoor living spaces.