Report: Islamic Gardens In the UK (2010)
In June 2010, the Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) documented an eight-month research project carried out by the Islam-UK ...
In June 2010, the Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) documented an eight-month research project carried out by the Islam-UK Centre at Cardiff University. The final report was presented at the 4th Global Botanic Gardens Congress in Dublin last year.
Using a mixed-methods approach, the research demonstrated the need to present the visibility of Islamic gardens in Great Britian, with a "view to promoting biodiversity conservation and better inter-religious understanding of Islamic gardening traditions."
A Report On Green Design
Although the document itself is over 30,000 words long, a short report was published online from which the following has been extracted.
The results of the reports concluded that many existing Islamic gardens in the UK do not pro-actively promote ideas of biodiversity conservation and environmental sustainability.
They do, nevertheless provide potential for educating Muslim, but especially non-Muslim, audiences about historic Islamic gardening traditions and heritage.
There is considerable scope for existing gardens to make more effective use of passive educational methods to highlight the religious principles of Islam that underpin garden design and planting.
Likewise, there is scope for Islamic garden designers to develop their design principles and practices to take account of new ecological and environmental challenges, thereby reflecting the Qur’anic imperative that human beings should act as responsible ‘stewards’ (khalifah) of the earth’s resources.
Fazlun Khalid, Director of the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences in Birmingham (IFEES) noted:
“I think it is wrong to make the assumption that for an Islamic garden to be viable only plants mentioned in the Qur’an should be used. The Qur’an says this: “the herbs and the trees bow in adoration (to the creator)”. It doesn’t say which herbs or which trees”.Islamic Gardens and British Muslim Gardening Projects
The reports logs seven traditional ‘Islamic’ gardens, or parks containing gardens associated with Muslim cultures. Most of the parks were designed by non- Muslims, but few demonstrate regard for environmental sustainability or plant conservation.
These gardens include:
1) Kensington Roof Gardens, London
2) Arif Muhammad Memorial Garden, Shah Jahan Mosque, Woking
3) Carpet Garden, Highgrove House, Gloucestershire
4) The Alhambra Garden, Roundhay Park, Leeds
5) St Mary the Virgin Primary School, Cardiff
6) Sezincote House, the Cotswolds
Sezincote is a 19th century house in the Cotswolds built in the ‘Indian style’ (Malins, 1980) by Sir Charles Cockerell (1755-1837).
It includes a large formal Islamic style ‘Persian’ garden. The website for the house and garden says:
"It was in 1795 that Col. John Cockerell... returned from Bengal. [...] His youngest brother Charles, had been with him in the service of the East India Company. Charles Cockerell employed another brother, Samuel Pepys Cockerell, to build a house in the Indian manner."
The design of the garden at Sezincote reflects a religious hybridity. Conforming to Islamic garden layouts, the garden also included dissonant elements, such as a temple to the Hindu goddess Souryia and bronze ‘Brahmin’ bulls, reducing Mughal culture to a simplified romanticised image (Said describes this as Orientalism, 2003).
|Lister Park © Peter Sanders|
Listed Park in Bradford was designed and built in 2001 to reflect the culturally diverse population of the area. These gardens are no longer the preserve of an exclusive elite. The renowned British Muslim photographer Peter
Sanders said of this garden,
“It was not the quiet place of meditation that I had imagined, but buzzing with life and children of many ethnic groups playing together (Sanders, 2007)”
Four British Muslim gardening projects, including a cemetery, and one ‘Islamic garden’, exist in the UK. All of these are designed by British Muslims, and illustrate a greater concern with aspects of biodiversity conservation and environmental awareness:
• Ismaili Centre Roof Garden, London
• Community Garden, Wapping Women’s Centre, Tower Hamlets, London
• Community Garden, Crosshill Tennis Club, Blackburn
• Gardens of Peace, Ilford, Essex
The ‘Gardens of Peace’ cemetery in Ilford is the largest dedicated Muslim burial ground in Europe. The picture below shows how the sparse graves traditional in Islamic cemeteries are bordered by a park-like garden.
|Gardens of Peace, Muslim cemetery in Ilford|
Islamic Gardens Built For the Future
A further four four traditional ‘Islamic’ garden projects are under development although environmental conservation is not a top priority for all:
• Gulshan-e-Wycombe, High Wycombe
• British Muslim Heritage Centre, Manchester
• Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies
• Cambridge eco-Mosque and Islamic Centre
The 2010 report covers the questions raised when discussing possible garden sites and garden projects for the future. How will local responds? What should the over-riding criteria of garden projects fulfil: green design or ecology?
With existing 'Islamic' inspired gardens having fully integrated into the fabric of British heritage, an exciting phase of cultural developments now unfold. The need for more Islamic gardens in Britain is important for plant conservation, our identity and environmental sustainability. I really hope to see greener Islamic gardens in Yorkshire too.
+ Islamic Gardens of the UK. Download the pdf report.