The Hanging Gardens of Babylon
The gardens were built by King Nebuchadnezzar II around 600 BC for his wife. The story goes she was from the mountains and the valley desert area of Babylon did not let her grow the plants she knew and longed for. So he built this first great building (think of it like a reverse greenhouse with a water system to keep things cool and green) to meet her longings. This is the first known major gardening complex built for pure pleasure.
This type and style of garden is from the old Persian world right after the fall of Babylon. This was a man made oasis in the desert with pathways, flowers and trees, and water features. Most of the oldest known Persian palaces had some type of garden along this style. This was borrowed from the Assyrian tradition and became, in time, the foundations of the Islamic gardens we see still to this day.
Egyptian Temples and Palaces
There are many records from tombs that show wonderful and exciting gardens. These gardens have water features, pathways, fruit and vegetables, and flowers grown for ritual and sheer beauty. Only the wealthy and powerful in ancient Egypt had the time and money to build a garden for anything but daily living but the ones that had been built (as far as we have views into) must have been stunning.
The practical Greeks are not known for having very many private gardens. The only gardens that they bothered with were to decorate temples and public areas. This is also the case with some of the very famous pleasure gardens built in many cities to showcase their wealth and power. For what the Greeks lacked in private gardens, they gained in the sheer volume of literature and expanding knowledge they gave the world.
Anyone who could afford their own home and land had a garden of some level. This was the first time in the European influence that private gardens were the pleasure of the masses. Romans loved their gardens and often build rooms into them--dining areas, water features, and baths. There are several of these gardens still in existence today in Rome and Pompeii. The gardens of Pompeii are being restored from their ruin in the very modern era.
Chinese and Japanese gardens
This is where building false ponds, rivers, streams, and hills comes from. The gardens were built mainly for the Royal Court, their family, and friends. Many temples also had lavish gardens, and public gardens did exist. These gardens are not for the pleasure of the body like the European Gardens, but rather to bring pleasure and harmony to the soul and mind. They used rocks and stones in the garden and even dared to build gardens without plants but just out of rocks and stones.
This gardening was still for the wealthy, but the skills were taught to the common folks so they could tend to the gardens. These gardens often were full of plants that had meaning to the people, both religious and symbolic. Often this was where important events and courtships took place.
This is the counter revolution to the large fancy and well planned gardens of the past eras. The grandfather of most modern gardens today, this is when the garden concept finally reached home with the masses and did not need several workers to keep it up. On the whole these gardens are built to look like nature, with clumps and natural curves and flows. This is the foundation of the easy to plant and grow gardens we enjoy today. The rigid lines and constant care needed in the gardens past are no longer needed.
All images are in the Public Domian.