Last winter I read a lot about Islamic gardens, and that really helped me understand the elements of southern California spaces.
|Char Bagh Islamic garden concept|
They use the principles of enclosure, water and stone that Islamic gardens are built around. There is no front to the house, it's just a wall -- or in the case of southern California, it's a set of garage doors almost right on the street.
You enter that forbidding facade through a front door next to the garage doors, and come into the beautiful space that opens up. The hot dry world outside is effectively shut behind you. There is no garden that faces the street. It's all inside and behind.
Once inside, the houses blend from inside space into the back yard. And there is literally no yard (no grassy lawn). Each home I was in had an immense stone patio. Stonework covered every inch of the space behind the houses, and plantings surrounded the big patios thickly so that the immediate neighbors were not even visible.
These are totally private spaces. The houses are only feet apart, but high walls, tall bamboo, banana plants, palms and other trees hide the neighboring structures completely. Enclosure and privacy are absolute.
|A typical California enclosed patio garden|
The water feature of an Islamic garden is a fountain where four water channels cross. The water feature of a California garden is the swimming pool. The ones I saw were all beautifully constructed, with bubbling falls, stone steps, and curving walls.
|This is the kind of water feature that is both pool to play in and fountain to enjoy|
It's all so different from gardens in the northeast, where we don't want enclosure or refuge from the sunny outside world, we want to open up the forest to let sunshine in. Our gardens are carved out of woods and vines and grasses, and we mow, weed, prune and chop to keep a garden from being overtaken. Open lawn or sunny flower borders are prized.
When I first read about Islamic gardens I thought they were fascinating, but nothing that would appeal to me to live in. But having spent time in California gardens that mimic Islamic designs, I find I really like the spareness of stone, the sense of enclosure and the privacy of being hidden from the outside world. I liked the flow in and out of the house as one space. I liked the stark visual contrast of stone and plants and the constant sound of falling water.
But I didn't like how quiet it was in that dry climate -- no incessant bird calls, no crescendo of chirring insects that announces a summer afternoon.
And I didn't like the smell of nearby wildfire smoke in the air.