This past year I was inspired by a documentary film about paradise gardens in the middle east. The term paradise garden originates from Iran during the first Persian empire under the rule of Cyrus the Great. They are also referred to as Islamic Gardens and have spread throughout the middle east and provide an oasis for self reflection.
Islamic gardens follow a standard chahar bagh design that features four symmetrical quadrants with a water feature in the middle. According to professor Safei El-Deen Hamed the paradise garden is supposed to mirror the sights, sounds, and smells of heaven. It is literally a place of heaven on earth.
I have always been fascinated by the aesthetic beauty expressed in islamic design, as well as the food, music, poetry, and extreme hospitality of islamic culture. I am lucky to have a dear friend from Iran who has brought me into his family and shared their beautiful culture with me.
It is perhaps my Grandfather who was B-17 bombardier stationed in India during World War II that inspired my earliest interest in Persian and Islamic culture.
He was so moved by his visit to the Taj Mahal and by the verses found in the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám that he made a large painting after the war that depicts two persian lovers in a garden with his favorite verse “Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough, A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse – and Thou Beside me singing in the Wilderness – And Wilderness is Paradise enow.”
That painting mesmerized me. My grandparents have both passed but the painting hangs in our home and brings back joyful memories that are woven into my own artwork
While our backyard does not have the opulence of the traditional paradise gardens, Sarah and I have been able to make a good start by adopting the concepts of an paradise garden at a modest scale along with a shared love for poetry, wine and the life we share together.
The back yard is our desert and this new garden is our oasis.
After spring rains recede into summer the back yard grass turns into a a dry and dusty desert. It is full of sunshine all day long and is the perfect place to create our paradise garden.
We started by taking an old claw foot tub and turning it into a pond. We filled it up with water lilies, water hyacinths, irises, snails, white cloud minnows and gold fish.
As soon we filled the tub with water and plants it immediately attracted bees, wasps, lady bugs, moths, butterflies and birds. The diversity of life forms that are contained within this small pond are astounding and give me pause to contemplate the spiritual facet of creativity.
The jewels of our paradise garden are the water lilies. They are delicate and bloom so briefly. Each time one blooms it lasts only a few days and then sinks to the bottom. Eventually another bloom grows up to the surface and repeats the short cycle of life. There are many days that pass between each bloom.
So far we have only had one bloom at a time from the peach water lily and I had not had any pink lily blooms. A couple of days ago I had the delight of seeing the first pink water lily and then much to my surprise a second peach water water lily began blooming at the same time.
The two flowers made me think of the near and far relationship of lovers and the intimate relationship expressed as I and Thou in Martin Buber’s writings.
It was thrilling to see these two blooms and I wanted to document it with my camera. It turned out to be a real challenge that took two days. On the first day I was faced with glare off the water and a harsh contrast due to the bright sunshine. Yesterday was cloudy which offered beautiful light on these delicate blooms but it also brought the wind which creates ripples in the water and caused a blurring of the flower blooms as they move ever so slightly. I am forced to use relatively slow shutter speeds because I need to use an extremely small aperture in order to get as much depth of field as possible to try to get both blooms in focus. The whole experience is a fascinating Zen like experience. Each bloom is so close to one another in the small pool of water and yet so far apart when you try to make a photograph that shows them both in sharp focus.
I spent over 3 hours yesterday making these two photographs. I just kept experimenting with different compositions and lighting until I was satisfied. These are my favorite. I think they honor the spirit of the garden.