Ornamental gardens are specially designed areas with plants that are designed for the purpose of aesthetic pleasure rather than the production of crops. Landscaping plans often integrate ornamental plants into their designs, and many cities have civic gardens for the pleasure of residents. Some botanical gardens also include ornamental sections which showcase striking and interesting plants as opposed to preserving botanical specimens, which is their primary purpose.
The practice of laying out ornamental gardens appears to be ancient. Humans have long had a fondness for art and beautiful things, and once the basics of agriculture had been mastered, landscaping was not far behind. In fact, such gardens were even included in the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, in the form of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, which were allegedly designed for the pleasure of a ruler's wife.
Ornamental gardens often surround public buildings to make them more visually interesting. Churches, galleries, and other buildings devoted to contemplation are also commonly surrounded with gardens that are used by their members. Some religions even expressly include devotional activities which are meant to be performed in a garden. Others are used to decorate private homes.
The layout of an ornamental garden can be incredibly varied, depending on the climate, the plants involved, and the nature of the surrounding architecture. Those at locations like Versailles, for example, are extremely formal and elegant, with a complex layout of beds and paths that is often best viewed from a distance. By contrast, the ornamental garden that surrounds a small cottage may be done in a more casual style.
In addition to being pleasant to look at, ornamental gardens are also pleasant to use. Many include recreation areas for playing sports, walking, or simply sitting and enjoying the garden, and some have space for performances of music and theater. Events like weddings and cocktail parties may also be staged in an ornamental garden, with the surroundings contributing to the decorations at the event.
While ornamental gardens are sometimes dismissed as frivolities with no practical applications, they do actually serve a function beyond looking pretty. Plants can help to regulate temperature, keeping a climate more temperate and comfortable while acting as air scrubbers, removing pollution and keeping the air fresh and clean. An ornamental garden can also provide habitat for birds, butterflies, and other creatures.