Landscape architecture, garden design, planting design and management - Rowland Byass

Bagh-e-Fin, Kashan


In 2009 I was lucky enough to make a brief trip to Iran, where I stayed with my friend Mohammad and his family in Isfahan, in the heart of the country. I spent only a week there, all of it in Isfahan except for a trip to Kashan, a three hour drive over the mountains.

Kashan was an important trading town and the city contains several merchants’ houses with large courtyard gardens. But Bagh-e-Fin, on the outskirts of the city, is something special.


There are a few accounts of the history of the garden – it features in the garden historian Penelope Hobhouse’s book Persian Gardens, and she has called it her favourite garden in Iran. It dates from the sixteenth century, and was extensively restored in the nineteenth. Whether you know anything about this history is less important. What really strikes the visitor about this place is its atmosphere. It is the epitome of the idea of the Middle Eastern (more properly, Persian) paradise garden.

The garden is set inside high walls that enclose and protect it from the outside – a generally arid, mountainous landscape. Sited at the foot of mountains, it takes advantage of a spring that feeds a network of water channels and gravity fed fountains.


The first impression when you step into the garden is the coolness and moisture in the air – and the sound of running water. The garden is in the form of a square, divided into compartments by channels. Where the channels intersect there are pools – some small, some large, some inside pavilions and some open to the sky.

The point of this garden is not, as in an Italian garden from the same period, the elaborateness of the stonework or the clever tricks that the water can be made to do.  The design of the channels, the pavements and the architecture is simple and restrained (although the garden has been restored and altered since its creation so much that it’s difficult to know what the original level of detail might have been). Instead it is the water itself: the reason that a green garden can exist here. The water has several different moods.

It wells up mysteriously from holes at the bottom of square pools, where giant fish swim. It rushes down chadors – angled chutes that make the transition from one level to another – with a sound like a mountain stream. In the wide channnels along the garden’s main axis, lines of bubbling fountains make complex patterns of intersecting circles in the water, reminiscent of the complex geometry of Islamic art and design.


In one pavilion at the corner of the garden, the slightly raised square pool makes a mirror in which the painted ceiling of the building is reflected.


Despite its age, the garden’s water system is still in working order. The planting has not fared so well. Huge ancient cypresses line the water channels, but they’re sick looking and apparently suffering from a fungal infection. The large sunken beds which the channels irrigate would originally have been full of flowers, even fruit and vegetables, but the cypresses have shaded out all but a few weeds.

We finished our visit at a cafe in the far corner, where the spring enters the garden. Sat on rugs raised off the ground, I had a memorable Iranian meal to the sound of rushing water and traditional music piped through loudspeakers. This was only slightly marred by a large branch that fell from one of the trees above, narrowly missing us.



AestheticsArchitectureBerlinCritical RegionalismDeveloping CityEcologyGoaHeritageIndiaManduWater ManagementLandscapeIranIsfahanKashanLeicestershireLondonLost GardensMidlandsOlympicsPermacultureBiodynamicDevelopmentFarmPersian GardenPlacePlanting DesignPlayPolsheerPublic SpaceSustainable DevelopmentTheatreTimeUrban DesignUrban PlanningWastelandWater GardenWeeds