Making the Desert Bloom describes the various ways in which the water required to transform an inhospitable earth was transported and managed at various locations over time. The use of canals, aqueducts, waterwheels, shaduf and qanats are all discussed and illustrated.
The fact that there were so many written works on medieval Islamic botany, agriculture and land management reveals the acute interest of farmers, scholars and princes in the cultivated landscape. However, specific information on layout, actual plantings and meaning must be sought in the gardens themselves as recorded through descriptions, surviving remains and archaeological excavation.
Organising the Earth looks at the chahar bagh a highly structured scheme of garden design laid out with four axial walkways that intersect in the garden centre. This plan appears almost entirely in palace settings. There is a bias towards the survival of royal and aristocratic dwellings, the same ones as described in works of history and literature commissioned by wealthy patrons. The four-part plan was certainly not the only formal garden type nor was it universally adopted by royalty to express power. The gardens of the Ottoman Empire were more sensitive to the natural topography of their sites and did not impose an artificial grid.
Trees and Plants looks at botanical evidence from texts and archaeology to attempt to reconstruct the botanical contents of historic sites. Data on flowers and shrubs and their arrangement within the garden is very difficult is obtain by archaeological means but this data can be obtained from the botanical treatises and agricultural manuals which not only name plants grown by farmers but also sometimes provided illustration. Literary references give a sense of the general characteristics of a garden and the place of nature imagery in Islamic discussions of beauty.
Representations of Gardens and Landscape looks at imagery in manuscript paintings, textiles and other media, asking to what extent the images in manuscripts are more accurate than those of texts.
Imaginary Gardens looks at gardens in fantasy and literature. On one hand fantastic architecture and gardens could lead its owner to damnation, on the other hand paradise was envisioned as a garden. Imaginary gardens and their real-life evocations can be found in all periods and places in Islamic history.
The Garden as Paradise looks at the symbolism of paradise in mosques and tomb gardens. In Islamic Spain, India and Ottoman Turkey nature was welcomed into the spaces used for religious worship. This shift in the use of gardens happened because tombs and commemorative structures were placed in garden settings that allowed the living faithful to catch a glimpse of the afterlife where the dead enjoyed the perfection of nature.
The Here and Hereafter looks at mausolea and tomb gardens. Gardens did not become a metaphor for paradise until they were used as the setting for tombs when they were metaphors for the perfect gardens where the faithful lived for all eternity.
A Garden in Landscape looks at the Taj Mahal and its precursors. It focuses on this single site, examining its response to specific elements in its own landscape context and the way that it reflects previous experience of garden design in very different landscapes elsewhere in South Asia.
Religion and Culture looks at the adoption of Islamic Garden culture by non-Muslims and asks the question of how to explain the meaning and context of gardens built by non-Muslims using a clearly "Islamic" set of forms.