From the time of the conquest, religious orders set up monasteries and conventos within Spanish American cities. This description comes from Puebla, one of the leading cities of New Spain. Wealthy monasteries were often cities within cities, and this description gives us a glimpse beyond the walls and heavy doors that kept them separate from the world. Gardens were a place of repose and contemplation for monastic residents, and they were also a source of income, as this excerpt makes clear.
Since gardens are so ephemeral, it is easy to overlook them as part of “visual culture,” but people in Spanish America shaped the surrounding landscape for both visual pleasure and practical ends. Only occasional ruins of the “hardscape”—the paved paths, masonry and tile gazebos, large pools, would survive today, so the exact appearance of gardens is hard to recreate. But it is clear that the rigid order of the French and Italian garden were the desired framework, which must have been modified by the trees and plants that grew locally. Both the garden of the elite country house and the monastery were carefully designed outdoor “rooms,” where nature was tamed and organized into architectural spaces. Gardens are time and labor intensive, and the aesthetic pleasure they gave to monastic residents was balanced by the potential of the orchard for profit.