Roman gardens (Latin: horti) and ornamental horticulture became highly developed during the history of Roman civilization. The Gardens of Lucullus (Horti Lucullani) on the Pincian Hill at the edge of Rome introduced the Persian garden to Europe, around 60 BC. The garden was a place of peace and tranquillity – a refuge from urban life – and a place filled with religious and symbolic meanings. As Roman culture developed and became increasingly influenced by foreign civilizations through trade, the use of gardens expanded and gardens ultimately thrived in Ancient Rome.
Roman gardens were influenced by Egyptian, Persian, and Greek gardening techniques. Formal gardens existed in Egypt as early as 2800 BC. During the eighteenth dynasty of Egypt, gardening techniques were fully developed and beautified the homes of the wealthy. Porticos were developed to connect the home with the outdoors and created outdoor living spaces. Persian gardens developed according to the needs of the arid land. The gardens were enclosed to protect from drought and were rich and fertile in contrast to the dry and arid Persian terrain. Pleasure gardens originated from Greek farm gardens, which served the functional purpose of growing fruit. As Alexander the Great conquered parts of Western Asia, he brought back with him new varieties of fruits and plants that prompted a renewed interest in horticulture among Greek people.
In Greek civilization, gardens were used to beautify temple groves as well as to create recreational spaces. Cimon of Athens is said to have torn down the walls of his garden to transform it into a public space. Open peristyle courts were first designed by the Greeks to fuse homes with the outside world. In Ancient Latium, a garden was part of every farm. According to Cato the Elder, every garden should be close to the house and should have flower beds and ornamental trees. Horace wrote that during his time flower gardens became a national indulgence. Augustus constructed the Porticus Liviae, a public garden on the Oppian Hill in Rome. Outside Rome, gardens tended to proliferate at centers of wealth.
Parts of a Roman Garden
Private Roman gardens were generally separated into three parts. The first, the xystus, was a terrace that served as an open air drawing room and connected to the home via a covered portico. The xystus overlooked the lower garden, or ambulation. The ambulatio consisted of a variety of flowers, trees, and other foliage and served as an ideal milieu for a leisurely stroll after a meal, some mild conversation, or other Roman recreation activities. The gestation was a shaded avenue where the master of a home could ride horseback or be carried by his slaves. It generally encircled the ambulation, or was constructed as a separate oval shaped space.
Gardens were not reserved for the extremely wealthy. Excavations in Pompeii show that gardens attaching to residences were scaled down to meet the space constraints of the home of the average Roman. Modified versions of Roman garden designs were adopted in Roman settlements in Africa, Gaul, and Britannia. As town houses were replaced by tall insula (apartment buildings), these urban gardens were replaced by window boxes or roof gardens.
- Semple (1929), p. 431
- Semple (1929), p. 435
- Semple (1929), p. 436
- Elisabeth Blair MacDougall and Wilhelmina F. Jashemski, ed. (1981). Ancient Roman Gardens (Dumbarton Oaks Colloquium on the History of Landscape Architecture, VII). Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.
- Elisabeth Blair MacDougall, ed. (1987). Ancient Roman Villa Gardens (Dumbarton Oaks Colloquium on the History of Landscape Architecture, X). Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection. ISBN 0-88402-162-9.
- Bowe, Patrick (2004). Gardens of the Roman World. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum. ISBN 0-89236-740-7.
- Henderson, John (2004). Roman Book of Gardening. New York: Routlage.
- Semple, Ellen Churchill (July 1929). "Ancient Mediterranean Pleasure Gardens". Geographical Review (American Geographical Society) 19 (3): 420–443. doi:10.2307/209149. JSTOR 209149.