Book Review: Gardens of the Roman World

Gardens of the Roman World, by Patrick Bowe (Frances Lincoln, £24.50)

From the wealth of preserved frescoes and mosaics, we see that gardens in the Roman world were full of birds ? swallows, doves, wood pigeons, magpies, jays, thrushes, nightingales, warblers; also peacocks, herons, Egyptian ibis, partridges and orioles. While these are usually depicted as ranging freely about the gardens, aviaries were also popular.

The epicure Lucullus even set out a dining area within his aviary so that ‘his guests could have the curious enjoyment of eating cooked fowl while being surrounded by their still-alive ‘cousins”. Patrick Bowe’s lavishly illustrated new book draws together a range of captivating images and text sources to give us as thorough an overview as possible into Roman horticultural and landscaping endeavours which have had a lasting influence in the succeeding 2,000 years.

Then there were the plants: the crucial evergreens ? cypress and plane trees, myrtle, bay, laurustinus, strawberry trees (Arbutus unedo), box and ivy ? plus vines, pomegranates, roses, lilies, chamomile and pinks. Excavation of Pompeii and Herculaneum provided scores of examples of town gardening Roman-style, with the emphasis on symmetry; peristyle enclosures, pools and marble fountains, so essential for providing a cooling atmosphere in the heat of a Mediterranean summer. This lovely book explores the rich variety of gardens made throughout the extent of Rome’s empire.