“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” -Cicero
While grassy lawns are a relatively new development in history, people have been using plants to decorate their homes for thousands of years. In honor of the Ides of March, let’s explore what a garden was like in an Ancient Roman home.
Romans in cities typically did not have much space in their small urban homes for gardens. Affluent Romans in rural towns did have home gardens. While modern yards and gardens are located in the front or back of a home, Roman gardens were generally located in a large, central, open-air space in the middle of a house (we would call it a courtyard). This open space was surrounded by a columned porch or colonnade called a peristyle. Romans borrowed the central design of their peristyle gardens from the Greeks. Twenty-first century American gardens typically include flowers, vegetables, or both. Roman gardens also included flowers, though they made greater use of ornamental trees and hedges than we typically do in our gardens. Roman gardens frequently included shrines to various gods. Very wealthy Roman families also had fountains in their gardens.
Favorite Roman flowers included roses, violets, and oleanders. Romans did not grow many vegetables in their peristyle gardens, but they did grow herbs for their cooking, just like modern gardeners.
Peristyle gardens were a feature of the homes of wealthy Romans, but even Romans of lower classes grew some plants. Urban Romans would grow window box gardens, and humble rural Romans would have garden pots (what we might today call a container garden) in the center of their homes.
While your house is probably not designed with a large, central, open-air area where you could grow a peristyle garden, you can still add Roman influence to your lawn and garden. Here are some ideas: