Country Estate Gardens
In the former category, the writer Pliny the Younger, left us much evidence. His estates - one at Laurentum (on the coast so technically a villa marittima) and up in the Tuscan hills at Tifernum Tiberinum (under what is modern day Citta di Castello) had a formal layout of beds, borders, walks and avenues around the house - there was even a menagerie – beyond which, stretching into the countryside, was a larger and more informal landscape augmented by walks, groups of trees, and sinuous water features.
|Pliny's Tuscan villa from a 1728 plan|
While Pliny’s villa no longer exists, the ruins of Pompeii do, and they give us a very clear picture of what the Roman town garden looked like. The rectangular courtyard garden or hortus, with rooms leading off it, was central (literally) to the house and family life, for the Romans, like us, used their gardens as a place in which to relax and entertain.
Formal in layout, the most characteristic feature was the peristyle or a covered walkway that ran around the perimeter walls, offering shelter from sun and rain. The peristyle also protected the beautiful landscape murals painted on the walls in order to create an illusion of a country setting.
|Reconstruction of Peristyle Garden of the House of Vetii, Pompeii. Attribution Sailko|
The beds were filled with flowers, mainly from the Mediterranean region, although the Romans enjoyed showing off rarities brought back from the far-flung corners of the Empire.
The beds and borders were also home to arrange of ornaments - many of which were religio-symbolic. Statues and herms (for example, Venus as the protectress of the hortus or Priapus, god of fecundity), a nymphaeum or mini-grotto dedicated to nymphs.
|Priapus, House of Vetii, Pompeii|
|Frescoes, House of Vetii, Pompeii|