The Garden Guide

Book: History of Garden Design and Gardening
Chapter: Chapter 1: Gardening in the Ancient World

Gardens of Hesperides

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5. The gardens of Hesperides (oz peri, a tree of fruit, fruit gardens) were situated in Africa, near Mount Atlas; or, according to some, near Cyrenaica. They are described by Scylax, a geographer of the sixth century B.C., as lying in a place eighteen fathoms deep, steep on all sides, and two stadia in diameter, covered with trees of various kinds, planted very close together, and interwoven with one another. Among the fruit trees were golden apples (supposed to be oranges), pomegranates, mulberries, vines, olives, almonds, and walnuts; and the ornamental trees included the A'rbutus, myrtle, bay, ivy, and wild olive. This garden contained the golden apples which Juno gave to Jupiter on the day of their nuptials. They were inhabited by three celebrated nymphs, daughters of Hesperus, and guarded by a dreadful dragon which never slept. Hercules carried off the apples by stratagem, but they were afterwards returned by Minerva. (See Lucretius, lib. v. c. 33., and Parkhurst's Heb. Lex. in loco.) Many writers have imagined these gardens to have been the oases of the desert, and various other hypotheses have been offered respecting them; but Lieutenant Beechey (Travels in Cyrene, 4to, 1828) has shown that, like many other wonders, ancient and modern, when reduced to simple truth, they afford very little that is uncommon. They are, in short, nothing more than old stone quarries, which had been excavated to build the town of Berenice, now Bengazi, and which still remain, their bottoms covered with excellent soil, in which are planted various shrubs and luxuriant fruit trees.