The Garden Guide

Book: History of Garden Design and Gardening
Chapter: Chapter 2: Roman Gardens (500BC-500AD)

Augustan Flower Gardening

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65. The luxury of flowers, under Augustus, was pushed to the extreme of folly. Helio-gabalus caused his beds, his apartments, and the porticoes of his palace to be strewed with flowers. Among these, roses were the sort chiefly employed; the taste for that flower being supposed to be introduced from Egypt, where, as Athenï¾µus informs us, Cleopatra paid an Egyptian talent (upwards of 200l.) for the roses expended at one supper; the floor of the apartment in which the entertainment was given being strewed with them to the depth of a cubit. This, however, is nothing to what Suetonius relates of Nero, who spent upwards of four millions of sesterces, or above thirty thousand pounds, at one supper, on these flowers. From Horace it appears that roses were cultivated in beds; and from Martial, who mentions roses out of season as one of the greatest luxuries of his time, it would appear that it was then the caprice, as at present, to procure them prematurely, or by retardation. Columella enumerates the rose, the lily, the hyacinth, and the gillyflower, as flowers which may embellish the kitchen-garden; and he mentions, in particular, a place set apart for the production of late roses. Pliny says, the method by which roses were produced prematurely was, by watering them with warm water when the buds began to appear. From Seneca and Martial it appears probable they were also forwarded by means of specularia (Taleum schistosum Lin.), like certain culinary productions which will be afterwards mentioned. The Floralia, or flower-feasts, were observed on the last four days of April; they were attended with great indecency, but they show that the common people also carried a taste for flowers to excess. (Pliny, lib. xiii. cap. 29.; Tertullian. Opera.)