The Garden Guide

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

Hirschfeld Roman Gardens

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61.The progress of gardening among the Romans was much less than that of architecture. Professor C.C.L. Hirschfeld remarks (Theorie des Jardins, tom. i. p. 25.), that the descriptions of the ancient Roman authors make us better acquainted with their country-houses than with their gardens, as the former appear more readily submitted to certain rules than the latter; the gardens being thus left partly to the imagination, we are apt to bestow on them the reputation which really belongs to the country-houses; and to give the one a value which properly belongs to the other. The different manner in which the ancients speak of country-houses, and of gardens, may lead us to judge which of the two objects had attained the highest degree of perfection. The descriptions of the first are not only more numerous, but more detailed. Gardens are only mentioned in a general manner; and the writer rests satisfied with bestowing approbation on their fertility and charms. Every country-house had its gardens in the days of Pliny; and it is not too much, taking this circumstance in connection with the remarks of Columella, to hazard a conjecture that even the Romans themselves considered their gardens less perfect than their houses. Doubtless the Roman authors, so attentive to elevate the glory of their age, in everything concerning the fine arts, would have enlarged more on this subject, if they had been able to produce any thing of importance. To decide as to the perfection which a nation has attained in one of the arts, by their perfection in another, is too hazardous a judgment; the error has been already committed in regard to the music of the ancients, and must not be repeated in judging of their gardens. The Romans appear in general to have turned their attention to every thing which bore the impression of grandeur and magnificence; hence their passion for building baths, circuses, colonnades, statues, reservoirs, and other objects which strike the eye. Besides, this taste was more easily and more promptly satisfied than a taste for plantations, which required time and patience. In all probability, the greater number contented themselves with the useful products of the soil, and the natural beauty of the views; bestowing their utmost attention on the selection of an elevated site commanding distant scenery. Cicero (De Leg., lib. iii. cap. 15.) informs us that it was in their country villas that the Romans chiefly delighted in displaying their magnificence; and, in this respect, the coincidence in habits between ourselves and that great people is a proud circumstance.