The Garden Guide

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

Roman Fruit Cultivation

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69.The fruits cultivated by the Romans, in the summit of their power, are described by Pliny (lib. xv.); and, with the exception of the orange, the pine-apple, the gooseberry, the currant, and the raspberry, include almost all those now in culture in Europe. Of kernel fruits, they had apples, twenty-two sorts at least; sweet apples (melimala) for eating, and others for cookery. They had one sort without kernels. Of pears they had thirty-six kinds, both summer and winter fruit, melting and hard; some were called libralia, as we have our pound pear. Of quinces, they had three sorts, one was called chrysomela, from its yellow flesh; they boiled them with honey, as we make marmalade. Of services, they had the apple-shaped, the pear-shaped, and a small kind, probably the same as we gather wild. Of medlars, two sorts, larger and smaller. Of stone fruits, they had peaches, four sorts, apricots and almonds. The nectarine was unknown to the ancient Greeks and Romans: there is no word in Greek which signifies a nectarine; nor in the Latin, except what C. Bauhin and other moderns have coined. Of plums, they had a multiplicity of sorts, black, white, and variegated; one sort was called asinia, from its cheapness; another damascena, which had much stone and little flesh: we may conclude it was what we now call prunes. Of cherries, they had eight kinds; a red one, a black one, a kind so tender as scarcely to bear any carriage, a hard-fleshed one (duracina), like our Bigarreau, a small one with bitterish flavour (laurea), like our little wild black, also a dwarf one not exceeding three feet high. Of the olive, several sorts. Of berries, they had grapes. They had a multiplicity of these, both thick-skinned (duracina), and thin-skinned: one vine growing at Rome produced twelve amphor� of juice (eighty-four gallons). They had round-berried and long-berried sorts, one so long that it was called dactylides, the grapes being like the fingers on the hand. Martial speaks favourably of the hard-skinned grape for eating. Of figs, they had many sorts, black and white, large and small; one as large as a pear, another no larger than an olive. Of mulberries, they had two kinds of the black sort, a larger and smaller. Pliny speaks also of a mulberry growing on a briar; but whether this means the raspberry, or the common brambleberry, does not appear. Strawberries, they had wild, but do not appear to have cultivated. Of nuts, they had hazel nuts and filberts, which they roasted; beech mast, pistachia, &c. Of walnuts, they had soft-shelled and hard-shelled, as we have. In the golden age, when men lived upon acorns, the gods lived upon walnuts; hence the name Juglans (Jovis glans). Of chestnuts, they had six sorts, some more easily separated from the skin than others, and one with a red skin; they roasted them as we do. Of leguminous fruits, the carob bean, Ceratonia siliqua. Of resinous or terebinthinate fruits, they used the kernels of four sorts of pine, including, as is still the case in Tuscany, according to Sismondi, the seeds of the Scotch pine. Of cucurbitaceous fruits, they had the gourd, cucumber, and melon, in great variety. (Trans. Land. Hort. Soct., vol. v. p. 152.) The grape and the olive were cultivated as agricultural products with the greatest attention, for which ample instructions are to be found in all the Roman writers de re rustica. Some plantations mentioned by Pliny are supposed still to exist; as of olives at Terni, and of vines at Fiesole. Both these bear marks of the greatest age. The culinary vegetables cultivated by the Romans were chiefly the following: � Of the brassica tribe, several varieties. Cabbages, Columella says, were esteemed both by slaves and kings. Of leguminous plants, the pea, bean, and kidney bean. Of esculent roots, the turnip, carrot, parsnep, beet, skirret, and radish. The skirret is a native of China, and was so much valued in Rome, that it is said the emperor Tiberius accepted the roots for tribute. Of spinaceous plants, they appear to have had at least sorrel. Of asparaginous plants, asparagus. Of the alliaceous tribe, the onion, and garlic of several sorts. Of salads, endive, lettuce, and succory, mustard, and others. Of pot, and sweet herbs, parsley, orache, alisanders, dittander, elecampane, fennel, and chervil, and a variety of others. Mushrooms and fuci were used; and bees, snails, dormice, &c. were reared in or near to their kitchen-gardens, in appropriate places. (Trans. Land. Hort. Soc., vol. v. p. 152.)