The Garden Guide

Book: History of Garden Design and Gardening
Chapter: Chapter 2: The Influence of Climates on Gardens

Oriental influence on Roman gardens

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968. The Eastern style assumed a variation in its character under the Romans. The necessarily different culture required for perfecting fruits and culinary vegetables in a different climate, would give rise to the orchard and kitchen garden. This would simplify the objects of the ornamental garden, which would thus exhibit less a collection of natural beauties, than the display of art, the convenience of taking exercise, here a pleasure rather than a fatigue, and the gratifications of shade, cool breezes, and aromatic odours. A prospect of the surrounding country was desired, because it was beautiful; and where, from various circumstances, it was interrupted by the garden or its boundary fence, mounds or hills of earth were raised, and, in time, prospect-towers appended to the houses. Greater extent would be required for more athletic recreations, and would be indulged in also by the wealth and pride of the owner, for obvious reasons. Abridgment of labour would suggest the use of the shears, rather than the more tardy pruning-knife, in pruning a row of trees. A row of low trees, so cut in, would suggest the idea of a row of clipped shrubs. Hence at first hedges ; and subsequently, when art and expense had exhausted every beauty, and when the taste had become tired of repetition, verdant sculpture would be invented, as affording novel, curious, and fantastic beauty, bordering, as do all extremes, upon absurdity. A more extended and absolute appropriation of territory, than what we may suppose to have taken place in the comparatively rude countries of the East, would lead to agricultural pursuits, and these again would give rise to the various arrangements of a Roman country residence which we know to have existed, and which it would be superfluous to describe. Various other circumstances might be added; but enough has been stated to show that the gardening of the Romans was perfectly natural to them, under the circumstances in which they were placed; and, as it suited their wants, and produced scenes which they found to be beautiful, it was, therefore, in the justest taste. To have imitated the scenery of nature, or studied picturesque beauty in a garden, would have been merely adding a drop to the ocean of beauties which surrounded them. Expense incurred for this purpose could never have procured applause to the owner; since, the more like nature the production, the less would it excite notice. All that was left for man to do, therefore, was to create those beauties of art, convenience, and magnificence, which mark out his dwelling-place, and gratify his pride and taste by their contrast with surrounding nature.