For gardeners with a sense of history

OE wyrtig, adj: Garden-like, full of plants;
On anum wyrtige hamme, Homl. Skt. ii. 30:312




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Roman Garden Design Components
  • Setting

  • Porticos

  • Paths

  • Borders

  • Planting beds

  • Orchards

  • Vineyards

Villa gardens would have had the villa itself as a backdrop on at least one side, and sometimes on two, three, or four sides. The farmstead often included a variety of other buildings, such as a bath house, barns, workshops, shrines, housing for laborers, and paddocks for animals. The entire farmstead was usually enclosed within a wall, ditch, or hedge.


The use of the portico, a pillared or half-pillared porch that ran the length of each wing of the villa, was very common in Roman Britain. Under the sheltering roof of the portico, residents moved from room to room and from wing to wing.

At right is a replica of the portico surrounding the elaborate gardens of the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum, Italy. It was created as part of the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

Porticos were often floored with opus signinum, a type of concrete, or with  mosaics. The inside wall of the porticus might be covered with painted frescos. The porticos and the gardens they surrounded sent a clear message about the status of the villa's inhabitants.  

Roman gardens were often geometric and symmetrical, with a central path dividing the courtyard garden into equal halves. Paths might be no more than packed dirt, or could be graveled, cobbled, or paved.

Planting beds
A trace of what may have been a flower bed was found near a large, ornamental pool at Bancroft villa. Cultivated beds, probably for vegetables, were found just outside the walls of Roman Camulodunum. At Frocester Court villa, two beds were found near the house, and another set of two long beds paralleled the drive. These beds had been excavated into stony subsoil, and then filled with richer soil. Remains of boxwood suggest that it may have been one of the plants growing here. At Fishbourne, trenches outlined a parallel planting of alternating rectangular and semi-circular borders.

Plant remains of such fruits as fig, elderberry, hazelnut, and pome fruit (apples, pears) have been found by archaeologists in Romano-British gardens, and an orchard may have been planted in courtyards at Frocester Court and Latimer. This fresco from the Casa del Frutetto in Pompeii shows a serpent -- considered to be a guardian of the home as well as the garden -- climbing a fig tree. Serpents are often seen in the artwork of garden shrines and nymphaea. Roman gardens were also home to espaliered fruit trees, trained to graceful shapes along fences or trellises.

What may have been a vineyard interplanted with asparagus was found just outside the western wall of Camulodunum, and posts for training vines left imprints in the gardens at Fishbourne. Postholes at Frocester Court villa may also be the remains of a vineyard.


Romano-British gardens

Bancroft Villa


Darenth Villa

Fishbourne Roman Palace

Frocester Court Villa and its plants

Gorhambury Villa

Latimer Villa

Vindolanda and its foods


Villa gardens

Roman villa plants

Romano-British villa plants

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Botanists are among those who know that, in spite of the rude shocks of life,
it is well to have lived, and to have seen the everlasting beauty of the world.
F.D. Drewitt


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