Roman Herb Garden
This is the time of the year when many of us are putting the final touches on our plans for this year’s garden. Perhaps my most favorite garden design of all, is the Roman Herb Garden. It reminds me of a translation from a recipe book written in the first century A.D.
Now, there is a lot of misinformation when it comes to whether or not these recipes were authored by a man named Apicius (a famous epicure), or if a certain wealthy Roman named, Apicius living in the 2nd century A.D.— gifted his name to becoming a nickname, meaning “gourmand.” Regardless, later, the name Apicius became synonymous with “cookbook.”
Then, there is Excerpta Apicii attributed to Vinidarius. Living in the 5th century A.D., Vinidarius compiled recipes that were supposedly taken from Apicius. No one knows much about Vinidarius. It always astounds me that cook books were being written back then and by men in a time when most of the cooking was done by women! I’m a little bit suspicious that perhaps some men were taking credit for what the women either taught them or were actually doing (no offense intended to any man now — just remembering historically how our roles as men and women were more clearly defined back then). Well, none of that ancient history really matters when it comes down to designing your own Roman Herb Garden.
Roman Herb Gardens are great for a sunny courtyard. Imagine Terra-cotta pots, formal raised beds, a vine covered pergola, water fountains or features, mosaic tile, and stately garden status. To my way of thinking that sounds pretty good to me.
On the Subject of Cooking - De re coquinaria (Latin)
Attributed to Apicius, ten little books, with chapter titles that read like a modern cookbook:
Epimeles — The Chef
Sarcoptes — Meats
Cepuros — From the garden
Pandecter — Various dishes
Aeropetes — Fowls
Polyteles — Fowl
Tetrapus — Quadrupeds
Thalassa — Seafood
Halieus — Fish
This collection is said to be incomplete, with disorganization, and missing portions, still only one original manuscript appears to exist, while many translations and reprints over the years have emerged.
What is important to remember is that a Roman Herb Garden, aside from it’s beauty, is really primarily a cook’s garden. If you tend to lean towards preparing Italian or Mediterranean dishes maybe it is the garden for you.
As with all other cultures, ancient Roman Herb Gardens used certain herbs in medicines, some of them were:
- Elecampane — Digestive aid
- Fennel — To calm the patient
- Fenugreek — Used to treat pneumonia
- Garlic— Heart health
- Sage — Protection of patient
- Silphium — Birth Control
- Willow — Antiseptic for wounds
Other Plants and Trees in a Roman Garden
What To Include In Your Roman Herb Garden
What I love about Roman Herb Gardens and Roman Style Gardens, is that they are so classic and always in fashion. Even the herb or kitchen gardens were designed to be restful, pleasure filled places for your senses.
Ancient Romans used a lot of marble, which may not be practical price wise for a lot of people. Keep in mind that there are a lot of DIY products out there that can make just about any object look marble like. Likewise, if you don’t have the money for a mosaic featured area, there are ways to overcome that expense — like making do-it-yourself mosaic.
Additionally, since Roman gardens usually featured one or more large fresco paintings with dramatic scenes of agricultural beauty, this too can be a DIY project if you or someone you know is artistic. Other ideas are:
- Anything with mosaic tile, such as a tiled table, bench, pots, or even mosaic patio
- Covered walkway with a focus on your garden
- Water features or fountains (always in the center of the garden and almost always more than one
- Statues (particularly of dogs, cats, lions, or beautiful classical people as those were often inspiration for real Roman statues)
- Stone planters
- Wall fountain
- Container grown rose bushes
- Arbors (often hidden)
- Ruins of columns
- Any plants that would attract birds
Common Roman Herbs
Here are but a few of the Roman herbs used in ancient cooking:
- Anise -Arugula -Basil -Bay -Capers -Caraway -Cat mint
- Celery seed -Coriander -Cumin -Dill -Elecampane
- Garlic -Hyssop -Mustard -Myrtle -Oregano -Parsley
- Pennyroyal -Pepper -Pine nuts -Rosemary -Rue
- Safflower -Saffron -Savery -Thyme -Welch Onion