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HORTUS (κῆπος), a garden.


Our knowledge of the horticulture of the Greeks is very limited. Curiously enough, however, the mythical and fairy-like garden of Alcinous (Hom. Od. 7.112-130) has one important feature in common with the little that is recorded of the gardens of historical times. This is its strictly utilitarian character: it is divided into a fruit garden, a vineyard, and a garden of herbs, or more literally of leek-beds (πρασιαί, 5.127); there is no trace of the cultivation of lowers. The fruits named are simple ones--apples, pears, figs, pomegranates, and olives; there is nothing supernatural about them ; and the artificial irrigation described is nothing more than has always been practised in Egypt and the East. We may say further, that there is nothing improbable in the idea of a succession of grapes and other fruit having been partially realised by early Greek gardening, though in the Homeric picture, with the various stages of growth and maturity all going on together, poetic embellishment has no doubt been carried far beyond the actual.

The Greeks had evidently little taste for landscape beauties, and the small number of flowers with which they were acquainted afforded but little inducement to ornamental horticulture. The nearest approach to it seems to have been in the sacred groves, which contained ornamental and odoriferous plants and fruit trees, particularly olives and vines. (Soph. Oed. Col. 16; Xen. Anab. 5.3.12.) That of the Grynean Apollo was full of timber trees and flowering shrubs (δένδρων καὶ ἡμέρων), pleasant to sight and smell, but without fruit (Paus. 1.21.9).

The only passage in the earlier Greek writers in which flower-gardens appear to be mentioned, is one in Aristophanes, who speaks of κήπους εὐώδεις (Aves, 5.1066). At Athens the flowers most cultivated were probably those used for making garlands, such as violets and roses. The rose-garden in Demosthenes (ῥοδωνιά, c. Nicostr. p. 1251.16) was doubtless cultivated for profit, not for the owner's pleasure (cf. Sandys ad loc.). The suburbs of Athens abounded with gardens which in like manner must have served to supply the city with flowers and vegetables (Plin. Nat. 36.16; Paus. 1.19.2). And when we read of books on gardening (τὰ περὶ κήπων ἐργασίας συγγράμματα, [Plat.] Min. p. 316 E), we may safely assume that they treated the subject from the market-gardener's, not the aesthetic point of view. In the time of the Ptolemies the art of gardening seems to have advanced in the favourable climate of Egypt so far, that a succession of flowers was obtained all the year round. (Callixenus, ap. Ath. v. p. 196 d.) Longus (Past. 2.3) describes a garden containing every production of each season, “in spring, roses, lilies, hyacinths, and violets; in summer, poppies, wild-pears (ἀχράδες), and all fruit; in autumn, vines and figs, and pomegranates and myrtles.” That the Greek idea of horticultural beauty was not quite the same as ours, may be inferred from a passage in Plutarch, where he speaks of the practice of setting off the beauties of roses and violets, by planting them side by side with leeks and onions (De capienda ex inimicis utilitate, 100.10). Still it is easy to exaggerate their utilitarian tendencies: if the supply of flowers was regulated by commercial principles, the demand itself testified to a love of flowers for their own sake (cf. Becker-Göll, Charikles, 1.310-313).

It need hardly be said that the paradises of the Persian satraps (Xen. Anab. 1.2, § 7, 2.4.14; Cyrop. 1.3.14; Hell. 4.1.15) had nothing in common with gardens; they were enclosed parks for the preservation of game.

2. Roman

The Romans, like the Greeks, laboured under the disadvantage of a very limited flora. This disadvantage they endeavoured to overcome, by arranging the materials they did possess in such a way as to produce a striking effect. We have two very full descriptions of Roman gardens in the letters of the younger Pliny, referring to his Laurentine and Tuscan villas (Plin. Ep. 2.17, 5.6). In front of the porticus there was generally a xystus, or flat piece of ground, divided into flower-beds of different shapes by borders of box. There were also such flower-beds in other parts of the garden. Sometimes they were raised so as to form terraces, and their sloping sides planted [p. 1.977]with evergreens or creepers. The most striking features of a Roman garden were lines of large trees, among which the plane appears to have been a great favourite, planted in regular order; alleys or walks (ambulationes) formed by closely clipped hedges of box, yew, cypress, and other evergreens; beds of acanthus, rows of fruittrees, especially of vines, with statues, pyramids, fountains, and summer-houses (diaetae). The trunks of the trees, and the parts of the house or any other buildings which were visible from the garden, were often covered with ivy. (Plin. Ep. 5.6; Cic. ad Q. Fr. 3.1, § 2.) Rich well remarks that “this sketch of Pliny's garden might also pass for a faithful description of the pleasure-grounds belonging to the Villa Pamfili [Doria] at Rome” ; and we may add, as a further point of coincidence in taste between the Romans and the modern Italians, their fondness for the ars topiaria, which consisted in tying, twisting, or cutting trees and shrubs (especially the box) into the figures of animals, ships, letters, &c. The importance attached to this part of horticulture is proved not only by the description of Pliny, and the notices of other writers (Plin. Nat. 16.140, 21.68, 22.76; Martial, 3.19, 2; Plin. Ep. 5.6.16), but also by the fact that topiarius is the only name used in good Latin writers for the ornamental gardener. Cicero (Parad. 5.2) mentions the topiarius among the higher class of slaves.

Attached to the garden were places for exercise, the gestatio and hippodromus. The gestatio was a sort of avenue, shaded by trees, for the purpose of taking gentle exercise, such as riding in a litter (Plin. Ep. 2.17.13; 5.6.17; 9.7 ;--Sen. Ep. 55 init.; Orelli, Inscr. 4336). The hippodromus (not, as one reading gives the word in Pliny, hypodromus) was a place for running or horse exercise, in the form of a circus, consisting of several paths divided by hedges of box, ornamented with topiarian work, and surrounded by large trees. (Plin. Ep. 5.6.32; Martial, 12.50, 5; 57, 23.) [HIPPODROMUS]

The flowers which the Romans possessed, though few in comparison with the species known to us, were more numerous than some writers have represented; but the subject still

A Roman garden. (From a painting at Herculaneum.)

requires investigation. Their principal garden-flowers seem to have been violets and roses, and they also had the crocus, narcissus, lily, gladiolus, iris, poppy, amaranth, and others.

Conservatories and hot-houses are not mentioned by any writer earlier than the first century of our era. We then find them closed with specularia, i.e. windows of talc (lapis specularis) split into thin plates (Plin. Ep. 2.17, § § 4, 21; Sen. Ep. 90.25; Martial, 8.14 and 68, 13.127). They were used both to preserve foreign plants and to produce flowers and fruit out of season. Columella (11.3, § § 51, 52) and Pliny (Plin. Nat. 19.64) speak of forcing houses for grapes, melons, &c. In every garden there was a space set apart for vegetables (olera).

Flowers and plants were also kept in the central space of the peristyle [DOMUS], on the roofs, and in the windows of the houses. Sometimes, in a town, where the garden was very small, its walls were painted in imitation of a real garden, with trees, fountains, birds, &c., and the small area was ornamented with flowers in vases. A beautiful example of such a garden was found at Pompeii (Gell's Pompeiana, 2.4).

The phrase hortus pensilis is used in two senses: 1. Hanging gardens, i. e. terraces rising one above another on arches, of which the Isola Bella on the Lago Maggiore exhibits a modern instance; they are said, mostly by late writers, to have existed on a grand scale at Babylon and the Egyptian Thebes (Plin. Nat. 36. § § 49, 94; Curt. 5.1). 2. A movable frame like our melon or cucumber frames, but placed on wheels, and employed in forcing by markel-gardeners (olitores). (Plin. Nat. 19.64, cf. Col. 11.3.52; Rich, s. v. Hortus.

An ornamental garden was also called viridarium (Dig. 33, 7, 8), and the gardener topiarius or viridarius. The common name for a gardener is vilicus or cultor hortorum. We find also the special names vinitor, olitor. The word hortulanus is only of late formation. The aquarius had charge of the fountains both in the garden and in the house. (Becker-Göll, Gallus, 3.64-88. Böttiger, Racemationen zur Garten-Kunst der Alten, affords no real information on ancient gardening, only speculations about Alcinous and the grotto of Calypso.)

[P.S] [W.W]

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