In our History of British History Series – The Romans were the first to start growing plants for ornamental purposes and not just to eat. Discover more about the impact the Romans had on gardening in Britain in this article.
AD 43 The Roman invasion of Britain
c. AD 75 The garden at the Flavian Palace, now known as Fishbourne , near Chichester is started. There’s evidence of box planting. It is thought that this was the first garden in Britain to feature topiary.
c. AD 100 Sweet cherries are introduced to Britain from Greece, via Italy. Romans are thought to have introduced many plants to the UK, including box, plums, walnuts, mulberries, vines, leeks, garlic, parsley, turnips, cabbages and roses.
AD 278 Emperor Probus permits the planting of vineyards in England.
c. AD 280 to 285 Evidence suggests a 12-acre vineyard is set up at North Thoresby in Lincolnshire.
c. AD 436 The Romans leave Britain. After the Romans’ departure, there’s little evidence of gardens until the medieval period.
Roman style of gardening
Romans are thought to have been the first people in Britain to create gardens for relaxing and entertaining. They were also the first to start growing plants for ornamental purposes and not just to eat. The garden was an important area of the house and would often be used as an outside dining and entertaining area. Gardens were usually enclosed by walls or even surrounded by the house, creating a central courtyard. Sometimes colonnaded walkways would surround areas of the garden, including rectangular lawns.
Romans used garden ornaments, such as statues (particularly of gods), urns, busts and sundials. Pools and fountains were created in the garden, usually in a rectangle or a semi-circle shape. Pergolas, which were constructed to create shade, were an attractive feature with vines or roses climbing up them.
Arbours and dovecotes also featured. The ever-pernicious ground elder, Aegopodium podagraria, is believed to have been introduced to Britain by the Romans as a salad crop. Centuries later Roman gardens were to have a huge influence on the Italian renaissance period in the 15th and 16th century.
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