Roman Gardens
Anthony Beeson
Amberley Publishing
96pp, 140 illustrations
Paperback, £14.99

The British are 'a nation of gardeners' and the Romans, too, loved their leafy al fresco spaces; for them gardens were part of Romanitas. And when they were not al fresco, they enjoyed looking at trompe l'oeil frescoes of trees, flowers, birds and fountains on their dining-room walls.

For art historian Anthony Beeson Roman gardens have clearly been a lifetime's study and he includes many of his own photographs and sketches of evidence of some of the more obscure ones especially in North Africa. His geographical range is wide – not just content to focus on grand examples, such as Hadrian's Canopus at Tivoli, the Palatine Gardens in Rome, or evidence of those at Pompeii, Herculaneum and Villa Oplonto, Beeson gives us examples from further afield. Also when dealing with mosaics (another of his passions) and other garden features, he strays into Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, and Turkey and, while in Europe, he visits sites in France and Portugal as well as in Italy and Britain.

Roman gardens were full of shrubs and flowers, decked out with marble statuary, urns, herms, oscillae and pinakes, cooled by water features, splashing fountains and tranquil pools. Their style ranged from the compartmentalised formal look, with rooms, to a wilder Arcadian style. Readers will enjoy visiting them all – as did I.

It is also a pleasure to see a reconstruction of an aristocratic Roman garden by the late Alan Sorrell on the book's cover.

Lindsay Fulcher

 

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