More about the Roman garden at Caerleon

Oct 18 2008

by Alison Young, South Wales Echo

IT’S not unusual to spot a toga-clad man roaming around the grounds of a leading Welsh museum.

For
a garden fit for a Roman has been created at the National Roman Legion
Museum in Caerleon with staff in period costume adding that final touch
of authenticity.

The garden, which is a recreation of a Roman
garden, was researched and planted up by staff at the museum who are
hoping to create a green team of members of the public to help them
maintain it.

It’s basic symmetrical shape with box hedging,
vines and cypress trees is designed to reflect what a typical Roman
garden would have looked like.

It includes a facade of a Roman
villa and the all important Triclinium – a three sided dining area
where Romans would have both lounged and eaten their meals.

Museum
manager Bethan Lewis said: “We wanted to recreate a Roman garden in the
grounds but also wanted to make sure that there was still lots of room
for our younger visitors to run around and play.

“The garden
enhances our interpretation of Roman Caerleon and is a special addition
because it’s museum staff and volunteers who’ve actually researched and
created it.

“We are looking forward to welcoming new visitors wanting gardening tips from the Romans.”

It
was the Romans who were the first to use their gardens as extensions of
their homes and for decorative purposes by using colourful plants,
stone ornaments and decorative pots.

They also brought many plants and vegetables to Britain including, it is believed, the leek – our national emblem.

Andrew
Dixey, estate manager at the National Museum of Wales, explained: “The
Romans invaded Britain in 43 AD and brought their garden designs with
them. However due to the change in climate, the range in plants they
could grow was more restricted than overseas.

“Roman gardens
were ideal locations to relax and a perfect place for entertaining
guests but they also had practical uses and would be sources for
vegetables, fruit and herbs such as rosemary, thyme and mint, which
were used for culinary and medicinal purposes.

“The Romans’
triclinium is today’s gazebo and we continue to use techniques which
they established 2,000 years ago; turning soil in the autumn, mixing
compost, hoeing beds and sowing seeds in spring.”

Many of the
plants in the garden will be recognisable to visitors such as the fig
tree and olive trees but there are others such as the leek which may be
more surprising.

“We set out to show what plants they had, how they used them and how they might have gardened,” said Mr Dixey.

“This
is not a reconstruction of a garden that existed in Caerleon but it
does reflect the sort of plants and gardening that the Romans would
have been involved in at the time.

“It also shows how plants
would have had different uses and meaning over time. The Romans grew
lots of evergreen plants near their homes not just because they looked
nice all year round but because they had a spiritual significance for
them.”

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