" Forsitan, et pingues hortos quae cura colendi Ornaret, canerem, . . . . "
Virgil, Gear., iv. 118.
The history of the people. In times of peace and plenty they increased and flourished, and during years of war and disturbance they suffered. The various races that have predominated, and rulers that have governed this country influenced them in a marked degree. Therefore, as we trace their history, we must not lose sight of the people whose national characteristics or whose foreign alliances left a stamp upon the gardens they made.
Nothing worthy of the name of a garden existed in Britain before the Roman Conquest. The Britons, we know, revered the oak, and held the mistletoe sacred, and stained their bodies with woad,* but of any efforts they may have made for the cultivation of these or any other plants we know nothing. The history of Horticulture in this country cannot fairly be said to begin before the coming of the Romans. In this, as in other sciences, the Romans were so far advanced that it was centuries before they were surpassed, or even equalled by any other nation.
* Mr. Baker points out that woad is not wild in Britain.
They cultivated most of the vegetables with which we are still familiar. At Rome, said Pliny the Elder, " The garden constituted of itself the poor man's field, and it was from the garden that the lower classes procured their daily food." The rich indulged in luxury and extravagance in the garden, and vegetables and fruits were raised at great cost for their use, which were not enjoyed by the community at large. But most of the vegetables which are still in general use were common to all classes, and many of these plants were brought by the Romans to this country. Some of them took so kindly to this soil, and were so firmly established, that they survived the downfall of the Roman civilization. A curious example of this is one species of stinging-nettle, which tradition says was introduced by the Romans as an esteemed pot-herb.
Tacitus, writing in the first century, says that the climate of Britain was suitable for the cultivation of all vegetables and fruits, except the olive and the vine. Before long, even the vine was grown, apparently with some success. It is generally believed that the Emperor Probus, about the year 280 A.D., encouraged the planting of vineyards in Britain. Pliny tells us that the cherry was brought in before the middle of the first century. Perhaps this was some improved variety, as this fruit is indigenous in this country.
We cannot suppose that the Roman gardens in Britain were as fine as those on the Continent. Gardens on such an elaborate scale as that at Pliny's Villa, or at the Imperial Villas near Rome, with their terraces, fountains, and statues, could scarcely have been made in this country. But the remains of Roman houses and villas which have been found in various places in England, so closely resemble those found in other parts of the Empire, that doubtless the gardens belonging to them were laid out as nearly as possible on the same lines as those of Italy and Gaul. The South of England could afford many a sheltered spot, where figs and mulberries, box and rosemary, would grow as well as at "Villa Laurentina," seventeen miles from Rome. A "terrace fragrant with the scent of violets," trailing vines and ivy ; or enclosures of quaintly-cut trees in the forms of animals or letters filled with roses, would not there seem out of place. If the Roman gardens in Britain were like this—and why should it be doubted when we see the remains of villas, mosaic pavements, baths, roads, and bridges left by that nation ?—it was fully a thousand years before anything as beautiful was again seen in our Island. _
The fall of the Roman Empire, and the invasions of barbarians, struck a death-blow to gardening as well as to all other peaceful arts. During the stormy years which succeeded the Roman rule in Britain, nearly all knowledge of horticulture must have died out. Only such plants as were thoroughly naturalized and acclimatized would be strong enough to continue to grow when not properly cultivated.
The few Saxon names of plants which can be traced to the Latin seem to identify these hardy survivors, or at any rate show that the Anglo-Saxons were well acquainted with many of the Roman plant-names. The following list, given by Mr. Earle in English Plant Names, clearly shows their Latin origin :—
Amigdala Beta Buxus Cannabis Caulis Coliandrum Choerophyllum Castanea Cornus Crotalum Cuminum Cerasus Febrifugia Ficus Feniculum Gladiolum Lactuca Laurus Linum Lilium Lubestica Malva Morus.
Magdula treow Bete Box Haenep Caul Celendre Cerfille Cisten beam* Corn treow Hratele Cymen Ciris beam* Feferfuge Fic beam* Finul Glaedene Lactuce Laur beam* Lin soed Lilige Lufestice Mealwe Mor beam*.
Almond Beet Box Hemp Kale.
(* Beam = the living tree, as Ger. " Baum").
Persoc treow Petersilie Pirige Por leac Plum treow Raedic Ro-se Rude Senap Yul leac Ulm treow Win treow.
Mustard Onion Elm Vine.
It may be that some plants, such as the cherry, cabbage. lettuce, leek, onion, radish, rose, and parsley, continued in this country; although many species which were in cultivation in Britain, in Roman times, had to be re-introduced into England at a later date, having been entirely lost during the years of Teutonic invasion. On the Continent, the same state of things followed the dissolution of the Roman Empire, and horticulture only revived with the spread of Christianity and the establishment of monasteries after a lapse of centuries.