Saturday, 2 February 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: What have the Romans ever done for gardening?


Quite a lot, actually. I hadn't realised before, despite having been made to go on an infamous school trip to Fishbourne Palace. But an article written by Mary Beard, a classicist at Cambridge, pays tribute to one of the finest minds in the field, Wilhelmina Jashemski, who died just before Christmas. 

Jashemki was a bit of a gardener, and her home in a suburb of Washington DC was surrounded by trees and plants, especially azaleas. However I bet that quite a few of her neighbours were unaware of her amazing work on the archaeology of the gardens at Pompeii.

You've heard about how archaeologists poured plaster of paris into the holes left by bodies covered by ash during the eruption of Vesuvius. Well Jashemki did the same thing to the holes left in the solidified ash by tree roots. She started off working on Roman law, and only later did gardens become her fascination. Her comment? "It sounded entirely too much like fun to be a serious project."

And here's my favourite thought from her: "Life," she said, "is still much the same. Did you know I have never found a garden in Pompeii that did not have a dog?"

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