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Earthly Paradises - Ancient Gardens in History and Archaeology

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Earthly Paradises - Ancient Gardens in History and Archaeology. By Maureen Carroll. (The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles: 2003. Pgs. 144. Illustrations.) ISBN: 0-89236-721-0.

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - December 9, 2003

From the Garden of Eden to the stately formal gardens of France and England that denoted wealth and prestige, gardens have long played a major role in man's cultural, political, and religious history. In Earthly Paradises - Ancient Gardens in History and Archaeology, Maureen Carroll examines the function, significance, and design of ancient gardens. Her examination is based upon the extent archaeological, literary, and historical evidence that is currently available to scholars. This work includes information on ancient gardens from the second millennium B.C. to the middle of the first millennium A.D. and it offers a compelling look at a variety of ancient gardens located primarily in the ancient Near East, Egypt, Greece, Italy, and the former provinces of the Roman Empire.

The gardens under discussion run the gamut from functional herb gardens to cemetery gardens. All are discussed in relationship to the historical and archaeological evidence compiled about each garden. Details concerning the reason for the garden's creation, the social, economic, or religious significance of the garden location, design, and vegetation contained within are also explored.

This text is beautifully illustrated, and the narrative flowing and engrossing. This informative book investigates ancient horticultural practices, plus the poetry and literary traditions surrounding these ancient gardens. When most modern readers think of the term garden, they often associate the term with small, backyard affairs. However, many ancient gardens were in reality large parks or orchards. These mammoth horticultural endeavors are discussed in detail, both concerning their artistic and functional aspects, and their political and cultural importance. The sacred gardens associated with many ancient religious sites are also explored.

Earthly Paradise is a book that will enthrall readers from a variety of fields, including history, horticulture, and archeology (many gardens discussed in this book are only known from the archeological evidence that currently exists). Carroll, who has written extensively on Greek and Roman gardens, concludes this intriguing book with a chapter on the surviving ancient gardening practices. This book also includes a mouth-watering list of Ancient Roman Gardens to Visit. These gardens are located in Britain, France, Italy, and Portugal, and the brief description of each garden / excavation site is enough to make you want to grab your passport and set forth on a tour of the ancient gardens of Europe. A concise bibliography is also included that will guide you toward further avenues of study regarding ancient gardens.

Related Reviews:

Ancient Herbs, by Marina Heilmeyer.
A delightful survey of forty important plants and herbs of the ancient world, which concentrating primarily on plants used in ancient Greece and Rome.

Gardens of Pompeii, by Annamaria Ciarallo.
In this book, Ciarallo details what plants where native to Pompeii, which were introduced, and what each plant was used for, with special attention given to medicinal plants and those used for dyes.

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