The first evidence of the use of intertwined flowers as crowns to be worn in the Greek world dates back to the 6th century BC. linked above all to the cult of Artemis. The acanthus leaves of the Corinthian capitals, around the 5th century BC they are the first example of plant form for ornamental use in European sculpture. The Cretan and Mycenaean civilizations produced numerous architectural examples rich in pictorial elements and floral decorations. It is not clear whether the cultivation of flowers and plants was initially linked to medicinal use rather than to funeral rites. It was in fact customary to place some tombs called kepotaphion in the green. How not to mention the sacred groves or the gardens of Adonis where vegetables or legumes were placed in containers full of earth.
However in Greece, which also has the distinction of having coined a name to define it (kepos, literally “mother’s womb”), the garden begins to develop its structure and geometry in the classical and Hellenistic period. Around 350 BC strongly influenced by the Persian one, in fact, an enclosed space is beginning to be organized, separated and protected from the surrounding natural landscape.
For various reasons, especially cultural ones, there was not a great diffusion of purely ornamental private gardens. The cultivation of fruit, vegetables and useful plants was preferred, carefully planning the spaces to shelter from the sun and provide recreation or relaxation. The Greek gardens often consisted of a small artificial body of water (the nymphaeum) surrounded by trees used for sacrifices or gifts to the nymphs. The mythological vision of Greek nature then associated a particular divinity to each flower. Two types of gardens emerge from Homer’s works, the human and the divine. The first, exemplified by the garden of Alcinoo on the island of the Phaeacians (Odyssey, VII, 81-130), is based on the link with home and family. The functional side is primary to the detriment of the ornamental side, without excluding traits that will later characterize the topos of the locus amoenus. The second, exemplified by the garden of Calypso (Odyssey, V), places nature at the service of the gods. The divine is manifested in the harmony of the shapes of the garden and the forest adjacent to the temple. Even the vineyard and the orchard in addition to the function of sustenance assume an aesthetic value full of grace and seduction.
Finally, in the history of Greek gardens, three figures must be remembered with particular relief. Theophrastus, now commonly accepted as the father of botany and the first gardener in history, was the author of two famous treatises on plants. Epicurus is the famous philosopher for having elected the garden as a place for reflection and teaching of his own doctrine, so much so that his school was called “Epicurus’s Garden”. Cimon was the founder of public gardens for study or cultivation purposes, starting to have plane trees planted in the agora of Athens.Back to Index