naso's song

that naso’s song may flower for all time


Ovid’s Garden: Cypresses & Cornelian Cherry Trees

Since the radical transformation the garden has undergone since planting the evergreen box hedging, its greening has continued with the arrival of some new plants and the (frustratingly slow) coming of spring! We now have two slender cypresses (Cupressus sempervirens) flanking the entrance of the garden, its dense sprays of dark evergreen leaves adding another level to the landscaping.Blog UploadFrom ancient times, the cypress was closely associated with death: it was used in funerary rites and to wreathe statues of Hades, god of the underworld; to this day it grows in graveyards and memorial gardens in Italy, and throughout Europe.

Ovid recounts how the cypress became a symbol of mourning. Grief transformed Cyparissus, beloved of Apollo, into the tall evergreen tree after he killed his own tame stag in a tragic accident:

 ‘Though Apollo consoled him as far as he possibly could and implored him not to distress himself overmuch, Cyparissus kept sobbing away and asked, as a final gift from the gods, to mourn to the end of time.
‘He wept and wailed till his blood drained out and the whole of his body started to turn the colour of green. The hair that was hanging over his creamy forehead was changed to a shaggy profusion, which stiffened and rose to the starry sky in a slender point. The god sighed deeply and sadly exclaimed,
“You’ll be mourned deeply by me, you will mourn for others and always be there when they mourn for their loved ones.”’

Metamorphoses 10.106-142

In the beds either side of the garden we have also planted two cornelian cherry trees (cornus mas) which in late summer they will bear glossy, ruby-red berries that can be eaten raw (although they are a little sour!), used to make jam or to infuse alcohol to make liqueurs. Over autumn its leaves will turn from green to shades of crimson and purple before falling, then in winter its bare branches will be covered with clusters of brilliant yellow, star-shaped flowers. Some of these flowers still clung to the branches of the trees we planted.
CornusThe fruits of this cherry tree were associated with the Golden Age when man lived in harmony with nature and the earth brought forth its fruits in abundance:

‘Content to enjoy the food that required no painful producing, men simply gathered arbutus fruit and mountain strawberries, cornel cherries and blackberries plucked from the prickly bramble’

– Metamorphoses 1.102

Work will continue as the weather gets warmer, next we’ll be planting anemones (anemone coronaria and anemone nemorosa) and potting lollipop bays and olives. Meanwhile, we are beginning to see the fruits of our labour as the spring bulbs start to emerge, promising the garden’s first flowers!unnamed



Ovid’s Garden: Box, Lavender & Lilies

After months of looking at empty garden plots with a prevailing mud-brown colour scheme, it was such a joy to plant some greenery which has brought some much-needed structure and colour to the garden. I also now have four fantastic students from the University of Birmingham working with me on the garden as part of a Liberal Arts & Sciences project I am running, who are helping to bring the garden to life.

The beds have been lined with box and we’ve planted lavender along the front border, which is looking very modest now, but will spread out in front of the box hedging as it grows to give a stepped effect. Like box, lavender is an evergreen, which will keep its silvery hue even in the dull winter months, and when its spikes of violet flowers appear in summer, their beautiful, distinctive scent will create a welcoming wall of perfume for visitors to walk through as they enter the garden.FINALThe name Lavandula comes from the Latin lavare ‘to wash’, as it was used to scent bath water and it was used by the Romans, as it is today, for its floral scent in perfumes and oils, and was also used for its medicinal and therapeutic properties.

We’ve also planted lilium candidum (Madonna lily) bulbs in the ornamental flower beds. Like lavender, this was a plant which was highly prized in antiquity and even grown in greenhouses to ensure availability all year round. Its strong, sweet fragrance made it a popular flower for use in oils and perfumes and ancient writers emphasised its medical attributes, listing numerous remedies that could be derived from both flower and bulb.

In narratives from Metamorphoses Fasti Ovid depicts Persephone, daughter of the goddess Demeter, picking these brilliant white lilies when she is abducted and taken to the underworld by Hades:

Proserpina, Ceres daughter, was there in the woodland, happily picking bunches of violets and pure white lilies’

– Metamorphoses 5.394

‘Abundant roses are gathered, and there are nameless flowers too. She herself gathers delicate saffron and white lilies’

– Fasti 4.443

An ancient fresco from the House of the Golden Bracelet in Pompeii depicts such lilies in bloom:
A Upload!It’s so exciting to see the garden take shape after all the work undertaken in the winter to implement the hard landscaping elements and create the plots. The rest of the plants for the garden have been ordered and will be planted soon, so the garden will continue to transform over the next couple of months and start to bloom come the spring!


Ovid’s Garden: Planting Narcissi & Hyacinths

Over the last few weeks we’ve been working on the hard landscaping of the garden: digging out the paths and filling them with a sub base of gravel, as well as putting edging around the beds and preparing them for planting.IMG_6442Today we were able to move onto the more exciting task of planting the narcissus and hyacinth bulbs, which will be the first plants to flower in the spring next year.

As described in my first blog post, each plant in this garden has been chosen for its significance in Roman poet Ovid’s works Metamorphoses and Fasti, where plants and landscape are interwoven throughout mythological narratives.Planting BlogThe bulbs we planted today represent two well-known myths of young men doomed to premature deaths, who were transformed into flowers which stand as lasting images of their fleeting lives and youthful beauty:

Narcissus poeticus – After spurning the love of all others, Narcissus is punished by the goddess Nemesis and falls in love with his own reflection, wasting away for love of himself and in death is transformed in a flower:

The body, however, was not to be found – only a flower with a trumpet of gold and pale white petals.

– Metamorphoses 3.509

Hyacinthus orientalis – Hyacinthus was a young man beloved of the sun god Apollo who was tragically struck down in his youth by a discus thrown by the god himself that rebounds and kills him. As a tribute to Hyacinthus’ youthful beauty, Apollo causes a flower to spring up from his blood, which bears the markings of his mourning.

…the blood which had spilled from the wound to the ground and darkened the green grass suddenly ceased to be blood; and a flower brighter than Tyrian purple rose rose the earth and took the form of a lily – except that its colour was deepest red where the lily is silver.

Metamorphoses 10.211-13

More of these flowers, whose heritage can be traced back to classical mythology, will be planted in the new year, including saffron croci, anemones, sweet violets, madonna lilies, opium poppies, damask roses and more, each with their own story to be told…IMG_6388

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Classics Kitchen: Pop-Up at University of Reading’s ‘Experiencing Ancient Education’

Last week we had a fantastic day with our Classics Kitchen Pop-Up at the University of Reading as part of the Being Human Festival where the Classics Department put on a recreation of an ancient schoolroom, organised by Professor Eleanor Dickey, based on an ancient classroom recently excavated in Egypt. Children from local schools were given the opportunity to don handmade Roman clothes and experience in ancient education, writing on papyrus, copying poetry from pottery and doing equations in Roman numerals. For more details of the schoolroom, take a look at the Reading Classics blog.To Upload 3Meanwhile, our Classics Kitchen set up outside, offering students and staff the chance to taste ancient Greek and Roman food made from recipes found in ancient authors, all collated in our Classics Kitchen recipe books. We served spelt bread with Cato’s olive relish and Roman pesto, Athenaeus’ cheese & honey biscuit, itrion (sesame biscuits set in honey) and fig and wine cakes, which went down very well with the staff especially!To UploadInteractive demonstrations also gave children a hands-on experience of the crops grown in ancient Rome and enabled them to learn more about the Roman diet. To Upload 2The day was great success and we look forward to many more pop-up events like this one!
Ancient DeliasAnd we even made it into the local newspaper!Newspaper Debut!


Classics Kitchen: Moretum, Roman Garlic Cheese Spread

Today has been a cooking frenzy/ baking marathon in preparation for our Classics Kitchen pop-up tomorrow at the Experiencing Ancient Education event run by Reading University as part of the Being Human Festival of the Humanities, where we’ll be giving food demos, sharing ancient recipes and providing Roman food. Recipes for all the food we will be serving (and many more!) can be found in our recipe book – from savoury dishes including Roman-style pesto, olive relish and fish sauce to sweet treats including fig and wine cake and itrion (sesame biscuits).IMG_6331

Now for one final recipe before the big event…

This recipe is taken from a poem in hexameter (probably wrongly) attributed to Virgil, describing Simylus, a humble farmer, preparing a meal for himself before going out to plough his fields. First he picks the garlic, celery, rue and coriander from his garden and combines them with a hard cheese, olive oil and vinegar, which he then eats with a loaf of freshly baked bread made by his slave.

First, lightly digging into the ground with his fingers, he pulls up four heads of garlic with their thick leaves; then he picks slim celery tops and sturdy rue and the thin stems of trembling coriander. With these collected he sits before the fire and sends the slave girl for a mortar. He seasons with grains of salt and after the salt, hard cheese is added; then he mixes in the herbs. With the pestle in his right works at the fiery garlic, then he crushes all alike in a mixture. His hand circles. Gradually the ingredients lose theior individuality; out of the many colours emerges one – neither whole green (for the white tempers it), nor shining white ( since tinted by so many herbs). The work goes on: not jerkily, as before, but more heavily the pestle makes its slow circuits. So he sprinkles in some drops of Athena’s olive oil and adds a little sharp vinegar and agains works the mixture together. Then at length he runs two fingers round the mortar, gathering the whole mixture into a ball, so as to produce the form and name of a finished moretum.

– Appendix Vergiliana 2.4

Moretum IngredientsIngredients

3 garlic cloves
1tsp celery
1 tsp coriander
1tsp salt
100g pecorino/ parmesan
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil


  • Chop the garlic, celery and coriander and grate the pecorino
  • Add all the ingredients to a food processor
  • Purée until you have a smooth consistency
  • Spread on fresh bread to serve (I recommend ciabatta!)

There are obvious similarities with this and the Roman Pesto I made recently, taken from Columella and De Re Rustica (book 11) contains other recipes for moretum also very similar to this one.



Ovid’s Garden: Digging!

On a cold and wet day in November, a group of volunteers from the Classics & Ancient History department at the University of Birmingham and staff from Winterbourne House & Gardens braved the elements to begin work on Ovid’s Garden! We had the muddy task of lifting the turf from the site and digging the main path in front of the garden to make way for the hard landscaping elements.Blog MontageFuelled by some excellent cake and brownies, we lifted all the turf by midday and by the afternoon the site was completely cleared. Whilst digging the main path, we even unearthed some exciting finds, excavating clay pipes and pieces of pottery, identified by our resident archaeologist Meagan Mangum, which will be displayed at Winterbourne for visitors to see!ExcavatingNow the turf and the main pathway have been dug, the beds have been marked out and the remaining paths around these will need to be dug out as well. After this, edging will go around the plot and beds, then a sub base will go into the pathways before gravel is put over the top. The next step will be to prepare the beds and plant the bulbs. PlotSpecial thanks goes to the volunteers from the Classics & Ancient History department at University of Birmingham who gave up their valuable time for a day of digging in the rain with me – Meagan Mangum, Ruth Léger and Phil Myers; and also to the gardeners and volunteers from Winterbourne.

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Ovid’s Garden: Design Plans

As part of my PhD exploring the influence of Ovid in Italian Renaissance gardens I am delighted to be working in partnership with Grade II listed Arts & Crafts villa Winterbourne House & Gardens to recreate an Italian Renaissance garden based upon plantings inspired by Ovid’s botany, which has been designed by acclaimed landscape designer Kathryn Aalto.WinterbourneMy research explores how Italian Renaissance gardens were designed to impart a narrative, retelling the mythology of Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Fasti through the use of landscaping, fountains, sculpture and crucially, botany. This garden will form an essential part of my research and enable me to explore the sensory experience of the garden, particularly through the practical uses of its plants in both Roman and Renaissance perfumery, medicine and cooking, as well as demonstrating the symbolism and literary allusion central to the design of Italian Renaissance gardens.


Each tree, shrub, flower or herb in the garden has been chosen for its significance in Ovid’s narrative and the Italian Renaissance garden, whether it had a practical or symbolic function.

Once the garden is planted and growing I will be giving talks and running workshops at Winterbourne, exploring the properties and uses of these plants from ancient times to the modern day, offering a hands-on, interactive experience of plants including food demonstrations, concocting medicines and even making perfumes, so keep an eye on the blog for details nearer the time!

Flower BorderHerb Border copyAfter a long planning and funding application process, we’re now ready to start implementing the design at Winterbourne and digging begins next Tuesday. Follow the blog to receive regular updates on the progress of the garden and feel free to drop into Winterbourne on Tuesday to find out how we’re getting on! Watch this space for Ovid’s Garden…

Ovid's Garden