A kitchen garden circa 79 AD replicated with parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Photos by R.Cruger
Since every home had a kitchen garden in ancient Rome, it's a tradition worth keeping over the centuries. So when given the chance to pick sprigs from the replica of a Mediterranean garden at the Getty Villa, I wondered what ancient plants were growing. The museum's garden is filled with herbs, edible flowers and fruit trees as well as flax for making linen. The co-author of a new book, Gardens and Plants of the Getty Villa, Michael D. Dehart, was one of the guides on the tour and the museum offered recipes for bouquets garnis along with cooking string to wrap up the aromatic selections. While we won't be using them for a roast boar, crane, porpoise or door mouse stew, the same recipes work today for casseroles, soups broths, sauces and infusions:
The Getty Tea by the Sea uses items from the garden like the lavender for scones.
Above the Pacific Coast Highway and adjacent to Topanga State Park, the Getty Villa is the re-imagined Villa dei Papiri, a country home from Herculaneum, buried by Mt. Vesuvius' eruption in AD 79. The museum is devoted to Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquities with educational programs for K-12 and UCLA Masters students in Archaeological and Ethnographic Conservation, Latin intensives and glassmaking workshops. On the grounds' 55,000 square feet of gardens, the first gardens I encounter is planted with flowering shrubs, laurel, larkspur, acanthus, papyrus, hart's tongue fern, hellebore, and butcher's broom. The Rose Campion leaves were used as bandages, believed to have medicinal properties, a docent explains.
Costmary repels silverfish and was used as bookmarks, lamb's ear was used for bandages.
Around the corner, an extensive lush herb garden was filled with greenery, trellises and trees. I grabbed a large grape leaf ready to collect my aromatic herbs. The garden beds are planted with 50 classic species--staples then and now: chives, marjoram, thyme, sage, rosemary, oregano, basil, chamomile, kale, radishes, and lots of mints, including apple mint for jellies and vinegars and catmint, and lemon balm for indigestion -- and also repels insects.
Getty Villa garden and grounds supervisor Anne Watson gives tour of museum's edible garden.
"Fortunately the climate in Los Angeles is similar to the Mediterranean so it's easy to keep things growing here," said garden supervisor Anne Watson. "We use ladybugs and plain soap and water to keep the pests away. It's kept organic since we want visitors to interact with the gardens." When visiting, you're allowed a selection of sprigs during a docent-led garden tour. Each bed in the garden has fruit trees that would have been cultivated in ancient Rome, such as quince, citron, plums, apricots, figs, peaches, apples, pomegranate and lemon.
The Getty's beautiful little garden book holds a wealth of info including soil, temps and other tips for planting, as well as ideas for great groundcovers. I won't be making any sacrificial wreaths for rituals or adding germander to wine as a tonic, as described, but I'm inspired to add ingredients to my garden like the fresh lemon sage I topped on baked fish that turned crispy and delicious. Some of the best things haven't changed in a 1000 years -- they knew then that herbs are beneficial.
For poultry: 2 to 3 sprigs each of lemon thyme, lovage, tarragon and sage
For pork: lemon thyme, mint, tarragon, chives
For lamb: oregano, marjoram, thyme and one spring of rosemary
For vegetable dishes or fish, mix up celery greens, parsley, dill and fennel
Remove it from the liquid once done cooking and discard.
More on herbs:
What Herbs Should You Grow?
Grow Culinary Herbs: 5 Must-Have Herbs for Your Garden
More on gardens:
Clever Mobile Gardens for City with Too Little Green
How to Build a Vertical Garden in the Tiniest of Spaces