Herb gardens are commonplace in most backyards today. Herbs are so useful and have been used in cooking, in medicine and to freshen the atmosphere. Herb gardens have a long history of being grown as a collection or included with vegetables, fruits and flowers. Once they were only grown by the rich or in religious communities but eventually became mainstream in most common gardens.
Egyptian and Persian History
Some of the earliest depictions of an herb garden are from ancient Egyptian paintings. One in the British Museum, for example, dates to 1400 B.C. Herbs in Egypt were used for ritual and were grown around temples. Persian rugs are actually a sample of early gardens. Marco Polo compared a Persian garden to paradise. They consisted of walls, dense borders and delightful pathways all making an intricate design in the landscape. A famous Persian garden is the Biblical Hanging Garden of Babylon in which thyme, anise, rosemary and other herbs were grown.
Greek and Roman History
Little is known about herb gardens in Greece other than most were relegated to medicines and were studied by Greek physicians. Romans built the basics of future formal European gardens. Herbs were grown in raised beds and included fennel, dill, coriander and rosemary. Romans used many herbs as flavoring in their foods along with using medicinal herbs. Remains of a Roman garden were found in Pompeii.
Households of rich families always had an herb garden. The lady of the house was in charge of planting and harvesting the herbs. Harvest was of great importance since having the right herbs for the right maladies could dictate if a family member would live or die. Monks of the medieval period grew herbs in kitchen and medicinal gardens. Monasteries were to be self-sufficient and they grew everything they needed by themselves. Gardening was of second importance after prayer. Monks often fed and healed townspeople so their herb gardens were just as important as the vegetable or fruit gardens. The fist monastic garden was built in Egypt by Saint Anthony in 350 A.D. Bonnefont Cloister in New York is a modern reproduction of a monastic herb garden.
Renaissance to the 1700s
Formal gardens came into mode and were found at manor houses. Herbs were grown along with flowers and fruit trees. There were specific medicinal gardens called physic gardens grown at universities and studied by medicine or botany students. Formal gardens in the 1700s were created to entertain and amaze. Ornamentals took center stage but herbs were still grown with them. Informal gardens were found at the homes of common folk in Britain where herbs were grown amongst the profusion of other plants.
George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were avid gardeners and both grew herbs. Colonists and pioneers grew herb gardens out of necessity. Herbs were still used as medicine and to flavor food. Most herb gardens were positioned right outside of the kitchen for easy access and were probably the most important garden of all. Herb gardens are still popular and useful today.