Carmen’s Corner: Rome’s Rose Garden

Built into the side of the Aventine Hill, across the Circus Maximus from the Palatine, is Rome’s not particularly famous Rome Garden, or “roseto,” a sweet breath of fresh air in a section of the city not (yet) overwhelmed by tourists. In addition to the relative tranquility it offers and, of course, the beauty of the flowers themselves, the garden provides a convenient opportunity for visitors to see how Italians treat ornamental plants.

Which differs from, for example, the British. Unruly waves of flora spilling higgledy-piggledy over garden gnomes and across grassy paths, their subdued colors suggesting a misty morning on the banks of the Severn, are definitely not for the Romans. While Romanticism (no pun intended) took hold of England 200 years ago and has not let go, Italy has remained, for 2,000 years, a Classical land. Its gardens are laid out in orderly rows and blocks, their colors bold and unapologetic, with a strong preference for cash crops (an orange grove is considered a “garden”), and the necessity of at least one statue, preferably marble.

The formal curves of the Roman Rose Garden are relieved by arbors, pergolas, and galleries over which climbing roses (including New Dawn, an American classic) drift gracefully. Its hundreds of roses are grouped by type and clearly identified, and there is some interesting history on plaques about rose breeding and cultivation. The history of the garden itself is purely Rome: It was a garden with a temple dedicated to Flora during Roman times, then the Italian equivalent of a truck garden (vegetables and grapes) during the Middle Ages, then the Jewish cemetery (1645-1934), followed by a period of unrest for reasons known to all, ending with the creation of the Rose Garden in 1950.

The garden is free and open during daylight hours during rose season only (generally, late April through mid-June). If you can find a shady bench against a wall, under an arbor facing the Pallatine, Rome as the Eternal City will take on new meaning. That meaning is “heaven.”