The most ubiquitous element of any garden is a patch of green grass. Although different in size, shade and type, grass appears in 70% of unpaved gardens worldwide, according to the World Ecological Enterprise Department (WEED). But grass is a relatively new invention and was only discovered by the Romans, as recent archeology has revealed, in the town of Grassobbio, in the province of Bergamo, Italy.
The stunning green carpets that we are so used to seeing in our national parks, castles, stately homes and neighbours’ gardens did not exists before 145 AD. The national grass museum in Grassobbio traces the introduction of grass into Western culture and follows its journey from staple diet to decorative outdoor carpeting.
It started like all legends when the prince accidentally spilled grass seeds outside the palace. Thinking nothing of it he returned home, but as the seasons changed he noticed green shoots covering the palace forecourt.
At first he thought this would be a tasty meal but then he began, inexplicably, to tend it. Before long he had an immaculate lawn for all to see. He experimented with other weeds, various plant matter and root vegetables, but grass was the best. When other wealthy visitors visited the palace and noticed the grass, as Cicero writes, “they did feel intense envy and were it not for the centurion stationed at each corner of the green carpet, may have attacked their host, for who can gaze upon this lush grassy patch and not want to pluck.” The envy Cicero spoke of was the night of the long blades resulting in the murders of the prince and his entire household. The prince’s dying words “herba corpus meum et sanguinem ex invidia vos bastardus,” were immortalized in Shakespeare’s famous play Twelfth Knight, “the grass under my body, bloody from envy, you bastard.”
Today there are many green patches of grass around the world but none as stunning as Grassobbio. Walking through the Prince’s Gate one is immediately met by the green landing strip. A long narrow piece of grass with fountains either side. This opens up to main garden with walkways, fountains and a herb garden. The herb garden was closed to the public until recently as a local gang was stealing the herbs and selling them in nightclubs.
From the air, the gardens take the shape of the female form. Thought to be a symbol of fertility and maybe mirroring the Roman god of fertile crescents, Quntus, it is now thought by most scholars to be a huge Roman joke, sort of Roman porn and a poke at the social norms of the day. Having said that unless you actually owned a helicopter how you would ever get high enough to see the shape of gardens is a mystery to all.
Entry to the gardens is free and they are open to the public throughout the year, closed only on St. Fiacre day, the patron saint of gardeners and on Christmas and New Year’s Day.
More information visit www.GrassobbioGardens.co.it