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The garden of the simple

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The garden of the simple

Since ancient times, universities in various European cities have had simple gardens; these were protected gardens where medicinal plants were grown which were commonly used by doctors; these were modestly sized gardens, generally structured geometrically, with well-defined flowerbeds, between clay or stone walkways; some gardens were also protected by walls, so as to be able to grow medicinal plants not suitable for the harshest climates.

The first simple Italian garden seems to have been the Giardino della Minerva, in Salerno, built towards the end of the 13th century; between the 15th and 16th centuries all Italian university cities were equipped with simple gardens, where students could study plants, prepare herbariums in which to indicate their characteristics and above all learn to recognize them.

In many of these cities over the centuries the Gardens of the simple became real botanical gardens, with the presence of medicinal and ornamental plants, coming from all over the world.


The gardens of Italian cities

The garden of the university of Bologna was founded in the 16th century; it was a courtyard of modest size, placed in a building in the center of the city. Later the garden was moved to a more suitable place, where the botanical garden of Bologna is still located, also equipped with greenhouses for tropical plants and a palace where the library is located.

In Florence it was Cosimo I de Medici who had a large simple garden built near the University, so that all students could learn about plants to be used in medicine.

In Padua the ancient garden of the simple still exists, it is located in the city, inside the botanical garden; we can still see the area circumscribed by a high wall, inside which the long flowerbeds unravel, still cultivated with simple spreads even in nature in our country and in Europe.

Perhaps in Padua we can better understand what the ancient gardens were like; the dimensions are small, above all compared to the areas now occupied by the largest botanical gardens. The species that find their place are only medicinal plants, and only native species; moreover, the plants find their place in small flowerbeds, where the name is indicated. Plants are protagonists; the greenhouses, where present, were used to cultivate the most delicate simple ones, such as citrus fruits.

Certainly the gardens of the simple were the progenitors of modern botanical gardens, but with a very different spirit and purpose; in our day the botanical gardens also have the purpose of bringing as many people as possible to love and to understanding the natural spaces that surround us; in past centuries instead the plants were grown in the gardens of the simple only for study purposes.

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