Literary Garden

Client Brief. To site a space at the historic Winterbourne House at the University of Birmingham and to design a public garden based on a classical literary plant palette.

Philosophy. This Italian Renaissance garden is based on the botany in the works of Ovid, the Roman poet who lived in the age of Augustus and was a contemporary of Virgil and Horace. Kathryn designed it at the University of Birmingham’s Winterbourne House in partnership with Miriam Bay, a PhD researcher in Classics at the university.

Design. Sited in a south-facing semi-circle, the design has ample walking paths for enhanced public enjoyment of plants from as many angles as possible. Plants have been especially selected because of their significance in Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Fasti — works of literature in which plants and landscape are interwoven throughout mythological narratives. From bulbs to boxwood to bay laurels, the plants were selected by Kathryn and Miriam to created a botanical and literary narrative. Kathryn added structural backbones with Italian cypresses, lollipop bay trees, cornelian cherries and crepe myrtle.



It is a joy to follow Miriam’s blog, Naso’s Song, about the significance of the plants in the garden.  In spring she wrote, “Bulbs represent two well-known myths of young men doomed to premature deaths, who were transformed into flowers which stand as lasting images of their fleeting lives and youthful beauty.” As Rosa damascena and Rosa centifolia bloomed, she wrote, “These have been two of the most highly prized flowers because of their fragrant essential oil, used in ritual, medicines, cosmetics, perfumes and cooking. Ovid describes the famous ‘gardens of sunny Paestum where roses abound’ (Metamorphoses 15.708) where both Pliny (HN. 21.20) and Virgil (Georgics 4.119) claim the roses would bloom twice a year, accounts which identify the Paestum rose as the twice-blooming Rosa damascena.”

It’s worth following Miriam’s blog for more connections with plants and Ovid’s beautiful classical poetry, and of course, to visit the garden as these pictures of hers indicate a lovely and most interesting garden story.I can’t wait for autumn writing …

Ovid's Garden Masterplan   Planting Plan2Planting Plan1_edited-1

Rose Detail, Garden Fresco House of the Golden Bracelet, Pompeii
1st century BC – 1st century AD