Last year we were lucky to receive some funding from the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society to work with our local community from the area around MOLA’s offices in Hackney, London, to undertake research into the plants that would have been commonly seen in gardens in the Roman town of Londinium. We aimed to design and produce posters illustrating the plants, explore the potential of research into Roman archaeology to provide engaging and entertaining activities, and set us on our way toward a larger garden-based project. 

We chose to research the gardens of Roman London for several reasons. When we first met our community they reported widespread love of gardening for various reasons: being outdoors, meeting people and making new friends, physical exercise, and last but not least, the very practical benefits of growing food to eat and beautiful flowers to admire! They also expressed a keen interest in the Romans and told us they wanted to hear more from our expert colleagues at MOLA.

We knew that there was a rich seam of evidence from the Roman period too, with the (literally) tons of environmental samples taken from excavations over decades having supplied us with information about what plants grew here, which ones were introduced by the Romans when they came to Britian in the first century AD, and we even know a bit about where the private gardens might have been in the Roman town, from our excavations.

We held two research sessions at our offices, starting with a short introduction to archaeobotany by our specialist colleague Dr Marvin Demicoli, who talked us through how his research works, and how it helps us to understand and reconstruct past environments. After that we used a series of standard archaeological books to list the plants that had been found on Roman sites, keeping them in categories such as herb, fruit, vegetable, flowers, hedges, plants for fabric, plants for dyeing and medicinal plants.

The next time we met the paints and art materials came out, and the participants produced illustrations of the plants. Some of these were in the style of traditional botanical drawings, others were more innovative! We also visited Marvin’s workspace, looked at some botanical seeds through his microscope and saw the MOLA reference collection of environmental remains.

The finished drawings were handed to our MOLA illustrator Faith Vardy who created two poster designs, one was a traditional design with Roman style lettering (Botanical Londinium), the other was a more vibrant version (Bright Londinium). We have now given our community their copies of the posters and you can download them for free at the end of this blog. Other uses are possible – tea towels anyone?

One of our local community is a talented film maker, and she produced a short film of the project for us, you can watch it here.

Huge thanks to everyone who came along and contributed ideas and drawings to this, and to LAMAS of course for their generous funding. Our next step is to bed in future plans, by planting seeds in local brains and get growing this garden!

Botanical Londinium