Page last updated at 13:56 GMT, Tuesday, 23 September 2008 14:56 UK

Romans 'brought leeks to Wales'

Leeks
Roman soldiers grew leeks to add flavour to food, says the museum

The Romans gave us roads, plumbing, wine and irrigation and now it seems they may have also introduced Wales' unofficial icon - the garden leek.

The National Museum of Wales says the Romans probably planted domesticated varieties to flavour their stews.

The museum has recreated a Roman-design garden at the National Roman Legion Museum in Caerleon, near Newport.

The garden aims to show how troops posted to the edge of the empire created their own home-from-home.

"We've used archaeological remains and research to interpret a Roman garden," said Andrew Dixey, Estate Manager for National Museum Wales.

Roman garden
Staff at the Caerleon museum have recreated a Roman-era garden

"The Romans invaded Britain in 43 AD and brought their garden designs with them.

"However due to the change in climate, the range in plants they could grow was more restricted than overseas. We've tried to recreate what a Roman garden could have looked like."

Mr Vixey said the Romans looked on their garden as an extension to the house - as a place to relax and to entertain.

He said where we might have a gazebo, they had the triclinium, an outside dining room with three couches around a low table, topped with a pergola.

Roman incomers were keen on putting plants in pots and using them as decorative devices in their own right, to go alongside the stone ornaments they brought with them.

'Taste'

But there was a practical side to Roman gardens as well, he added.

They would be sources for vegetables, fruit and herbs such as rosemary, thyme and mint, which were used for culinary and medicinal purposes.

And it was probably here that the leek was to take on its domestic, and eventually iconic, status, said Mr Vixey.

He added: "The wild leek is a pretty poor plant for eating. It's fair to say, even if the wild leek was a native plant, then the Romans brought more domesticated varieties.

"They had domesticated varieties that were much more beneficial from a nutritional and taste point of view."

'Gardening tips'

Museum chiefs say visitors to the garden - which opens this week - will recognise some of what they see, such as planted box hedges, bay trees and vines climbing the triclinium.

Bethan Lewis, who manages the National Roman Legion Museum, said: "The Roman garden enhances our interpretation of Roman Caerleon and is a special addition because it's museum staff and volunteers who've actually researched and created it.

"We currently attract about 70,000 people a year and look forward to welcoming new visitors wanting gardening tips from the Romans."




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