In 79 A.D. the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum were buried under seven meters of lapilli (volanic ash) by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.
Excavations revealed that both towns have the day of the eruption.
The original lead pipes for water are still intact, the city baths could easily be made to function, and many relics, such as cloth sandals made of hemp (the same plant as marijuana), unbroken eggs, and loaves of bread can all be seen.
Both towns had many gardens, some very tiny ones. More than 600 gardens have been found in Pompeii alone. In each garden are plant-and-bird-decorated walls placed behind the actual garden which makes the garden appear larger than it actually is.
Dr. Wilhelmina F. Jashemski, University of Maryland archeologist, is in charge of the Pompeii excavations. Dr. Frederick G. Meyer, plant explorer and introducer, and research botanist in charge of herbarium, U.S. National Arboretum, provided on-site identification of the plants during midsummer 1976.
On many of the garden walls, Meyer identified grape vines plus fruit (white and red grapes) and the common myrtle. Other plants he identified include oleander, Grecian laurel, dates, figs (both white and black), lemons cherries, apples, plums, Madonna lily, roses, heart's-tongue fern and acanthus.
So far, more than 70 kinds of plants have been identified on the wall paintings, in mosaics and in sculpture. Another source of plant material was found in actual garden sites, in amphoras (large terra cotta jars) and in dishes.
The carbonized materials discovered in newly-excavated garden sites are the first to be found in any ancient site and include grapes (whole ones with seeds), wheat, barley, chick peas, lentils, bitter vetch, olive, onions, chestnuts, carob, walnuts, broadbean, to name a few.
As a result, we now have the first glimpse of what a vegetable-fruit garden looked like during the Roman period at Pompeii.
It now seems certain that modern gardens within the vicinity of modern Pompeii look very much as they did in ancient times.
For years Meyer was a member of the American Horticultural Society Editorial Committee (several years as chairman), which was responsible for putting together the American Horticultural Magazine.
Meyer's latest exploration trips have included Ethiopia, Western Europe (with special attention to daffodils) and the Juan Fernandez (Robinson Crusoe) Island.
After leaving Pompeii, Meyer traveled to the Universitty of Tubingen, near Stuttgart, to obtain copies of manuscript material and title pages of the mid-16th century writings of Leonhart Fuchs, a famous 16th-century physician who authored an equally famous herbal, De Historia Stipium (The Natural History of Plants) published in 1542.
The book illustrates 511 medicinal plants. Of special interest are the first illustrations of the corn plant, common bean, pumpkin, squash and marigold, all New World plants taken to Europe by Columbus or shortly thereafter.
Fuchs was Europe's leading physician at the time. He wrote many medical books plus his famous book on plants.
Work is underway to publish a facsimile edition of the 1542 Latin edition of the Fuchs work, plus a second volume of commentary to explain the book, with some translations.