Real Gardens

Sex in the Garden


Pompeii: view from a courtyard into a garden

On my recent trip to Italy, I was thrilled to get a peek into the domestic life of the ancient world at the city of Pompeii, which was buried in ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D., and thereby beautifully preserved for busloads of bored school children and ecstatic middle-aged adults.

Pompeii has a heart-breakingly beautiful site.  I would risk flaming lava bombs, too, to live on that hillside above the Mediterranean, with the golden sunshine, the faint smell of the ocean, and mountains all around.

The great revelation for me about the ancient Roman aesthetic was how complete it was–and how flashy!  It wasn’t all monochrome marble and classical restraint.  Every single surface in Pompeii, as far I could tell, was decorated, either with brightly colored paint or mosaics.  Half the ancient world must have made a living as fresco painters.  In the archaeological museum in Naples, there are columns covered with mosaics.  They must have been dazzling, if they weren’t just too, too much.

The courtyard gardens, though, within the city of Pompeii, were small.  There were also dominated by architecture in that they were surrounded by colonnades and focused on a water feature in the center.   A great model for city gardens even in the 21st century.  God knows, my water feature in my city garden–a plastic tub from Home Depot with a plastic frog spitter–adds hugely to my life.

In the archaeological museum in Naples, I learned something else about how the ancient Romans gardened–with loads of erotic art.  For over 200 years, one of the great embarrassments of the excavation of Pompeii and Herculaneum–another ancient city in the Bay of Naples buried in ash at the same moment–were all the dirty things that were dug up. 

The ancient Romans were looked upon as moral paragons, and 18th and 19th century excavators found that difficult to reconcile with the many pieces of statuary representing giant penises.  God knows what they made of a beautiful marble statue found at Herculaneum of a satyr having sex with a goat…and both of them clearly enjoying the experience tremendously.


Fresco in Pompeii: Weighing it to see whose is bigger

According to the museum, a lot of this erotic art was found in gardens.  Priapus was frequently represented there as a warning: steal the fruit or vegetables, and you’d be impaled on his giant member as punishment.

Of course, all this makes perfect sense to me.  There’s sex in the garden anyway, and not just flower sex, but bee sex, bird sex, bat sex, and people sex.  Nobody can convince me that the perfume of an Oriental lily is about anything but sex.  I spoke once with a psychologist at Rutgers who studies the effects of plants on moods, and she pointed out that plants are chemical factories–since they can’t move, that’s how they adapt.  We know that they imitate animal pheromones in order to be pollinated.  She suggested that they may be imitating human pheromones, too, in order to persuade me to place that big lily order with Brent & Becky’s Bulbs every spring.

Anyway, I’ve got little kids.  There won’t be any satyrs and goats in my garden.  But I might consider installing a Venus admiring her butt, if I happen to run across one.   

Posted by on June 1, 2007 at 4:12 am, in the category Real Gardens.
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14 responses to “Sex in the Garden”

  1. layanee says:

    That is quite the fresco!! Hmmmm and flowers are definitely sexy, otherwise why wear them in your hair (I don’t very often do this) or wear their scent as perfume! Thanks for sharing Pompeii as I have not yet been there. On the list!

  2. Amy Stewart says:

    Can I get a Venus admiring my butt in the garden?

  3. bright says:

    art history is just riddled with sex! it should be much more popular. thank you for inspiring me to hunt down the satyr statue. i didn’t find it, but i found a bird bath that needs to come back into vogue…

  4. Amy Stewart says:

    Wow. Thanks for that bird bath. Why aren’t they selling that at Smith & Hawken?

  5. eliz says:

    You must have seen the frescos in the brothels as well. Even though we were on our own, we couldn’t miss the guides loudly explaining them–unecessarily, one would think.

    I wish I had seen the museum in Naples–another reason to come back.

  6. Michele Owens says:

    Bright, I believe I saw that thing in Naples, but didn’t know what it was! And yeah, Amy, Smith & Hawken should be selling erotic garden art! My garden suddenly seems much too tasteful.

  7. Everything is sex. Either overt or covert. All sex. All the time.

  8. bright says:

    i’m so jealous michelle! i would be hard-pressed not to make off with it if i ever saw it in person…

    if you think your garden isn’t erotic, cheer up! you might have some stealthy sex in there via church architecture:

  9. You’d think there’d be a more diverse market of Graeco-Roman statue copies. I wanted a statue of Pomona for my garden and can only find a pretty lame neopagan one.

    There should be more garden Aphrodite Kallipygos!

  10. Stuart says:

    Makes you wonder where you would put a satyr and goat statue, doesn’t it? Certainly not near the chook pen…

  11. Robin says:

    Hello, I just found this great blog in a round-about way. (Was searching for an image to attach to my political satire blog piece about my prediction for the next food recall: WATER. All of it. Ugh).

    So, I found Sign of the Shovel and love Michelle’s …well, her entire attitude about things. LOVE the manifestos both her and at the Sign/Shovel.

    And then made my way here via a link on her personal blog….

    et voila.

    I am a new gardner – at age 45. Last year I just woke up one day in May and started hand-tilling a bunch of clay soil in my yard. I just got my veggie plants in yesterday. I kind of suck at it; don’t care; got a TON of tomatoes last year and zero veggies that grow under the ground. (I don’t think I tilled deep enough….)

    I actually have a comment for Michelle or anyone with groundhog or mole problems as noted in Michelle’s blog. Get a Basset Hound. They will hear the invader underground and will bark until the invaders move for more serene pastures. Literally.

    Of course, you will have a new attached-at-the-hip friend who loves to drool on you for the next 10 years, but no underground furrowers!

    I will read more on this blog, and really look forward to hearing about your experiences.

    BTW, I am in Oregon. With global warming, I think I am zone 5/6 but the tulip people still call me a 4. Big difference on ship dates. GRRR.

  12. Kim says:

    If I were living in one of those covenant-type places… you know, where they tell you how tall your statues can be and how many times you must spray your lawn each year, etc., I would totally find the most in-your-face piece of artwork (of which the ancient Pompeiians would be proud) that fit the rules and put it there. And then torment everyone else with “well, tell me where in the rules it says I can’t have this?”

    Oh, who am I kidding. I could never live in one of those places. 🙂

  13. Unfortunately, a lot of men live in a fantasy world, waiting for a beautiful, naked, mythical princess to ride up to them on a unicorn. Snap out of it! Extremely beautiful women are rare, and they are usually spoken for, owned, or leased.

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