The garden of the simple
Since ancient times in different European cities the universities were equipped with gardens of the simple; these were protected gardens where medicinal plants that were commonly used by doctors were cultivated; these were gardens of modest dimensions, generally structured in a geometrical way, with well-defined flowerbeds, between beaten earthen paths or stone; some gardens were also protected by walls, so that they could also cultivate medicinal plants not suited to the most severe climates.
The first garden of the Italian simple seems to have been the Garden of Minerva, in Salerno, built towards the end of the 13th century; between the 15th and 16th centuries all Italian university cities were equipped with simple gardens, where students could study plants, prepare herbaria in which to indicate their characteristics and above all learn to recognize them.
In many of these cities over the centuries the Simple Gardens became veritable botanical gardens, with medicinal and ornamental plants coming from all over the world.
The gardens of Italian cities
The garden of the University of Bologna was founded in the 16th century; it was a modestly sized courtyard, set in a building in the center of the city. Later the garden was moved to a more suitable place, where the botanical garden of Bologna is still located, also equipped with greenhouses for tropical plants and a building where the library is located.
In Florence it was Cosimo I de Medici who built a large garden of the simple, near the University, so that all the students could learn about the plants to be used in medicine.
In Padua there is still the ancient garden of the simple, it is located in the city, inside the botanical garden; we can still see the area circumscribed by a high wall, inside which the long flower beds unravel, still cultivated with simple widespread also in nature in our country and in Europe.
Perhaps in Padua we can better understand what the ancient gardens were like; the dimensions are small compared to the areas now occupied by the largest botanical gardens. The species found there are only medicinal plants, and only native species; moreover the plants find place in small flowerbeds, where the name is indicated. Plants are protagonists; the greenhouses, where present, were used to cultivate the most delicate ones, such as citrus fruits.
Surely the gardens of the simple were the ancestors of modern botanical gardens, but with a very different spirit and purpose; in our days botanical gardens also have the purpose of bringing as many people as possible closer to love and to understanding the natural spaces that surround us; in past centuries instead the plants were cultivated in the gardens of the simple only for study purposes.