Spring is showing in the gardens of the J. Paul Getty Museum--daffodils, bearded iris, flax, anemones, sweet peas, stocks and calendulas in flower, Madonna lilies putting up new spikes. The scene must be much as it was in the spring of the year 79 at the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum, the last spring before Vesuvius erupted and buried Herculaneum and Pompeii.
The museum building was inspired by that villa, and the museum garden is as faithful a reproduction of the villa garden as scholars have been able to contrive--not an easy task, according to Denis L. Kurutz, who did the job. He is with Emmet L. Wemple and Associates, landscape architects.
Among the most helpful sources that he found were the writings of two who lived at the time of the disaster, and a fresco painted a century before. Pliny the Younger, who witnessed the eruption from across the Bay of Naples, maintained a detailed narrative of his work with his gardener in maintaining his own garden. Pedanius Dioscorides, a Greek physician and pharmacologist who served with Nero's troops, completed a formidable treatise on about 600 plants of the Mediterranean just two years before the eruption. And of particular utility was the fresco from the garden room of the villa of Livia Drusilla, the wife of Emperor Augustus. The fresco is now in the National Museum in Rome, showing in masterful detail and elegant color the fruit trees, shrubs and flowers of the period.