Floralia, Rose, and other Roman Gardens: The Floralia was an ancient Roman festival, which honored Flora, the goddess of flowers, who was a, manifestation of the earth-goddess, Ea. Ea was also Fauna, Ops and Maia, for whom the month of May was named. Roman men and women would deck themselves with flowers and attend ceremonies, called the "Florifertum", clustered around the beginning of the month. Throughout the month floral displays and competitions were open to the public around the Flora temple on the Aventine Hill. The most extravagant displays were always on the slopes of the Aventine facing the Circus Maximus, where the Emperors could see them from their homes on the Palatine. Imperial floral displays were hung from the walls of the palaces facing the Aventine. And, of course, games were held in the Circus Maximus to mark the festival.

The flowers still bloom in the Spring (tra-la) but today's manifestations are more restrained. Roses are everywhere, and, especially and appropriately, they are on those same Aventine slopes facing the Circus Maximus. The Municipal Rose Garden, the Roseto Comunale, is there, just off Piazzale Ugo la Malfa in the former Jewish Cemetery, and it is already open to the public. Across Via di Valle Murcia is the even larger garden where the annual International Rome Rose Prize competitions are judged.

This year, the judging for the 68th competition will be on May 20th. Until last year, prizes were awarded only for the best Floribunda and Hybrid Tea roses. This year and hereafter, there will also be prizes for the best miniature, groundcover, tree, and climbing varieties. Three special prizes will be awarded in 2000 only: one for the most aromatic modern rose -- the extremely aromatic "antique" or "legacy" roses are excluded; a second for the whitest modern rose, in honor of the Jubilee; and the third for the rose that is most loved by children, which will be judged by an international jury of children from around the world. Another special award will be given for the best variety introduced in the previous year, but unlike in other "new variety" rose competitions, entries will have to be the fruit of demonstrable research, not just a pretty chance hybrid.

The international prize garden will open to the public on May 21, but that is definitely not the day to try to visit -- it will be crowded and chaotic. Almost any weekday morning after the 21st is really the best time to go. If you don't mind crowds and love June brides, go on Thursday and Friday, June 1 and 2, or on the first two Saturdays in June. There will be brides in the gardens every day, but on those days they line up for photo shoots under the rose bowers and especially under the huge display of white roses that is traditionally planted at the rear of the international garden.

There are other wonderful gardens in Rome. The Vatican Gardens, the Pincio above Piazza del Populo, the newly restored "secret gardens" in both sides of the Galleria Borghese, the re-landscaped Parco del Lago in the center of the Villa Borghese park, the completely replanted gardens in front of the Villa Doria Pamphilj and around the Cappella Pamphilj (on the back slope of the Janiculum ridge) and, of course, the Sapienza University Orto Botanico in Palazzo Riario Corsini (on the part of the Janiculum that juts toward the Tiber) all immediately come to mind.

Some of these gardens have Internet sites, but the Internet is the antithesis of nature. Go to the gardens. Smell the flowers. Hear the bees buzz. Walk into courtyards -- try the Palazzo Venezia courtyard balcony! Look up at the rooftop plantings.

Here, reluctantly, are the Internet links, for those who can't go to the gardens:

InfoRoma "Roses in Rome"

Roseto Comunale di Roma home page (in Italian):

Roseto Comunale announcement (in Italian) of this year's competition:

Vatican Gardens:

Sapienza Orto Botanico (in Italian):

Pincio Gardens (Villa Borghese):

Italy, Botanical Gardens:

International Directory of Botany (scroll down about half way to Italy):