Very little development in gardens took place in Europe for several centuries following the end of the Roman Empire. It is thought that knowledge of horticulture virtually died out and only those plants which managed to naturalize themselves survived. However it is known that leeks, cabbages and dried beans and peas formed some sort of subsistence diet throughout this time.
During the sixteenth century the initiative passed to Rome, where the architect Bramante designed a papal garden within the Vatican. This was the forerunner of the High Renaissance style, with a magnificent arrangement of steps and terraces, which became a prototype for everything which followed. From then on gardens became even more ostentatious in design, with terraces at different levels retained by walls and interconnected by grand staircases. Water again became a major feature, as it was in Islamic gardens. It was pressurized and used spectacularly, progressing down an incline or displayed in an elaborate fountain. While these Renaissance gardens were still places for cool retreat, with shade and water of great importance, they were also showplaces where the site and its vegetation were deliberately manipulated. The Italians were really the first to make decorative use of plants, with hedges, for example, used to link the house and garden structurally. The Renaissance movement originating in Italy spread northwards, together with increased knowledge about plants and their cultivation. In France the small formal gardens within the walls of mowed chateaux moved outside, becoming much grander in scope.
Unlike the Italian hillside gardens, the French ones were flat and straight, most of them situated in the fiat marshy areas to the south and west of Paris. The style was still very geometric, as the original pattern of formal beds within a grid system of paths was simply repeated in order to enlarge the garden.
In the seventeenth century Andre le Mire changed French garden planning significantly. With the opening of the chateau garden at Vaux-le-Vicomte in 1661 he established a style which was to influence the whole of Europe for a century. His gardens were still basically formal and geometric in character but they became much more elaborate and interesting with long magnificent vistas, pools or rectangular canals and grand parterres.
The central courtyard within a colonnaded peristyle (known as an atrium) became a major feature of the house and was, in effect, the main living area; it still survives today in the cathedral court and cloister. The garden layouts were much on the Greek pattern, architectural and formal and made up of flower beds and paths, pergolas and statuary with fountains and pools for irrigation. Flowers such as the violet, poppy, iris, lily and pansy were popular and, in particular, the rose. Climbing plants were trained up the supporting columns of covered walks and pergolas.
The Romans carried vegetable growing much further in their country homes because it was the main form of sustenance for rich and poor alike. Salad crops were grown and cabbage was said to be the favourite vegetable. Cato also wrote of turnips, beans, garlic, asparagus and radishes and later writers added carrots, onions, peas, lettuce, chicory, parsley, fennel, parsnips and melons. When the Romans went as conquerors to Europe, they introduced various plants, vegetables and fruit to different countries, together with their knowledge of agriculture and horticulture.