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Technical Terms dealing with Medieval period gardens
by Lauren Stier · All Zones · Terminology · 0 Comments · April 21, 2012 · 19,525 views

Lawn/Flowery mead

Albertus Magnus was a great admirer of lawns: "For the sight is in now way so pleasantly refreashed as by fine and close grass kept short." Most writers recommend digging out the original 'waste' plants, killing the seeds in the soil by flooding with boiling water, then laying out the lawn with turves laid in and pounded well. Another writer recommends mowing them twice a year, lawnmowing would have been done with scythes or primitive shears.

Raised Beds & Sunken Beds

"For instance beds could be raised and edged with boards or woven panels of willow to improve drainage, just as Columella recommended" (Hobhouse). Parkinson suggests edging your beds with either live plants or dead stuff such as tiles, sheep shank bones or boards.

Sunking beds appear to be used primarily in Islamic gardens, where the idea would be to facilitate irrigation and keep the earth from drying out. Good examples appear in the Alhambra in Spain. (Islamic gardens tended strongly to follow the Roman pattern of square layouts and canals or streams running throughout the garden.)

Trellising & Topiary

Grapes, roses and rosemary in particular were grown over trellises; gilliflowers (carnations, pinks) were trellised in their pots to keep them from falling over. Other kinds of vines were also grown that way. Lattices with climbing plants and trellises with climbing plants were used as garden walls, often starting from the back of a turfed bed or seat, and also for arches and pergolas.

Topiary animals appear in late period, either self topiary or over a frame, as in this account of Hamption Court in 1599:
"There were all manner of shapes, men and women, half men half horse, sirens, serving maids with baskets, French lilies and delicate crenellations all round made from dried trigs bound together and the aforesaid ever green quick-set shrubs, or entirely of rosemary, all true to the life, and so cleverly and amusingly interwoven, mingled and grown together, trimmed and arranged picture-wise that their equal would be difficult to find." (Strong, p 33)


Trees were planted either along walls, geometrically placed in orchards (about 20 feet apart), or pleached into allees. Some trees, such as walnut, were avoided in gardens, but fruit trees and other trees with a good smell or pleasant aspect were were included in most gardens as well as adjoining orchards. Sometimes trees were trained against a wall but that may be a late period development.

There are two techniques used in forestry that are worth mentioning here: pollarding and coppicing. Both were/are used to get the maximum growth of branches and wood out of farmed trees, so they wouldn't have been used much in gardens, except possibily in hedging. Coppiced trees, such as beeches, were cut down at ground level or a little above, and the stumps allowed to produce suckers. After the suckers had grown to medium sized branches-- or the right size for fences, wattle, poles, etc-- they were harvested. Pollarding is the same process, but done much higher off the ground, beyond nibbling reach for deer, cattle, etc. Pollarding survives as a landscaping technique as the result of trees being cut back for electric and telephone lines.

Lauren Stier

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Lauren Stier - I have a medieval garden which has been an ongoing project

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