Raised Beds

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Technical Terms dealing with Medieval period gardens
by Lauren Stier · All Zones · Terminology · 0 Comments · April 21, 2012 · 18,341 views

Not used in every garden, but in vegetable and medicinal gardens, raised beds were often a major feature from the plan of St. Gall onward. Columella, a Roman writer, dictated:

The ground is divided into beds, which, however, should be so contrived that the hands of those who weed them can easily reach the middle of their breadth, so that those who are going after weeds may not be forced to tread on the seedlings, but rather may make their way along paths and weed first one then the other half of the bed.

Landsberg suggests:

We can deduce that the minimum bed and path width be four to five feet and one foot respectively. These beds could be simply paced out to any length that fitted the small domestic garden. In large institution gardens...a subdivision into perches was most likely to be used...subdivisions of an eighty-four foot line can also be made...One way of subdividing a perch of 16 1/2 feet is to lay out three beds of four feet in width, two intervening paths of wone foot, and a two-foot-six access path between one perch and the next, wide enough for barrows. Plots could be in strips of several perches in length, but one perch width is the optimum for good access from the sides.

Hill suggests beds of "one foot of breadth, and into what length the owner or gardener will...let the paths between the beds be of such areasonable breadth (as a mans foot) that they passing along by, may freely weed the one half first, and the next the other half left to weed."

Parkinson suggests that beds be edged with lead "cut to the breadth of four fingers, bowing the lower edge outward," or "oaken inch boards four or five inches broad," or shank bones of sheep, or tiles, pr :round whitish or blewish pebble stones of some reasonable proportion and bignesse." He says, with distaste, that jawbones were sometimes used as edgings in the Low Countries.

In any case, beds were almost universally rectangular, and arranged in a regular pattern, either windowpane check or checkerboard. The fashion of putting a circular feature with semi-rectangulur beds with their courners cut out appears, according to Roy Strong, to have been introduced after 1600. However, it can't have been too long after 1600, as Markham's English Husbandman (from the early 1600s) gives illustrations of both this style and triangular beds.

Lauren Stier

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