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Technical Terms dealing with Medieval period gardens
by Lauren Stier · All Zones · Terminology · 0 Comments · April 21, 2012 · 19,453 views


  • Grass and Dirt - Grass walks and cleared earth were the cheapest kind, but collected dew and were messy.
  • Brick
  • Gravel
  • Stone/paving


Turfed seats were a major feature of 'gardens of pleasure'. Marble or stone seats also appear. One illustration shows a portable wooden bench.

The turfed seats, also called excedra, were generally built along the lines of slightly higher raised beds, the outer walls constructed with wood planks, bricks or wattle, though some illustrations show the benches with sod sides as well. (Period depictions ahow people sitting on the pointed ends of the wattles, demonstrating, as one commenter pointed out, 'an unwonted cuticular toughness'.) Often the turfed seats were arranged around the inner borders of an enclosed 'herber', providing seats as well as anchorage for the trellised plants.

Tables also appear, as in one illustration of the Garden of Paradise, where the Virgin has at her elbow a marble table containing a glass of something to drink and eat some snacks. Dining al fresco was a popular summer activity, and there are many illustrations of couples and groups eating, drinking, and/or playing games at tables and benches set up in the garden.

Water features

Markham's English Husbandman is a very emphatic about the need for a water source in your garden. The 14-16th century gardens we have depiction of generally include a water feature. However these were generally surrounded by a lawn, rather than planting of any sort.

  • Wells/well heads, both round and square
  • Springs, often opening into a square pool or trough(s) from which water could be drawn or washing done.
  • Pools - springheads and streams could supply pools for drinking from, washing in, or even keeping fish in. Though the most popular prestation of outside bathing is Bathsheba, other illustrations show outside bathing in houses of ill repute also.
  • Fountain: Pictures from before the 1500's-- springhead or central, several tiered fountain. Renaissance-- big ornate fountains with statuary if you could afford it. Fountains were powered by hydraulics, either water from a springhead or stream, or water piped in via aqueduct.
  • Stream-- either a stream ran through or around your garden (like a moat) or the runoff from a fountain or to a fountain could be made into an artificial stream or water-stairs. (The Italian villa gardens would detour an entire stream to run downhill through the property and power different fountains.)
  • Water-toys: things that squarted water at inopportune times, or used hydraulics to produce sound or move mechanisms (many based on Hero of Alexanderia). these had their heyday in the late seventeenth century but were known in the sixteenth century as well.

Naomi Miller, in her article "Medieval Garden Fountains" in Medieval Gardens, Dumbarton Oaks, 1986, describes the typical fountain before the vogue for classical statuary beginning in the late 14th century:

"..throughout the late Middle Ages, whethere the fountain was placed at the center of a town square, a monastic cloister, or a Garden of Love, its form remained relatively unchanged. Defined by a circular, polygonal, or quadrilobe basin, it was rooted to the ground or raised upon a basin or steps. Water usually passed through a column; sometimes it rose from the center of the first basin to support a second one and was dispensed by one or more spouts. A more imposing fountain would usually have secondary basins used a troughs, provisions for washing, and even fish tanks. Spouts in the form of lipons' heads or grotesques decorating the column were commonplace." (p. 152)

Lauren Stier

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

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