Basic types of Medieval Gardens

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Technical Terms dealing with Medieval period gardens
by Lauren Stier · All Zones · Terminology · 0 Comments · April 21, 2012 · 18,336 views

Peasant gardens

It has been suspected that peasants had mostly just a vegetable garden, perhaps with some medicinal herbs, surrounded by a wattle fence to keep the pigs, etc. out. Definitely they grew peas, beans, ect.

"The garden of the Arden peasant's holding was an important, if poorly documented, resource. Apple, cherry, plum and pear trees seem to have been common on many holdings, as in 1463 at Erdington, where nearly all peasant holdings contained orchards. The range of crops cultivated on the peasant's curtilage is poorly recorded, but the garden of Richard Sharpmore of Erdington was probably typical. In 1380 trespassing pigs ruined his vegetables, grass, beans, and peas." -- Andrew Watkins, Peasants in Arden", in Richard Britnell, ed. Daily Life in the Late Middle Ages, (Stround: Sutton Publishing, 1998), p 94.

Abbey Gardens

Monasteries would have multiple gardens: vegetable gardens, an Infirmarer's garden of medicinal herbs, cloisters or orchards for pacing and praying, and perhaps herbers also. Monasteries, hermitages and almoner's establishments sometimes had seperate plans for each person to work.

Description of the grounds of the Cistercian Abby of Clairvaux in the 12th century:

"within the enclosure of this wall stand many and varioous trees, prolific in bearing fruit. It resembles a wood, and since it is near the cell of the sick brothers, it offers some comfort to their infirmities, while providing at the same time a spacious place for those who walk, and a sweet place where those who are overheated can rest. Where the orchard ends the garden begins. Here too a lovely prospect preseents itself to the infirm brethern; they can sit on the green edge of the great fountain, and watch the little fishes challenging one another, as it were, to war-like encounters, as they meet and play in the water." ...(quoted by Paul Meyvaert, in "The Medieval Monastic Garden," Medieval Gardens, Dumbarton oaks, 1986)

Infirmary/Hospital Gardens

Carole Rawcliffe, in an article on Hospital Nurses and their Work, notes that hospitals and infirmaries had gardens that only not had practical function but also "contributed in less immediately obvious ways to the holistic therapy characteristics of the time." She goes on:

"During the twelfth century, the garden of the Hospital of St. John the Baptist at castle Donington, Leicestershire, had, indeed, produced such 'powerful herbs and roots' that a local physician had gone there to seek a cure for his own tertian fever. Following a practice discernible at all levels of society, from the peasantry to the baronage, the cultivation of many hospital gardens appears to have been untertaken by women. Since it was such a large and affluent institution, the Savory could afford to retain a gardener, who took his orders from the matron, as well as the physician and the surgeon. He grew herbs, fruits, and other plants 'for the relief and refreshment of the poor who flock to the hospital.' These were used in cooking, for the preparation of medicines and medicinal baths and for the other 'health giving purposes' which probably included the production of scented candles and fumigants for despelling the miasma of disease..." :"In smaller houses, such as St. Giles' Hospital, Norwich, the sisters themselves grew and processed whatever plants might be needed. Their walled garden, with its thatched pentice, was but one of several green spaces in the precinct, which included the master's ornamental garden, a great garden where trees and vegetables were cultivated, a pond yard, a piggery and a kitchen garden. During the fourteenth century surplus apples, pears, onions and leeks were sold on the open market as a cash crop; other produce included saffron, garlic, hemp and henbane... the hospital precincts also incorporated a great meadow, with its prelapsarian 'paradyse garden'..."; "at the London hospital of St. Mary Bishopgate the sisters lodged in segreated quarters...which gave access to their own garden. Elderly corrodians, such as Joan Lunde, who lived in a 'celled sett yn the sauthe part of the [in]ffermory' of St. Giles' Hospital, Beverly, were anxious to secure such a source of 'greate yerthly comfort'. In 1500-I she complained to the Court of Chancery that, notwithstanding the money she had spent on maintaining the garden which formed part of her corrody, it had been given to another sister...The fitter and more mobile residents of the English almshouse, such as those at Ewleme and Arundel, were espected to weed and tidy precinet gardens, but we have little evidence of their use by convalescent patients. At the leper hospital run by St. Albans Abbey inmates were who had been phlebotomized were permitted to rest in a private garden, but many of them appear to have been Benedictines, already accustomed to the prophylactic regimen of the monastic infirmary".' : --Carole Rawcliffe, "Hospital Nurses and their Work". in Richard Britnell, ed. Daily life in the Late Middle Ages, (Stroud: Sutton Publishing, 1998), pp 58-61.

Ladie's Gardens

Supposedly, castle and manors often had gardens of pleasure for walking in, with seats, private nooks screened from the wind for sitting, flowery meads for seating and/or playing games. We see many of these in pictures of young ladies and pictures of the Virgin and Child.

Italian Renaissance villa gardens

Italian Renaissance gardens are characterized by lots of space, walks, statuary and 'toys'. The fashion for god and goddess statues, statues with water coming from significant points, and sculptures meant to indicate river gods, naiads, dryads, ect. was extreme; they also attempted to spotlight (or create, if neccessary) Etruscans ruins on the property.

From The Decameron (Bocaccio, mid-14th century):

"After this they went into a walled garden beside the mansion, which at first glance seemed to them so beautiful that they began to examine it more carefully in detail. On the outer edges and though the centre ran wide walks as straight as arrows, covered with pergolas of vines which gave every sign of bearing plenty of grapes that year....The sides of these walks were almost closed in with jasmin and red and white roses, so that it was possible to walk in the garden in a prefumed and delicious shade, untouched by the sun, not only in the early morning, but when the sun was high in the sky...In the midst of this garden was something which they praised even more than all the rest; this was a lawn of very fine grass, so green that it seemed nearly black, colored with perhaps a thousand kinds for flowers. This lawn was shut in with very green citron and orange trees bearing at the same time both ripe fruit and young fruit and flowers, so that they pleased the sense of smell as well as charmed the eyes with shade. And in the midst of the lawn was a fountain of white marble most marvellously carved. A figure standing on a column in the midst of this fountain threw water high up in the air, which fell back unto a crystal-clear basin with a delicious sound...the water which overflowered...ran out of the lawn by some hidden way where it reappeared again in cunningly made little channels which surrounded the lawn."

Lauren Stier

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


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