One of the most important household duties of a medieval lady was the provisioning and harvesting of herbs and medicinal plants and roots. Plants cultivated in the summer months had to be harvested and stored for the winter. Although grain and vegetables were grown in the castle or village fields, the lady of the house had a direct role in the growth and harvest of household herbs. Read on to learn about medieval herb gardens.
No respectable lady would be without her medicine chest, which often proved a lifeline for those afflicted with winter colds and fevers. Failure to secure a good harvest could be the difference between life and death.
Herbs and plants grown in manor and castle gardens basically fell into one of three categories: culinary, medicinal, or household use. Some herbs fell into multiple categories and some were grown for their ornamental value. Purely ornamental plants, however, were much more rarely cultivated than they are today, and many plants we consider ornamental now had more practical uses in past times.
For instance, Dianthus or “pinks” were cultivated in medieval times for culinary uses. Pinks had a clove-like flavor and were used fresh to flavor many summer dishes. They were known for their strong, pleasant smell and were believed to promote general health. The Dianthus grown today has little smell or taste and is cultivated mainly for its beauty.
Culinary plants and herbs were grown for use during the summer and were preserved to add to winter fare. Herbs and vegetables had to be harvested in quantity and preserved, usually by drying, to last through the long and arduous winter months. Some herbs were able to withstand winter in the ground and provided a yearlong bounty. Herbs often able to grow through all but the harshest winter conditions included:
Other plants had to be harvested and dried These included:
Herbs were usually dried in bundles hung in a cool place with good airflow for two to three weeks. Dried herbs could be left hanging or could be stored in jars or crocks or used in unguents and vinegars. Rosehip jelly was a special favorite during the winter. And, herbed jellies, jams, and wines added variety to winter diets.
Herbs were an important source of vitamins and nutrients during the winter months when greenery was scarce. People also provided needed variety from the repeated grain and meat dishes in the winter. In addition, they served as a camouflage for meats gone rancid or poorly preserved.
Medicinal herbs were grown and dried for use during the winter. Herbs could be preserved dried for up to a year without losing their potency, or they could be powdered or added to fats to create ointments and pastes. These included:
Willow bark, garlic, and some other medicinal herbs and plants could be harvested throughout the year. Self heal, feverfew, and willow were used to break as well as prevent fevers. Lavender, sage and peppermint were considered digestive aids. Goosegrass and boneset were believed to be good for healing breaks as well as cuts and lesions. Dandelion was considered a purgative and diuretic. Sachets were also created and carried to stave off illness and to sweeten the air. They served the dual purpose of deodorant during winter months when bathing was all but impossible.
Household herbs included:
Such herbs were used to sweeten the air and to alleviate pests. Lavender, citron, and rosemary are still used today to deter fleas and moths.
As you can imagine, harvesting herbs and plants for winter use was very important for the castle, as well as the simple villager’s hut. You can grow and dry your own winter herbs today quite simply. Herbs dry when hung in two to three weeks. They need to be in a dark, cool space with ample airflow.
Unlike medieval matrons, you’ll have the ability to zip-lock your dried herbs, increasing their longevity. Before using any herbs, make sure you know what they are. Be careful to label all your herbs before drying. Sage and rosemary may be easy enough to identify while growing, but herbs look deceptively alike once dried.
Also, be careful not to dry culinary herbs (sage, rosemary, curry, basil) side-by-side with household herbs (lavender, patchouli). This practice will help you further avert confusion. And as with all plants, be careful and respectful of their uses. By growing and preserving herbs and plants, you’ll be carrying on a tradition that stretches back to medieval times and earlier!
The monks often grew herbs, vegetables and flowers within a hortus conclusus (‘enclosed garden’), courtyard or cloister of the monastery. In the medieval garden, however wealthy you were, famine was a constant concern, so staples such as broad beans, parsnips and leeks were grown as field crops by lords as well as these holy men. Native herbs were gathered from the wild by ‘green’ men and women. Every plant was assigned a use.
Plants were grown in rectangular or square beds. Photo: Francois Berraldacci
Important medicinal or rarer plants were grown in rectangular or square beds, initially laid out in a chessboard. A more decorative pattern was created by placing them in a quincunx (like five on a dice) or a basket weave.
Fruit and nut trees included almond, apple, cherry, fig, hazelnut, medlar, mulberry, pear, plum, quince, sorbus and walnut. Root vegetables and leaves were produced from ground beds, while peas and beans were grown up sticks.
A recreation of a peasant’s garden around an original medieval house. Photo: Weald & Downland Museum
Roses were widely grown and used medicinally, but also symbolised many different things, from religious devotion to romantic love. The red rose could represent the blood of Christ and the martyrs the Virgin Mary and the Immaculate Conception were compared to a white rose. Red carnations represented true love, while Viola odorata (sweet violet) is a symbol of humility.
A medieval plot would contain shrubby herbs such as sweet bay (Laurus nobilis), sweet myrtle (Myrtus communis), rosemary, sage, thyme and winter savory. Physic or medicinal plants were paramount. Rue was used ‘to combat hidden toxin and to expel from the bowels the invading forces of noxious poison’. Fennel ‘eases a swollen stomach and quickly loosens sluggish bowels’.
Making a medieval garden
– Fencing or features made from woven willow or local hazel poles, or using a stout oak trellis can evoke a sense of the medieval past.
– Create a chessboard garden with one plant per square. Opt either for tidy evergreens such as rosemary, or billowing roses, lilies and herbs supported by a low wicker fence.
– If you have an established tree, consider creating a turf seat around it, not necessarily made of grass – try lawn chamomile. If it is dry and sunny, colonise with creeping thymes. For a flowery mead, turf can be jewelled with violets, primroses, cowslips, daisies, sweet woodruff and periwinkle.
A willow seat gives a medieval touch. Photo: Francois Berraldacci
To find out more about garden styles from history, click here.
Among a wide variety of herbs, there are several herbs that need to grow in your garden. These herbs are really beneficial for your daily life. Let’s check out.
Growing sweet basil in a garden can be a little bit fussy since it requires well-drain soil, much sun, and hot weather. However, if you can successfully grow basil in your garden, you can add pesto regularly to your menu.
There is still a lack in every ornamental herb garden design if you don’t include any lavender on it. Besides, you have various choices since lavender comes in almost 40 species. These aromatic herbs are available on blue leaves, green leaves, and even gray leaves.
Their flowers vary in pink, white, purple, and blue makes your herb garden looks stand out with additional pop of color from the lavender flowers.
Lemon Verbena offers many benefits. These tall and flowering bush if well-grown look good in every herb garden. Their leaves produce a pleasant scent and these herbs can be used as ingredients for syrup cocktails and desserts. They can make a great floral arrangement too.
Lemon Verbena can be planted side by side with lemon balm since both of them can be used interchangeably in many recipes. A balm can add seasoning on meats, fish, and poultry whilst verbena enhances flavor on fruits and desserts.
Known to be easy-growing herbs, Parsley is rich in nutrients. Parsley packed with vitamins A, C, and K as well as folate. Not to mention phytonutrients content on it. They are often put as garnish in a variety of dishes.
Parsley plant can be yearly or two-yearly by looking at the climate of your living area.
Rosemary is a perfect herb to grow in a hot and dry garden. This plant has many varieties, from the shrub-like to the vine-like make it suitable to be added to every herb garden.
Growing Rosemary From Seed and people often grow rosemary on pots as well and place it in the area of the kitchen receiving ample sunny lights. Take a look at herb garden design ideas pictures to see how to add rosemary inside the house.
Sage is a perennial herb, evergreen shrub that often grows in a sunny dry spot. This herb is not only famous for its powerful healing properties but also its properties for culinary. Sage gives seasoning in any recipes containing poultry. People also like to consume sage as herbal tea.
Tarragon has sword-like leaves and its culinary properties make it is one of the ingredients for making various sauces.
When it comes to culinary choice, French tarragon substitutes Russian tarragon because it comes with coarser leaves and produces less flavor. Meanwhile, Russian tarragon serves as ornaments in any recipe or place as ground cover.
Thymes don’t come equally. French thyme becomes one of the common ingredients in many popular culinary recipes and usually raises in the pot and put in the kitchen.
Wooly thyme is similarly popular but it cultivates in the ground instead of in the kitchen. See herb garden design plans on how to plant thymes along with other plants in your garden.
Since planting herbs give many benefits to your daily needs, looking for inspirations for herb garden design will help you to know how you should grow these herbs and what kinds of herbs you actually need to plant in your herb garden.
The garden of the Mount Grace Priory cell is English Heritage’s best preserved example of monastic horticulture. It was replanted for the first time in 1994, following archaeological excavation of the cells. The excavations showed that the lay-out and use of each garden varied according to the inclination and interest of the individual monk.
The pattern of paths and beds in the garden was based on archaeological evidence, but it was uncertain which plants were used or how they may have been arranged in the beds. None of the recent planting was intended to be a restoration or reconstruction of the original garden. It instead was a demonstration of the kinds of plants that were grown in gardens at the time the monastery flourished.
Equipment, too, has changed how we tend to our gardens today. Monk’s tools would have been simple wooden and metal ards (like a small hand pulled plough) or mattocks rather than the mechanised marvels of today’s horticulture. Rather than a tractor, power for larger plots would have been provided by oxen.
Cell gardens as at Mount Grace Priory provided monks with the opportunity for manual labour within the confines of their own cell, which was a key part of the Carthusian ideal. As a hortus conclusus (enclosed garden) they also had biblical associations including the garden of the ‘Song of Solomon’, and alluded to the ‘original’ Garden of Eden, or to ‘Paradise’ itself. These spaces were not primarily for food production but had multiple functions of spirituality, health and utility. The mass of food for the monks came from much larger kitchen gardens, plots and farms elsewhere.
These cell gardens were strongly geometric in form, often compartmentalised (defining spaces for medicinal or poisonous species) and in the 15th century started to become decorative. This included a mix of medicinal and aromatic herbs, and flowering plants to lift the mind and spirit and to aid contemplation.
Sage (Salvia officinalis), which is grown at Mount Grace Priory today – Photo Isaac Wedin via Flickr/Creative Commons
Here we break down the typical day of a Carthusian monk to highlight the importance of their garden in daily life.
5:30 The monk would awake to the sound of a bell near their ear.
6:00 The church bell rings when the first service ‘prime’ is said, accompanied by a choir in the oratorium. This extends with prayer until 7:45.
7:45 Conventional Mass is held in church (on site). Churches in the period were lit with plants such as mullein (Verbascum thapsus) soaked in tallow. Underfoot sweet-scented bedstraw (Galium odoratum) was used to walk on when which, when dried, has a strong scent of new mown hay.
8:30 The monks would return to their cell to perform manual labour. This included tending to their gardens by watering their plants, cropping, harvesting and general maintenance.
10:00 The monks pray and fetch their dinner from the hatch: flavourings from herbs would have included rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), wild thyme (Thymus serpyllum), true lavender or English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), sage (Salvia officinalis), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), and saffron crocus (Crocus sativus). This was followed by solitary recreation, which may have involved a return to the garden.
11:30 Spiritual reading, study and more manual labour in the gardens.
14:30 Vespers (prayers) are said.
14:45 Return to church to sing Vespers.
16:00 Return to the cell for study.
16:30 Supper is eaten, often comprising eggs and salad with probably home-grown ingredients such as radish (Raphanus sativus), lettuce (Lactuca sativa ), and rampion bellflower (Campanula rapunculus). This is followed by a spiritual reading and examination of conscience known as the ‘Recollection’.
17:45 A bell sounds for de Beata (musical mass)
18:30 The monk retires to bed still wearing much of his habit as his sleep is relatively short.
23:30 The monk rises and says Matins (the monastic night-time liturgy).
23:45 The monk leaves his cell to go to sing Matins which is largely sung lit by lamps.
2:45 Return to the cell to finish the ‘day’ with Prime de Beata (a prayer) and to sleep he will rise again in three hours.
Reconstruction drawing of lay brother bringing food to a monk’s cell by Ivan Lapper © Historic England Photo Library
Clary sage (Salvia sclarea) by H. Zell (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0
Another member of the salvia family, Clary Sage was also known as ‘clear eye’ and ‘Oculus Christi’ (Eye of Christ) as its main use was as an eyewash, made by infusing sweet scented leaves in water.
It’s a biennial with purple-blue flower spikes from late spring to mid-summer and attracts honey-bees and other pollinators.
Medieval Castles, and to an even greater extent Monasteries, carried on an ancient tradition of garden design and intense horticultural techniques in Europe.
Gardens were funcional and included kitchen gardens, infirmary gardens, cemetery orchards, cloister garths and vineyards. Vegetable and herb gardens helped provide both alimentary and medicinal crops, which could be used to feed or treat the sick. Gardens were laid out in rectangular plots, with narrow paths between them to facilitate collection of yields. Often these beds were surrounded with wattle fencing to prevent animals from entry.
Monasteries might also have had a "green court," a plot of grass and trees where horses could graze, as well as a cellarer's garden or private gardens for obedientiaries, monks who held specific posts within the monastery.
In the kitchen gardens, fennel, cabbage, onion, garlic, leeks, radishes, and parnips might be grown, as well as peas, lentils and beans if space allowed for them.
Infirmary gardens could contain savory, costmary, fenugreek, rosemary, peppermint, rue, iris, sage, bergamot, mint, lovage, fennel and cumin, amongst other herbs.
A herber was a herb garden and pleasure garden. A Hortus Conclusus was an enclosed garden representing areligious allegory). A Pleasaunce was a large complex pleasure garden or park. The word paradise comes from a Persion word for a walled garden. The term was used by St. Gall to refer to an open court in monastery garden, where flowers to decorate the church were grown.
In the later Middle Ages, texts, art and literary works provide a picture of developments in garden design. Pietro Crescenzi, a Bolognese lawyer, wrote twelve volumes on the practical aspects of farming in the 13th century and they offer a description of medieval gardening practices. From his text we know that gardens were surrounded with stonewalls, thick hedging or fencing and incorporated trellises and arbors. They borrowed their form from the square or rectangular shape of the cloister and included square planting beds.
Grass was also first noted in the medieval garden. In the De Vegetabilibus of Albertus Magnus written around 1260, instructions are given for planting grass plots. Raised banks covered in turf called "Turf Seats" were constructed to provide seating in the garden. Fruit trees were prevalent and often grafted to produce new varieties of fruit. Gardens included a raised mound or mount to serve as a stage for viewing and planting beds were customarily elevated on raised platforms.
Medieval and particularly Renaissance gardening was heavily influenced by the writings of the ancient Greeks and Romans, notably Columella (On Agriculture), Varro (On Agriculture: Rerum rusticarum), Cato (On Agriculture: De re rustica), Palladius (On Husbandry), Pliny the Elder, Dioscorides Pedanius, of Anazarbos.(De Materia Medica)
While there isn't a clear delineation between gardens for pleasure and utilitarian gardens, orchards, etc. it's clear that some parts of some gardens were intended primarily to be a delight to the senses, and others for their end products.
"The kitchen or utilitarian garden, in contrast with the pleasure garden, contained food and medicinal plants as well as plants for strewing on floors, making hand waters, quelling insects and other household purposes."
Most every manor, abbey, and great estate would have utilitarian gardens, demesne farm fields, and perhaps woods and even vineyards or orchards in addition to some sort of pleasure garden.
One of the primary characteristics of the medieval garden was that, large or small, it was always enclosed by pole fences, hedges, banks and ditches, Stone, Brick , Wattle (a sort of basket work of willow withies, osiers, etc. woven around stakes in the ground.)
Albertus Magnus was a great admirer of lawns: "For the sight is in now way so pleasantly refreshed 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.
Beds could be raised or sunken:
"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, lead, sheep shank bones, or boards.
Sunken 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 to strongly follow the Roman pattern of square layouts and canals or streams running through the garden.)
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 fastened over a frame, as in this account of Hampton Court in 1599:
"There were all manner of shapes, men and women, half men and half horse, sirens, serving-maids with baskets, French lilies and delicate crenellations all round made from dry twigs 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 the walnut, were avoided in gardens, but fruit trees and other trees with a good smell or pleasant aspect 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: pollarding and coppicing. Both were and 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 possibly in hedging. Coppiced trees, such as beeches, were cut down at ground level or a little above, and the stumps allowed to sprout 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 and as the result of trees being cut back for electric and telephone lines.
There is evidence in the pictoral representations of plants in pots either outdoors or in the house. Gillyflowers in pots appear to have been especially popular in that period, both indoors and out. Potted plants and trees are depicted placed on top of grassy beds in gardens and entryways-- these may have been tender perennials or fruit trees.
Pots made of ceramic seem to have been the norm, usually in the familar 'Italian' flowerpot style, or in the shape of urns, with either wide tops or narrow. Plants are also pictured growing from wide-mouthed jugs or crocks. Woven baskets are shown being used to transport plants from one place to another.
Potting plants were used to extend the season, as well. Thomas Hill points out that you can start your cucumbers early if you plant them out in pots, leaving them out all day in warm weather and moving them into a warm shed at night.
The Gardiner which would possesse Cucumbers timely and very soone, yea and all the yeare through, ought (after the minde of the Neopolitane [Rutilius?]) in the beginning of the the spring, to fill up old worne baskets and earthen pans without bottomes, with fine sifted earth tempered afore with fat dung, and to moisten somewhat the earth with water, after the seeds bestowed in theses, which done when warme and sunnie daies succeede, or a gentle raine falling, the baskets or pans with the plants, are then to be set abroad, to be strengthened and cherished by the sun and small showres but the evening approching, these in all the cold season ought to be set under some warm cover or house in the ground, to be defended from the frosts and cold aire, which thus standing under a cover, or in the warme house, moisten gently with water sundry times, and these on such wise handle, untill all the Frosts, Tempests, and cold aire be past, as commonly the same ceaseth not with us, till abut the middest of May.
After these, when opportunity or an apt day serveth the Gardener shall bestow the Baskets or Pannes unto the brimme, or deeper in the earth, well laboured or trimmed before, with the rest of the diligenceto be exercised, as before uttered which done, the Gardener shall enjoy very forward and timelier Cowcumbers than any others.
This matter may be compassed, both easier, in shorter time, and with lesser travell, if the owner, after the cutting of the waste branches, doth set them in well labored beds, for these in far shorter time and speedier, doe yeeld faire Cucumbers.
The one thing I think necessary to be learned, for the avoiding of the daily labour and paines, in the setting abroad and carrying into the house, either halfe tubs, baskets, or earthen bannes, which on this wise by greater facility may be done, if so be the Gardener bestwo the vessells with the plants in Wheel-barrowes, or such like with Wheeles for these, to mens reason, causeth marvellous easiness, doth in the bestowing abroad, and carrying againe into the warme house, as often as need shall require.
The young plants may be defended from cold and boisterous windes, yea, frosts, the cold aire, and hot Sunne, if Glasses made for the onely purpose, be set over them, which on such wise bestowed on the beds, yeelded in a manner to Tiberius Caesar, Cucumbers all the year, in which he took great delight, as after the worthy Columella, the learned Plinie hath committed the same to memory, which every day obtained the like, as he writeth."
Tender perennials and Mediterranean trees such as the orange, bay and pomegranate were sometimes managed this way in Northern Europe during the Renaissance, raised in tubs and brought into a shed, sometimes a heated shed, in the winter. Le Menagier says to bring violets inside in pots for the winter.
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 and then the other half of the bed."
"We can deduce that the minimum bed and path width would 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."
Parkinson suggests that beds be edged with lead "cut to the breadth of foure fingers, bowing the lower edge a little outward," or "oaken inch boards four or five inches broad," or shank bones of sheep, or tiles, or "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 aregular pattern, either windowpane check or checkerboard. The fashion of putting a central circular feature with semi-rectangular beds with their corners cut out appears, according to Roy Strong, to have been introduced after 1600.
Turfed seats were a major feature of 'gardens of pleasure'. Marble or stone seats also appear. One illustration shows a portable wooden bench.
Turfed seats, also called excedra, were generally built along the lines of slightly higher raised beds, the outer wals constructed with wood planks, bricks or wattles, though some illustrations show the benches with sod sides as well. Often 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 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.
Markham's English Husbandman is very emphatic about the need for a water source in a garden. The 14-16th century gardens we have depictions of generally include a water feature. They were generally surrounded by a lawn, rather than a planting of any sort.
Springs were popular, often opening into a square pool or trough from which water could be drawn or washing done. Springheads and streams could supply pools for drinking from, washing in, or even keeping fish in. Though the most popular presentation of outside bathing is Bathsheba, other illustrations show outside bathing in houses of ill repute also.
Big ornate fountains with statuary became popular in the Renaissance. Fountains were powered by hydraulics, either water from a springhead or stream, or water piped in via aqueduct. A stream might run through or around a 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 its fountains.)
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 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 lions' heads or grotesques decorating the column were commonplace." (p. 152).
Statuary does not appear to have been a major part of early medieval gardens, except in the cases of fountains, and in abbeys, elaborate fountain-type handwashing arrangements. In the Renaissance, interest in statuary, specifically Greek and Roman statuary, boomed. From "museum" gardens designed to display and highlight one's collection of Greek and Roman statues (or copies thereof), the idea of statues as focal points for gardens and grottos took hold.
Generally, statues were in the form of people (Greek, Roman, or Christian characters), mythical animals, or birds, horses, and occasional putti (cherubim types), medusas, or heraldic beasts on the walls seem to be typical. River gods, water nymphs, goddesses with or without fountain outlets in their bosoms, children pouring water from jars, muses, mountain giants, were all popular as statuary and fountains in the last part of the 16th century. Many major English gardens from the Elizabethan period had references to Elizabeth as Diana or Cybele, or as the Rose.
Hampton Court, one of Henry VIII of England's principal seats, was enlivened by sundials and "The Kinges bestes made to be sett vp in the privie orchard . . . vij of the Kinges Bestes. That is to say ij dragons, ij greyhounds, i lyon, i horse and i Antylope . . ." (1531 household accounts, quoted by R. Strong). This fashion of having heraldic beasts carved out of wood and set up on poles in your garden seems to have spread somewhat, as the beasts appear in other places there were also topiary beasts appearing in gardens of the period. These beasts might be painted in heraldic colors or gilded, either on appropriate parts or all over.
Eating out of doors in summer was apparently quite popular special banqueting houses were created. Some were very odd, such as the 'Mouth of Hell' cavern in an Italian Renaissance garden, and another one constructed on a platform built on the branches of an enormous linden tree. No major landowners pleasure park was complete without one.
Artificial caves cut into a hillside, or in a walled building, generally with fountains, hydraulic toys, statuary, carvings and/or paintings were the mode at the very end of period, a trend that continued into the seventeenth and 18th centuries.
Labyrinths, in which one cannot get lost, seem to have been more popular in period than Mazes. Copying the fashion in Roman tiles (and perhaps a Roman boys' exercise), big festival or game labyrinths were made of cut turf in some places by the sixteenth century, the inclusion of a labyrinth laid out with herbs and small shrubs seems to have been one way to use up space in a big garden.
"Hyssop, thyme, and cotton lavender, which were used in the early mazes, are small-- the grow, at the most, knee-high. Mazes made with these are therefore to be surveyed as well as walked in. Their color should be remembered, with box and yew also recommended: these were invaluable as evergreens. . Charles Estienne in his Agriculture et Maison Rustique recommends. . . 'and one bed of camomile to make seats and labyrinths, which they call Daedalus.' In the first English version of this work, translated by Richard Surflet in 1600. . .'these sweet herbes . . . some of them upon seats, and others in mazes made for the pleasing and recreating of the sight.'" Thacker, The History of Gardens.
Knotwork and Parterres (Embroidery-work) apparently began to be fashionable in the early 1500's, though its heyday was in the 1600's. Knots or pattern-work laid out in plants and/or colored stones, usually in blocks of four -- at first generally mirrored both horizontally and vertically, then, later, mirrored only along one axis and even only broken into 2. Markham gives instructions for laying out your knots. (Some knots included spots for the inclusion of the owner's heraldry, etc.)
In 1599, a observer's account of some partierres at Hampton Court (quoted by R. Strong, p. 33):
"By the entrance I noticed numerous patches where square cavities had been scooped out, as for paving stones some of these were filled with red brick-dust, some with white sand, and some with green lawn, very much resembling a chessboard."
Elaborate, embroidery work 'partierres" were a feature of gardens in the late 1600s and early 1700s.
Major manor gardens of the latter part of the 16th century often sited the gardens so that they could be seen from the owner's principal private quarters royalty might have two gardens, one for the king and one for the queen.
Hugh Platt, in Floraes Paradise (1608) advocated what Campbell (Charleston Kedding) calls "Sun-entrapping fruit walls, concave, niched, or alcoved . . . He suggesed lining concave walls with lead or tin plates, or pieces of glas, which would reflect the sun's heat back onto the fruit trees. He also considered warming the walls with the backs of kitchen chimneys."
Campbell also gives a good description of period references to hotbeds in Moorish agricultural manuals, in De Crescenzi, and in Thomas Hill. These hot beds were constructed by putting fresh dung in a pit and either putting soil over it and planting in the soil, covering over the plants with a shelter in inclement weather.
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 pease, beans, etc.
"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, (Stroud: Sutton Publishing, 1998), p 94.
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 separate plots for each person to work.
Description of the grounds of the Cistercian Abbey of Clairvaux in the 12th century:
"Within the enclosure of this wall stand many and various trees, prolific in bearing fruit. It resembles a wood, and since it is near the cell of the sick brethren, 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 presents itself to the infirm brethren 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)
Carole Rawcliffe, in an article on Hospital Nurses and their Work, notes that hospitals and infirmaries had gardens that not only had practical function but also "contributed in less immediately obvious ways to the holistic therapy characteristic 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 undertaken by women. Since it was such a large and affluent institution, the Savoy 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 this hospital.' These were used in cooking, for the preparation of medicines and medicinal baths and for other 'health giving purposes' which probably included the production of scented candles and fumigants for dispelling 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 segregated quarters . . . which gave access to their own garden. Elderly corrodians, such as Joan Lunde, who lived in a 'celle sett yn the sauthe part of the [in]ffermory' of St. Giles' Hospital, Beverly, were anxious to secure such a source of 'greate yerthely comfort'. In 1500-1 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 English almshouses, such as those at Ewleme and Arundel, were expected to weed and tidy precinct 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.
Castles and manors often had gardens of pleasure for walking in, with seats, private nooks screened from the wind for sitting, flowery meads for sitting and/or playing games. We see many of these in pictures of young ladies and pictures of the Virgin and Child.
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, etc. was extreme they also attempted to spotlight (or create, if necessary) Etruscan 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 its outer edges and through 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 perfumed 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 this 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 overflowed. . . ran out of the lawn by some hidden way where it reappeared again in cunningly made little channels which surrounded the lawn."
Parks often included multiple structures, many water features, and, at least according to Crescenzi, were stocked with wild beasts. The large gardens at Woodstock, perhaps orginally made for Henry II's light'o'love Rosamund, and suspected by at least one author to have been made imitation of those in the romance of Tristan and Iseult, are an example.
"Castles, manors and great monastic establishments would have both small herbers for useful and decorative plants and also grander enclosed areas in which walks could be shaded by trees and where there were artificial pools for fish as well as natural streams. . . Geoffrey de Montbray. . . came back to Normandy to sow acorns and grow oaks, beeches and other forest trees inside a park enclosed by a double ditch and a palisade" (Hobhouse)
The park at Hesdin, northern France, created in 1288, included:
"a menagerie, aviaries, fishponds, beautiful orchards, an enclosed garden named Le Petit Paradis, and facilities for tournaments. The guests were beckoned across a bridge by animated rope-operated monkey statutes (kitted up each year with fresh badger-fur coats) to a banqueting pavilion which was set amongst pools." (Landsberg, p. 22)
Compare this prescription from Crescenzi:
"Of the gardens of royal personages and powerful and wealthy lords. And inasmuch as wealthy persons can by their riches and power obtain such things as please them and need only science and art to create all they desire. For them, therefore, let a great meadow be chosen, arranged, and ordered, as here shall be directed. Let it be a place where the pleasant winds blow and where there are fountains of waters it should be twenty 'Journaux' or more in size according to the will of the Lord and it should be enclosed with lofty walls. Let there be in some part a wood of divers trees where the wild beasts may find a refuge. In another part let there be a costly pavilion where the king and his queen or the lord and lady may dwell, when they wish to escape from wearisome occupations and where they may solace themselves."
"Let there be shade and let the windows of the pavilion look out upon the garden but not exposed to the burning rays of the sun. Let fish-pools be made and divers fishes placed therein. Let there also be hares, rabbits, deer and such-like wild animals that are not beasts of prey. And in the trees near the pavilion let great cages be made and therein place partridges, nightingales, blackbirds, linnets, and all manner of singing birds. Let all be arranged so that the beasts and the birds may easily be seen from the pavilion. Let there also be made a pavilion with rooms and towers wholly made of trees. вЂќ
Petrus Crescentiis, Opus Ruralium Commodorum. 1305.
Orchard trees that give fruit (apples, pears, plums) tender perennials such as bay, orange, pomegranate in the south and later in period, Olives and date palms in the south. Nut trees such as chestnut and almond. Pine and Cypress. Of non-fruiting trees, linden or lime trees were popular in northern Europe William Stephen in 1180 mentions elms, oaks, ash, and willow "along watercourses and to make shady walks" (says Hobhouse) the Roman de la Rose also mentions fir, and oriental plane trees. Crescenzi says:
"Trees are to be planted in their rows, pears, apples, and palms, and in warm places, lemons. Again mulberries, cherries, plums, and such noble trees as figs, nuts, almonds, quinces, and such-like, each according to their kinds, but spaced twenty feet apart more or less."
He also suggests box, broom, cypress, dogwood, laburnum, rosemary, eonymous or spindle and tamarisk.
Albertus Magnus recommended:
"every sweet smelling herb such as rue, and sage and basil, and likewise all sorts of flowers, as the violet, the columbine, lily, rose, iris and the like. . . sweet trees, with perfumed flowers and agreeable shade, like grapevines, pears, apples, pomegranates, sweet bay trees, cypresses and such like."
He also suggested a lawn, a bench of flowering turf, seats in the center of the garden, and a fountain.
A collected Albertus Magnus quote (John Harvey's translation):
"There are, however, some places of no great utility or fruitfulness. . . these are what are called pleasure gardens. They are in fact mainly designed for the delight of the two senses, viz. sight and smell. . .[about the lawn] may be planted every sweet smelling herb such as rue, and sage and basil, and likewise all sorts of flowers, as the violet, the columbine, lily, rose, iris and the like. So that between these herbs and the turf, at the edge of the lawn set square, let therebe a higher bench of turf flowering and lovely and somewhere in the middle provide seats so that men may sit down there to take their repose pleasurably when their senses need refreshment. Upon the lawn, too, against the heat of the sun, trees should be planted or vines trained, so that the lawn may have a delightful and cooling shade, sheltered by their leaves. For from theses trees shade is more sought after than fruit, so that not much trouble should be taken to dig about to manure them, for this might cause great damage to the turf. Care should also be taken that the trees are not too close together or too numerous, for cutting off the breeze may do harm to health. . . the trees should not be bitter ones whose shade gives rise to diseases, such as the walnut and some others but let them be sweet trees, with perfumed flowers and agreeable shade, like grapevines, pears, apples, pomegranates, sweet bay trees, cypresses and such like."
Over 15 million households in the United States grow herbs--in vegetable and perennials gardens, in containers, or on windowsills. And with good reason! In addition to their obvious role in cooking, herbs are also attractive and add color, interesting textures and forms, and rich or subtle fragrances to the home and garden.
The most popular use for herbs is in cooking, and nearly every recipe can be enhanced with the addition of appropriate herbs. Can you imagine tomato sauce without oregano? Thanksgiving stuffing without sage? Some dishes are defined by the herbs they contain--pesto without basil just isn't pesto!
Herbs have many other uses as well. Many types make wonderful teas, either as individuals or combined in blends. Chamomile makes a soothing tea for unwinding after a hard day. Bee balm (Monarda) makes a tangy tea with citrus overtones. And in addition to being tasty, mint teas aid in digestion.
Many herbs are also believed to have medicinal properties. The echinacea that has become popular as a cold remedy is extracted from the purple coneflower, a common garden perennial.
Of course many gardeners grow herbs simply because they are attractive and durable plants. Bee balm not only makes a tasty tea, it is also a reliable perennial with lovely red, pink, or white flowers. And chamomile's daisly-like blooms brighten up any sunny border.
Plant herbs where you can get to them easily for frequent harvesting, especially if you plan to use them in cooking. Consider planting a special kitchen garden near the house, so you can readily harvest herbs, greens, and other frequently-used crops. You can also grow herbs in containers or even window boxes.
Most herbs prefer full sun--at least 6 hours per day. Herbs that will tolerate some light shade include chives, cilantro, dill, and mint. Remember that if you plant perennial herbs in the vegetable garden, keep them in a separate section so you'll be sure to avoid them during spring and fall tilling.
Like all garden plants, herbs can be categorized as annual, perennial, or biennial. Annual plants grow for only one season and so must be planted each spring. Perennials live for several years. Their foliage dies back in the fall, but the roots overwinter and resume growth the following spring. And biennials grow for two years, growing foliage the first season, overwintering, then forming seeds and dying back at the end of the second season.
*These are not all hardy in all regions of the country. Check zone ratings.
Parsley is one of the few common herbs that is a biennial. However, unless you want to harvest the seed, you can treat it like an annual and plant new plants each season.
In general, herbs prefer a moderately rich soil. An overly rich soil (or excessive fertilizing) can lead to vigorous growth. However, many people find that the flavor of overfertilized herbs is bland, probably due to reduced essential oil content.
The soil in your herb garden should have excellent drainage. If yours doesn't, consider growing your herbs in raised beds or containers.
Caring for Herb Plants
Most herbs will thrive with about an inch of water a week, similar to other vegetable plants. Herbs in raised beds and containers will dry out more quickly than those planted directly in the garden and may need more frequent watering. Keep garden beds weeded, especially early in the season as plants are getting established.
Once established, most herb plants are remarkably resistant to insect and disease attack. The oils that give them their aroma and flavor likely evolve to repel pests. However, keep an eye out for insects such as aphids, and diseases such as powdery mildew.
Harvest herbs by cutting back a shoot to just above a leaf. This will both provide you with a harvest and encourage nice, bushy growth.
In general, an herb's flavor is most prounounced when it is harvested just before the plant begins to flower.