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  • Writer's picturePayton Tilley

A Simple Look Into Medieval Gardens

Updated: Apr 11

Spring has sprung and this is when plant lovers and gardeners are puffing out their chest, flexing their green thumbs and placing their knees in the dirt to begin gardens. Even in medieval England, this was the time to begin thinking of gardening. I want to discuss two types: medieval pleasure gardens and medieval herb/vegetable gardens.


First up, the herb or vegetable garden of the common folk. (the villeins and freeman) For it did not matter if you lived in the English countryside or even a town, medieval people always had a plot of ground if they could, and that plot of ground was cultivated and nurtured. Often herb gardens and vegetable gardens were planted in rows or raised beds.


In a nonfiction book titled, The Medieval Home Companion, Tania Bayard revives an old translation of the medieval manuscript Le Ménagier de Paris (1393). In which, even if in France and not England, we are told this:


“Sow, plant or graft in damp weather, at the waning of the moon,

and in the evening or early morning before the heat of the sun.”




Rainy weather was–and is–very common in medieval England and there were particular instructions on how and when to plant based on rain and the moon. (trees and vines were encouraged to be planted at the waning of the moon) Further in The Medieval Home Companion, the author, who is an elderly gent writing to teach his new younger wife, tells us to never water the leaves of any plant, but only ever the base and earth around the plants in the garden. Also, we are instructed by manuscripts that soil fertilized by cow and sheep dung is better than that fertilized by horse dung.


In the medieval vegetable garden, gardens could also be referred to as allotments or plots for herbs. And most people either simply grew vegetables or herbs, making the name quite fitting. If a farmer, one would have their vegetables planted in small raised rows or different variants in selected areas to easily pluck and eat, or use in cooking. And even if you were a townsmen or townswoman you would have a small area outback to grow your own items, such as leeks or thyme if you had the room.


So, what did they grow? Quite a lot and I shall endeavor to break it down by month as best as possible, but remember people grew what they had or could afford, or liked, just as we do.


January/February ~


Sage, lavender, costmary (a herb usually mixed with lavender) and mint. Poppies should be sowed at the waning of the moon up till May.


March ~


Raspberries were to be planted as well as beets. Violets and gilly flowers too.


April/May ~


Time to plant the green vegetables for June and July! This included white cabbage, beans, turnips and radishes. (one was to cut them in the summer, leaving the roots)


August ~


Hyssop


After September ~

Time for peonies, dragonwort, lily bulbs, rose bushes and gooseberry. Peas were

usually sown in October and it’s important to note that they were to go in “finger deep”.

Some other important vegetables to make note of that shine in How to Survive in Medieval England and The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England are as follows:


  • -  Parsnips

  • -  Wild carrots

  • -  Pot-herbs (onions)

  • -  Thyme

  • -  Garlic

  • -  Leeks

  • -  Apples

  • -  Grapes

  • -  Gourds

  • -  Lettuce

  • -  Parsley

  • -  Fennel

One could find some of these, or a select few, in a simple rowed garden. Gardens were so important to medieval people, even if one lived in town. Let me put it this way, don’t we prefer something fresh from our own garden verses going to the grocery store? That’s exactly how medieval men and women felt. In large towns and cities, such as London, markets were most peoples only source of vegetables and herbs, which meant it wasn’t as fresh.


Now, the medieval pleasure garden that we see so often in movies or cultivated in castles, manors or monasteries today. Pleasure gardens were obviously not for most medieval people but they existed in all their bliss with trellis and fountains, sometimes even tiled areas stretching as a path through the grounds for the nobles. Pleasure gardens date back to the Romans and even further through surviving depictions as far back as 1500 bc. Pleasure gardens bloomed in the high - or late - Middle Ages but were utilized in England before then in some places as well. Yet, thanks to the Crusades of the 12/13 centuries, it began to boom and interest skyrocketed.




A trellis is one of the most recognized aspects of a medieval pleasure garden, as the arches supported plants and vines around the garden in a decorative form. Sometimes even the form of a cathedral. The garden may also boast divided walls that had decorative windows and doorways throughout it. Fountains also were placed inside in particular spots to give sound and further bliss for strolling nobility.



Naturally, herbs and flowers laced the area and outskirts of these pleasure gardens, leaving the sense of sight and smell satisfied to the full extent. There are also depictions, illuminations and manuscripts that mention benches made of stone or wood situated throughout the garden for guests and lovers to break their stroll, but also tables that matched. There are also mentions of tile being placed to guide within the garden and large swaths of grass to be sat upon for feasts or activities under shaded trees.


Medieval herb gardens, vegetable gardens and pleasure gardens shaped so much of life for people in the medieval ages in England-around the world. Next time you find your hands caked in moist earth, think back to our ancestors years ago and how they lived off and enjoyed the land just as we still do. Just a little different . . .




Bibliography:


Bayard, Tania. 1991. A Medieval Home Companion. New York: HarperCollins Publishers


Mount, Yoni. 2021. How to Survive in Medieval England. Philadelphia: Pen & Sword Books Ltd


Mortimer, Ian. 2008. A Time Travelers Guide to Medieval England. New York: Simon & Schuster


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