come help me dream! (a medieval garden)

Discussion in 'Gardening' started by homeschoolmama, Feb 12, 2009.

  1. homeschoolmama

    homeschoolmama Senior Member

    My husband & I have discussed this many times, and once we finally have our own yard we would really like to create a medieval garden. Is anyone else interested in really old plants - or gardens? I've gone over hundreds of sites over the past few years, and have boiled my ideas into a rough "concept." Our idea is to create multiple raised beds, one per year, until our entire area is finished... which we're guessing will take about 10 years.

    Some of the plants on my lists are rather... unknown to me however. Does anyone know anything about any of the less-familiar plants on our lists? Or, has anyone actually SEEN a medieval or recreated garden & knows that we're missing something essential? Here are my notes - as of right now.

    Medieval Gardens

    In doing a bit of research in monastic versus medieval gardens, I think I can safely say that what I want is a medieval – and NOT a monastic garden. The plantings are only a tiny bit different, but we would have no use for a cloister (or meditation) garden in our yard, and that would be an absolutely essential part of a monastic garden. This is my compilation of the most-often seen parts of a medieval garden as well as a heavily edited list of possible plantings.

    Medieval gardens were laid out as raised symmetrical groupings of small beds. While these beds became larger & fancy in shape during Renaissance & later years, the medieval garden almost always contained square or rectangular beds. The raised beds were created in MANY different ways so we’re free to do it literally however we choose & can afford, but they were ALWAYS raised! They were also always created with walking paths between the beds so that the soil was never “trod upon” and were narrow enough that the plants could be tended by reaching in from the sides of the beds. So our square-foot method is ideal.

    Medieval gardens were ALWAYS surrounded in one way or another. This could be by stone walls, brick, fencing, (wattle-style fence seems to be shown most-often) brambly fruit hedges or by the walls of an actual building. For us, I think that fencing or perhaps using fruit/rose bushes & butting one end up against the side/back of our garage will end up being the most practical & affordable.

    Medieval gardens were separated not by type of plant, but by the plants’ uses. There was:
     The orchard – where fruit trees were grown
     The herber/physic garden – where herbs for medicinal & household purposes were grown
     The kitchen garden – where edible herbs, fruits & vegetables were grown
     And the pleasure garden – a wide-open space, for leisure activities
    (which by it’s nature would be the entire rest of our backyard)
    Often these were divided even further, with a “sallet” garden being separated from the other vegetables, and the herbs being divided into kitchen seasoning, aromatic, cleaning, dyeing & medicinal beds but these four separations are a constant.

    Other things that were ALWAYS a part of a medieval garden are:
     a well or fountain for irrigation, hand-washing, or getting a cool drink
     flowers scattered throughout - to look at as WELL as for their medicinal/edible purposes
     turf-seats or other places to sit & enjoy the garden (in manors & castles, NOT peasant gardens)
     trellises and/or arbors for vining plants & grapes
     walking paths of grass, brick or stone between the raised beds
     pots! Most pictures have at least a few potted plants in the corners & such… supposedly for some of the more delicate or invasive plants. Earthenware pots & woven baskets are cited for this use.

    And now we get to the actual plantings… I’ve sorted out quite a few of the herbs because of my allergies & sensitivities, and a few of the vegetables we would never eat anyway – like asparagus to eliminate “wasted” food & plant-space. The questions now become:
     Which of these do we want to plant?
     Which CAN we plant, given our growing-zone & a lack of motivation towards “tender” plants?
     How MANY of these do we want to plant?
     How specifically do we want to lay the garden-beds out?
     And of course how big do we want to make the garden?
    I am still hunting for new plants to consider, and researching the care of specific “wortes” and herbs to be sure that nothing toxic or likely to cause an allergic reaction is chosen, but so far this is what I have come up with.

    Known Medieval Vegetables (with the yukky vegetables removed)

     Beans - broadbeans, such as fava (the most common)
     Broccoli/Cauliflower
     Carrots - not modern orange ones but a smaller variety, either red or white
     Garden Cress - a garden plant, considered a worte, or sallet-plant (I would like to choose 2-3 wortes, but not ALL that are listed!)
     Cucumbers - considered a "moist" fruit and treated differently than dry vegetables
     Garlic - used in many recipes, and a staple in Medieval cooking
     Green onions - used in many recipes, scallions, & green onions were sometimes referred to as "porrettes."
     Lettuce - leafy varieties, such as Romaine, etc. NEVER use iceberg/head lettuce. Lettuce was a “worte”
     Onions & Leeks - used extensively in Medieval cooking
     Parsley
     Parsnips (I would like to consider these OR turnips… but not BOTH!)
     Peas - eaten in AND out of their pods, one of the most common of Medieval vegetables
     Purslane (yet another worte)
     Radishes
     Sorrel (wortes again)
     Spinach (yep, still another worte)
     Squash - sometimes referred to as vegetable marrows
     Turnips - a common root vegetable, the greens were also very popular.
    *** NEVER, NEVER, NEVER: Potatoes; Green Beans; Red, Green, & Yellow Peppers; or Tomatoes!
    (this is where we may need to “give” a little on historical accuracy, or create a small separate bed elsewhere, because every one of these are things I WANT to plant!)

    Known Medieval Fruits (that we may be able to grow)

     Apples
     Apricot
     Blackberries/Raspberries/Blueberries/Gooseberries/Strawberries (truly ANY berry - though strawberries are mentioned most often, while others are cited as also being picked wild)
     Cantaloupe/Watermelon
     Cherry
     Grapes
     Lemons (Meyer – would be a potted plant that winters indoors, but this was “done” in manors & castles)
     Pears
     Plum
     Quince (the more I read about this, the more convinced I am that we need to try this… and give it due consideration)

    Known Medieval Herbs (with toxic, possibly dangerous or allergy-prone ones removed)
    Dandelion (in a pot for containment?)
    Marsh Mallow (near the fountain?)
    Roses (for hips) Rosa canina, Rosa gallica, Rosa alba, or Rosa damascena
    Sweet Marjoram
  2. homeschoolmama

    homeschoolmama Senior Member

    This is a quick-peek at roughly what we're considering for a layout...

    Total dimensions are 40' long by 20' wide, but actual planting-beds come to just over 1/4 of that area.

  3. Lynnbrown

    Lynnbrown Firecracker

    All of that looks so well thought out and researched, hsm! I'm impressed.
    I've got a question though - they didn't ever have any of those you mentioned under "Never, Never, Never"? Not even tomatoes or potatoes?
    I guess I was just really surprised to see that. :)
  4. homeschoolmama

    homeschoolmama Senior Member

    Aww, thank you!

    Tomatoes and potatoes are part of the "nightshade" family, and were thought to be poisonous until the Victorian era. So no, they ate no tomatoes. Potatoes were a bit different... the Irish consumed them & they began spread to other Celtic areas, but that wasn't until the mid-17th century, so again they wouldn't have been found in a medieval garden.
  5. gardener

    gardener Realistic Humanist

    Isn't Ginger a tropical?
  6. homeschoolmama

    homeschoolmama Senior Member

    Yeah, ginger's a tropical. Dunno how I missed that. (sigh) Must've been wishful thinking. I've also just learned that fava beans... and in fact ALL of the broadbeans are not recommended for those prone to migraine. So no beans either.

    Oh well, I'm learning all sorts of goodies about "wortes" and parsnips!
  7. nananie

    nananie Member

    what a wonderfull topic, i basicly dont have anything to add right now because i was more into plants from even prehistoric times and i only have info about dutch stuff... i could have a look if i can find some more about medieval stuff!!

    Anyway have a question, where did YOU find all your stuff?? i wold realy like to know more about it because it is just nice to have some oldfashioned vegetables around because i think they jus grow better in original surroundings and stuff like that. other then that i love medieval times ;)
  8. homeschoolmama

    homeschoolmama Senior Member

    Well, let me see. I believe I started considering this about 4 years ago, after reading a book about kitchen gardens, that began with a short chapter concerning the history of gardening. In there, gardens of every type were discussed... but the concept of small, easily-workable plots divided by use was mentioned as a medieval "invention" and interested me. Between my tiny yard & general disdain towards weeding, I prefer the square-foot method with it's tiny raised beds already, and this seemed a nice way to combine my gardening needs with my personal interests in medieval & renaissance history... as well as to landscape my yard all at the same time!

    Most of my "research" comes from reading other peoples' books, research notes & compilations on the subject. What I haven't gotten from there, I have gleaned from the historical sections in gardening books, (where they list when & where a plant originated) lists & poems of herbs, medieval cookbooks & accounts of feast menus, and from literally thousands of medieval artwork examples. A picture of a medieval picnic is very pretty to look at, but if you look closely you can see what they were eating, and what plants were pictured in the area surrounding them. Likewise, a poem about love could easily discuss several herbs or foods used in the wooing of ones' sweetheart.

    There are also a few dozen (that I am aware of) sites throughout Europe & the US that have already recreated medieval gardens, and several of these have online sites where you can "spy" on what they have done - for inspiration. Also, there are monasteries that maintain the same gardens that have been in existence for hundreds of years, and the medieval monastic gardens are VERY similar in style & plantings, as the typical household garden from that time. So a bit of my research also began as a "quest" for information on monastic gardening. My mother is a Master Gardener, and she recently visited England & brought back pictures, descriptions & lists of plantings from a few medieval gardens that have been painstakingly researched, and that helped answer a few questions I still had... but most of what I've found is through books & the internet.

    For information on specific herbs or plants, I have had to research them individually. Because of multiple allergies & food sensitivities, I need to search "contraindications" for each plant to be considered. It can take a dozen or so sites to find the information I need to determine whether a plant is "safe" or "unsafe," but better that than an allergic reaction - or worse.

    A very nice starting-place if you are interested, would be THIS website. There you will find ancient authors & specific books to hunt up, basic descriptions & common concepts found in various types of garden, as well as a LONG list of suggested plantings!

    Good luck! It's been a lot of fun planning this, and I can't WAIT to actually start putting everything together!
  9. gardener

    gardener Realistic Humanist

    Are you being strictly true to the medieval premise and forgoing all newer hybrids of the plants you have listed? Are you sure you will be able to find true forms of the older plants? Even without human intervention most plants go through evolution and corruption (natural crossbreeding and sporting) over time.
  10. homeschoolmama

    homeschoolmama Senior Member

    I'm going to do my best. Some plants will be easier than others - I can get cuttings from a few roses that were started from cuttings of original monastery-gardens, and there are heirloom veggies... so we'll be able to choose the "most authentic looking" ones we can find. Budget is going to have to be a factor here, much to my chagrin. We're just not millionaires so I can only go so far with authenticity. It'll be a theme-garden and will be the best that we can muster, but not everything will be 100% accurate - like those carrots, I'm having a tough time finding a place with seeds for red carrots that aren't "new."

    And anyone that questions the zucchini tucked into the corners of my beds (they WERE around in Italy & possibly southern France - just not the parts of medieval Europe that MOST of my garden will mimic) is gonna get a veggie-club to the noggin! I want my zucchini, so nyah! ;)
  11. dilligaf

    dilligaf Banned

    try seed savers for the red carrots... although to get many of the seeds they have you must join to be privy to buy them or trade them.. They have thousands of very old varieties of plants that are not available in the catalog
  12. Mom, so cool! I've been googling about something called ORMUS (metals in non-metallic state that are healthful for gardens and people, etc.) as per this link: and this that shows ORMUS-grown fruits and vegetables compared to normal ones: which has led me to some modern-day ALCHEMISTS (on the web) 'cause ORMUS includes GOLD in a non-metallic state, and alchemists were always tryin' to make that GOLD, so we hear down the years ... anyway, how Medieval is alchemy?? ... ... these modern-day alchemists are actually out there in their gardens collecting dew 'cause dew maybe has more ORMUS in it than regular water or rainwater ... anyway, your Medieval garden idea sounds delightful. BTW, this post made better sense divided into paragraphs! ... but upon looking at it as it actually posts, all the paragraphs are condensed into one long post which doesn't work nearly as well. Probably 'cause of NoScript protection on my computer. Sorry.
  13. gardener

    gardener Realistic Humanist

    Careful with heavy metals they may be detrimental to your health. I would think twice about ingesting fruit or veggies grown on land mulched with iron or lead shavings.
  14. homeschoolmama

    homeschoolmama Senior Member

    Thanks Dill! I think I'm gonna have to check out seedsavers pretty soon... they keep coming up, and have been on "my list" for years now.

    I did find a red (and purple - heehee I may try those THIS year!) carrot through Heirloom Acres, and a lovely ghost-white carrot at Victory Seeds though I think I want to stick with red so they add color-variety when cooked with parsnips.

    I am just a bit wary of gardening with metals... I have a severe metal sensitivity to ALL metals except platinum. It sounds cool... but maybe not for me.
  15. Well ... if ya READ the article, ORMUS is not metallic metal.
    sheesh:banghead: :toetap05: oh well (sigh!) :willy_nilly: it's been a LOT on my mind lately. And the alchemical-side of it just connected into this Medieval Garden idea (for me) ... But on the other hand, now is more the time to be starting planting!! I just found out, here in Arkansas, it's already LATE for planting parsnips.
  16. nananie

    nananie Member

    you might find this link useful altough the plantnames are only in latin and a dtuch translation. what is described is plants that where known in holland in different times fromout before prehistoric times untill now. Oke i say now holland, but i think some of them could also be applicated in later times. i dont know if it is usefull but let me know!

    here is a translation of the codes in english because dutch might be a bit hard...
    I = Native, U = not native, C = brought in culture, W = not brought in culture
    VST = early Stone age, MST = middle Stone age, LST = Late Stone age, BRO = Bronzeage, IJZ = Ironage, ROM = Roman times, VMI = early medieval times, LMI = Late Medieval times, NIE = New time
  17. goldilocs

    goldilocs Member

  18. ForestNymphe

    ForestNymphe Lifetime Supporter Lifetime Supporter

    What a beautiful and ambitious project! I do hope you will keep us all updated on the progress of your beautiful garden.

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