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OE wyrtig, adj: Garden-like, full of plants;
On anum wyrtige hamme, Homl. Skt. ii. 30:312




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Castle and manor gardens

Medieval Garden

Gardinum - The kitchen garden

Herbarium - Originally a small garden containing flowers and herbs; later usually a physic garden of medicinal herbs. By 1300s, the term referred most often to an ornamental garden planted with an eye to being viewed from above, from the second story of a home or from a viewing mount. By the 1400s, many an ornamental garden had evolved into a knot garden like that shown above.

Herber - A square or oblong garden, often enclosed by walls, hedges, or wattled or trellised fences. It was intersected by paths, often had a pool or fountain in the center, and a border of flowers. Cultivated flowers included the rose, lily, iris, and peony. Trellises or wattle fences were covered with honeysuckle (woodbine), roses, or grape vines.

Hortus, ortus - A generic word for gardens of all kinds

Ortolanus, gardinarius - A gardener

Pergola - Vine arbor arching over and shading paths

Pleasance - Larger, landscaped park or garden

Pomerium - Utilitarian orchard (the word orchard is derived from wort gerd, "plant yard")

Virectum, virgultum, viridarium - A pleasure garden or, frequently, an orchard planted for the beauty of blossom and the comfort of shade, rather than for its produce of fruit or nuts

Emilia in the Rose Garden, by Boccaccio Hortus conclusis - Boccaccio:
Emilia in the Rose Garden




Castle and manor gardens
On the larger farms and estates of the early Middle Ages, timber-built halls housed residents of higher status, while servants and slaves lived in smaller outbuildings. These estates were often surrounded by earthen dikes topped with palisade fences. Outside the palisade was the ditch from which the earth had been taken to make the dike.

Where defense was less important, several small farmsteads might cluster together, each with a central house of wood and thatch and outlying smaller buildings. Around all was the encircling fence of wood or stone, often ringed by an earthen embankment and a ditch.

By the 1100s, manor houses began to be made of stone, and stone-built castles appeared. These castles and manor houses often had gardens. In 1123, Henry I enclosed a large park at Woodstock to make a garden; in the same century there were:

  • A royal garden at Kingsholm near Gloucester

  • A nine-acre garden at Kingsbury near Dunstable

  • A garden at Havering-atte-Bower in Essex that boasted a resident gardener with -- even at that early date -- a hereditary title

  • Pleasure gardens at the palaces at Winchester, Nottingham, Arundel, and Windsor

Early Gardens

Gardens in Iron Age Britain

Gardens of Roman Britain

Gardens of Post-Roman Britain

Continental gardens

Church and monastery gardens

Castle and manor gardens

Charter landscapes Early Medieval England

Gardens in the Domesday Book

Gardens of toft and croft

An early manuscript describes the plants grown in the 12th century garden of "Henry the Englishman," and while acholars disagree about exactly who this Henry is, he may well be Henry, Archdeacon of Huntingdon. Whoever he was, this Henry’s garden was typical for the 1100s. It is planted on four sides with nearly a hundred different herbs. The plantings on the north side are described first; following this come three more lists of plants, probably for the east, south, and west sides of the garden, for the list would most likely have proceeded deisel, "sunwise" or clockwise, for luck.

Like other gardens of this time, Henry the Englishman's garden may well have been encircled by a shallow ditch and earthen dike, topped with a wall, fence, or hedge. Gardens like these are often depicted in medieval art; they were, in the words of Reginald of Durham (d. 1190) "...laid out on a quadrangular plan, and fenced on all four sides."

Henry's garden may have had a green lawn at its center, and perhaps a pool or fountain. A central path may have divided the garden in two, or intersecting paths might have produced four quarters -- a survival of the ancient chahar bagh of Persia.

If it was such a hortus conclusis, "enclosed garden," it would offer privacy and protection from two-legged as well as four-legged marauders. In many ways, these gardens continued the tradition of the courtyard gardens of the Romano-British villas, with their straight paths, geometrical beds, and water features like fountains.

An Englishman named Alexander Neckam (or Nequam or Neckham), born in 1157, provides us with detailed information about the plants of the 12th century garden in his De Naturis Rerum (On the Nature of Things). He says an ideal garden

...should be adorned with roses and lilies, heliotrope, violets, and mandrake; thus also with parsley, and costmary, and fennel, and southernwood, and coriander, sage and savory, hyssop, garden mint, rue, ditanny, smallage, pellitory, lettuce, garden cress, and peonies. And let there be a raised bed given over to onions, leeks, garlic, squash, elecampane. Cucumbers with curving bellies should also be in the ideal garden, and numbing poppies, and likewise daffodils and bank ursine.

And do not neglect potherbs, if you would have abundance; nor beets, Good King Henry, spinach, and sorrel and mallows. Some gardens profitably bring together anise and mustard, and white pepper, and wormwood. This noble garden should present you with medlars, quince, and wardon pears; peaches, palm-sized, from Persia; pears of St. Regulus...

Neckham's garden includes the familiar plants of his homeland -- violets and smallage, Good King Henry and cabbage, calendula, hound's tongue, and mugwort. He makes it clear that these plants, many of which could be harvested from roadsides and rough meadows, were also cultivated in gardens, along with such exotics as myrtle and coriander and the "pears of St. Regulus."

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