For gardeners with a sense of history

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




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Wyrtig - For gardeners with a sense of history

The Garden of Henry of Huntingdon

In "The Square Garden of Henry the Poet" (Garden History, Spring 1987, 1-11), historian John Harvey analyzes a garden described in a 13th century manuscript (BL Sloane MS 3468, ff. 32-34) , and in doing so provides a fascinating glimpse of a medieval herber.

Since Harvey's original article, it has been determined that this description was written by Henry of Huntingdon (c.1088 - c.1157 CE) who also authored an 8-volume work on English gardens called Anglicanus ortus, (Sloane MS 3468, ff  31-105), undiscovered until very recently, and published in 2012.

Returning to Henry's garden, this appears to have been primarily a physic or apothecary's garden whose primary purpose was the production of medicinal plants. Some culinary plants are named (carrots, parsnips, etc.), but this garden lacks other medieval dietary staples like cabbage, peas, and beans.

The description of the garden begins with a list of plants found on its north side, and then proceeds to provide plant lists for a second, third, and fourth bed. If, as is likely, the gardener was circling the garden deiseal or sunwise, the beds are likely to be:

Second bed:  East
Third bed:  South
Fourth bed: West

Many of the plants named are familiar, but identifying others is difficult, perhaps impossible. Where there is a question about a plant's identity, Dr. Harvey has offered suggestions, and indicated his uncertainty with a question mark (?). In some cases, my suggestions differ from his; these alternative suggestions are enclosed in square brackets ( [ ] ).

For each of the four lists of plants, Dr. Harvey grouped the plants by height, and I have continued this system, thinking it might be useful to someone trying to recreate this garden. I have relocated a few of the plants, however, based on my own experience with growing them here in my upper Midwest, Zone 5 garden.



Harvey, John (1987). "The Square Garden of Henry the Poet," Garden History XV. I (read online).

Black, Winston (2012) ed. and trans. Henry of Huntingdon - Anglicanus ortus: a Verse Herbal of the Twelfth Century (Toronto, Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies).


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