Wyrtig

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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Toft and croft

Gardens of Toft and Croft
 

Charter landscapes: Anglo-Saxon England

Gardens in the Domesday Book

 

 

What do we know about the great majority of gardeners who lived in Great Britain between 450 and 1200 CE, gardeners who weren't kings or queens, lords or ladies, abbots or abbesses?

Wattle and daub
Wattle and daub construction

The evidence for the gardens of ordinary people is there, but it is scant. Gerald of Wales, writing of the rural Welsh in the late 1100s, tells us in his Description of Wales (Book 17) that

...[the Welsh] content themselves with wattled houses on the edges of the forest... Most of the land is used for pasture. They cultivate very little of it, growing a few flowers, and sowing a plot here and there.

We know from documentary sources, manuscript illustrations, and archeology that medieval villages in much of agrarian England followed no very regular plan. Some arose near Roman forts, and a few survived the departure of the legions. Others developed as loose hamlets strung along a road, at a crossroads, or beside a river where there was a bridge or a fording place. It wasn't until late Saxon times that a process of "nucleation" began as the boundaries of larger villages extended outward to include the outlying hamlets, or the populations of the hamlets gradually migrated toward the growing villages.

 

A parish church often lay at the heart of the village, and around such villages, particularly in southeast England, there was a carefully regulated system of farm fields. Often each house occupied is own strip of land that could be used for gardens or small stock, an arrangement that came to be known as toft and croft.

Schematic of tofts and croftsThe toft was the land that fronted on the road. Typically enclosed by ditch, wall, fence, or hedge, it was the land on which the dwelling, barn, and other outbuildings were located. Behind it was the croft, a separate enclosed field, used as pasture or to grow crops.  While the farming of the larger fields surrounding the villages was well-organized and carefully controlled, the holder of toft and croft could do what he or she wished on that land. It was on this land that herb, flower, and vegetable gardens might be found. For example, archeologists at Norwich have found 11th century garden remains of elderberry, sloe, poppy, hemp, linseed, celery, raspberry, strawberry, cherry, apple, plum, bullace, and medlar.

Sources

Astill, George and Ann Grant, The Countryside of Medieval England (Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd., 1988)

Bond, L.J. and R. Iles. "Early Gardens in Avon and Somerset" in A.E. Brown, ed. Garden Archeology (CBA Research Report 78, 1991).

Bowden, Mark, Donnie Mackay, and Peter Topping. From Cornwall to Caithness: Some Aspects of British Field Archeology (Oxford: BAR [British Archeological Report] British Series 209, 1989).

Brown, A.E., ed. Garden Archeology (Council for British Archaeology: CBA Research Report 78, 1991).

Ottaway, P. Archaeology in British Towns (London: Routledge, 1992).

Steane, John. The Archeology of Medieval England and Wales (Beckenham: Croom Helm Ltd., 1985).

Tomlinson, Philippa and Allan R. Hall. "A Review of the Archaeological Evidence for food Plants from the British Isles: An Example of the Use of the Archaeobotanical Computer Database (ABCD)." Internet Archaeology I.

 

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