Growing heirloom plants
Resources for gardeners
Gardens of Toft and Croft
landscapes: Anglo-Saxon England
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
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
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
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
The 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
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.
Astill, George and Ann Grant,
The Countryside of Medieval England
(Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd.,
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).
Archaeology in British Towns (London: Routledge, 1992).
Archeology of Medieval England and Wales
Croom Helm Ltd., 1985).
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.