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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Smithfield Decretals,
British Library Royal 10 E IV
,
c. 1330 CE

Tools Used for Cultivating the Medieval Garden

 

 

 

Once the seed was in the ground, the garden needed to be cultivated, Plots were weeded to allow crops to get the sunlight they needed. Plants were thinned, pruned, staked, and generally cared for.

 

The tools used to cultivate the garden are often familiar in form, if not in name. Some -- like the billhook, weed hook, spade, sickle, and scythe -- frequently appear in medieval "labors of the months."

 

Taymouth Hours, British Library
Yates Thompson 13, England
c. 1350 CE

 

 


Angel harvests grapes,
Apocalypse, British Library
Additional 38842
, c. 1330 CE

Billhook

The billhook was the Swiss Army knife of the medieval gardener. Its curving, always double-edged blade often has a short spike at the crown and a small hatchet on the outside edge.

 

Latin

Ensis curvus - Curved knife

Falx - Billhook, brush hook

Falcastrum - long-handled billhook

Falx vinatoria, vineyard pruning knife

Sarculus - pruning tool

 

Old English

Bil - billhook, tool with curved, double-edged cutting surface

Screádungisen - pruning knife; from scread, to cut up, shred, pare

Wingeardseax - vineyard knife
 

 Charité-sur-Loire Psalter,
British Library Harley 2895, c. 1175 CE

 

                      Anatomy of a billhook

 

  5   

1. Culter – next to handle

2. Sinus – start of curve

3. Scalprum - curved cutting edge

4. Rostrum – hook or beak

5. Mucro – Spike above securis

6. Securis – hatchet, here crescent-
    shaped, opposite the rostrum

 

4

 3

2

1

 

 

6

 

 

 

 

Fulda Sacramentary, Bamberg State Library, Fulda, Germany, 980 CE

  

 

Hunterian Psalter , Glasgow
Library Scotland,  c. 1170 CE

 

 

 

 

Weed hook

Weeding, weodian, was handled quite differently in  medieval gardens than today, for weeds were viewed as a sort of secondary crop.

 

Weed hooks -- two long-handled tools, one with a curved cutting blade and the other ending in a small, two--pronged fork -- were used to cut the weeds off above the soil. This technique offered two advantages:

  • First, weed hooks actually harvested the weeds for use as  fodder or bedding.

  • Second, weed hooks don't uproot the weeds, nor the plants beside them, so are less likely to damage neighboring crops.

Latin

Capreolus – a two-pronged weeding tool

Runco - weeddhook, from runcare, to weed

Sarculum - hook

 

Fécamp Psalter,
Normandy, c. 1180 CE

Old English

Uueódhóc, weodhoc, wedehoke,
wedehuc,  - weed hook

Wedecome - weed combe
 

Weeding, at left; the harvested weeds have been sheaved, at right, and are on their way to the toft.
 Queen Mary Psalter, British Library Royal 2 B VII
, England, c. 1315 CE
 

Charité-sur-Loire Psalter,
British Library Harley 2895,
c. 1175 CE

 

Knife

Manuscripts show a variety of cutting tools being used for cultivation, among them the knife.

 

Latin

Artavus - knife

Cultellus - carving knife, small sharp knife

Falx, falx vinatoria - knife, vineyard pruning knife

Scalprum, calpellum, cælum, foratorium - small,
sharp, pointed knife

 

Old English

Cnif - knife

Seax - knife

Græfseax - grafting knife

Screádungisen - pruning knife

Wingeardseax - vineyard knife


 Zwiefalten monatsbilder,
Zwiesel Monastery,
Cod hist 2° 415, fol.17v, Germany, c. 1150 CE

 

 

Passionale, British Library
Harley 624
, c 1150 CE


Hatchet

Used to prune plants and trim stakes, hatchets and their larger kin, axes, appear in many manuscript illustrations.

 

Latin

Dextralis - hatchet

Manuaria - hatchet

Securis simplex - woodsman’s axe

Aecespita - Axe

 

Old English

Æx, æcs, acas - axe

Handæx - hand axe

Twibill - two-edged axe

 

Psalter, British Library
Additional 28681
, c 1260

 

Psalter, British Library  Harley 5765, Netherlands, c. 1235 CE

Wingearda hocas þe hi mid bindað þæt him nehst bið

Vineyard hooks that he binds [the vines] with so they are close

Ælfric's Glossary

Hooks, vineyard fasteners

 

Latin

Hoc - hook

Capreoli, cincinni, uncinuli - small ties, twinings, or bonds used to tie up grapevines

 

Old English

Wingearda hocas - vineyard hooks, fasteners
 

 

Vigorous reaper scythes the crop, his whetstone in a holster hanging
from his belt.
Wandalbert von Prüm,
Das Reichenauer Martyrologium,
Cod. Reg. Lat. 438, Germany c. 830 CE

 

Whetstone

Latin

Cos, costis - hone, sharpening stone

 

Old English

Hwetstan - whetstone, from hwettan, to sharpen

 

 

Another reaper uses a large whetstone
to sharpen his scythe.

 Zwiefalten monatsbilder,, Zwiesel
Monastery,
Cod hist 2° 415, fol.17v,
Germany, c. 1150 CE

 

Bohun Psalter,
British Library Egerton 3277,
England, c. 1360 CE

 

 

 

 

Shovel

The terms shovel and spade are often used interchangeably today, but shovels typically have broader blades, shorter handles, blunter tips, and are used to scoop and lift, moving loose material around.

 

Spades often have longer handles, narrower blades, more pointed tips, and are used to slice or dig.

Ablaqueatio, the gentle cultivation of the soil at the base of a tree or vine  -- Niderward treowes bedelfing -- was done with shovels or trowels.

Latin

Batillum, rutabulum, vatillum - shovel, fire shovel

Palas - winnowing shovel

Pala lignea - long-handled scoop

Ventilabrum - winnowing shovel or scoop

Trulla - small shovel, trowel

 

Old English

Isern scobl - iron shovel

Scofl, sceofel, scobl - scoop, shovel

Meoxscofle - manure shovel

Windscofl - winnowing shovel or scoop

 

 Zwiefalten monatsbilder, Zwiesel Monastery, Cod hist 2° 415, fol.17v, Germany, c. 1150 CE

 

Stakes were also used as walking staffs, and are often seen in the labors of the months that feature workers hauling heavy loads in carrier baskets on their backs, as seen below.

 

Stakes

Plants -- especially grapevines, but also vining crops like cucumbers -- were trained by tying them to stakes.

 

Latin

Fustis - staff

Paxillus - small stake, pin, peg

Pertica - staff, stake

Propolim - pole, stake

Stipitis - branch, staff

Stigul - small stakes

Sudis - stake, pointed stick

Vectis - stake, strong pole, bar, lever

 

Fécamp Psalter, Normandy, c. 1180 CE

Queen Mary Psalter, British Library Royal 2 B VII, England, c. 1315 CE

 

Old English

Cyrfel - pegs or small stakes

Pal - pole, stake, paling

Staca - stake

Steng, stengc, styng - stake pole, staff

Stod - post


Aristotle, British Library
Harley 3487
, c. 1275

 


Oak bucket with hazel hoops,
c. 1200 CE; medieval buckets were rarely or never hooped with metals
 

Bucket

Seedlings were probably watered with small pots, such as the thumb pot, that released water in a gentle trickle. Larger quantities of water could be carried to the garden in buckets or larger earthenware jugs (see below).

 

Latin

Situla, botholicula, bothonicla - Bucket, water bucket, pail

Old English

Æscen - wooden bucket

Buc - bucket, vessel with bulge

Ceoldre, ceoden, fidcumb - bucket or bag, usually for milk

Hlæden – bucket

Hrygilebuc - wooden vessel with a wide or ridged belly, bucket

Stoppa, wæterstoppa - small well bucket, pail

 

Man watering his garden; from 
British Library Oriental 5024, f.85
,
Italy c. 1370

 

Thumb pot

 

Watering pots

 

Latin

Hydria, ydria - Water pot

Lagena - Earthenware jug with one handle, a long narrow neck, widened mouth, and swelling body

Urceus - Pot, pitcher

Urceolus, viciolus - Little pitcher, small water pot

 

 

Old English

Crúcae, crúce, wætercruce - crock, pitcher, water pot

Wætercróg - pitcher, water jug

Wæterfæt - water pot

Wæterflaxan - pitcher

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Medieval pot,
c. 1275 CE

 

Smithfield Decretals, British Library Royal 10 E IV, c. 1330 CE

Smithfield Decretals, British Library Royal 10

 E IV, c. 1330 CE

 

Medieval garden tools

I. Preparing

II.  Planting

III.  Cultivation

IV.  Harvest and storage

 

About the Astute Reeve

Medieval baskets

Sources

Medieval garden tools

I. Preparing

II.  Planting

III.  Cultivation

IV.  Harvest and storage

 

About the Astute Reeve

Medieval baskets

Sources

 

 

 

 

Orchard

 

Latin

Arbustum - tree plantation

Hortus

Pomarium - utilitarian orchard of fruit trees

 

Old English

Orceard, orcerd, orcird, orcyrd, ordceard

Orcgearde, orcgyrd

Ortgeard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ruth, gleaning grain to make a sheaf. Walters MS W.106, c. 1250 CE

 

 

Sheaves stacked to
make  stooks.

Home | Early gardens | Early plants | Growing heirloom plants | Garden folklore | Resources | Site map

 

Botanists are among those who know that, in spite of the rude shocks of life,
it is well to have lived, and to have seen the everlasting beauty of the world.
F.D. Drewitt

 

Copyright ©2015 S.E.S. Eberly
All Rights Reserved

Contact us

Home | Early gardens | Early plants | Growing heirloom plants | Garden folklore | Resources | Site map

 

Botanists are among those who know that, in spite of the rude shocks of life,
it is well to have lived, and to have seen the everlasting beauty of the world.
F.D. Drewitt

 

Copyright ©2015 S.E.S. Eberly
All Rights Reserved

Contact us