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



Tools for Preparing the Garden

The equipment used to prepare the seedbed would vary depending on the size of the field, the human- and animal-power available, and the tools at hand. If space permitted --- plows and harrows drawn by one or more teams of horses or oxen were difficult to maneuver -- the garden would be tilled at the same time as the fields for grain and beans. Small gardens would be turned by hand. Some of the implements and materials available for preparing the garden included:


Barrow, from the Luttrell Psalter,
BL Add MS 42130
c. 1330 CE


One- or two-wheeled handcarts, barrows are the forerunners of today's wheelbarrow. Larger, horse- or ox-drawn carts were also used.


Old English


Meoxbearwe, manure barrow



Plowing with four oxen
Seed are broadcast behind the plow, to be turned under with the next tilling
of the soil. The man leading oxen uses a goad to guide them.

Anglo-Saxon Calendar,
British Library
Cotton Tiberius B.V. Part I; c. 1050

June plowing, using a simple ard, which has no moldboard or coulter. Salzburg Labors of the Months from St. Peter's Abbey,
Austria, c. . 818 CE


Aratrum - all plows, ard and moldboard alike

Carrucata - moldboard plow






Old English

Plog - plow

Sul, sulh, sules, syll - plow



Old English

Foriþ, gesylhðe, yrþ, landbrǽce


Plowman carrying his moldboard plow and gear, Zwiefalten monatsbilder,, Cod hist 2° 415, fol.17v, Germany, c. 1150 CE



Móna se twentigoþa cild ácenned yrplincg.
Twentieth-day moon child is a born farmer.
Leechbook III.194, 6

Plow gear

Old English

Sulhgeteógo, sulhgeteóh

Plow beam



Old English


Plow tail



Old English




Vomer, vel vomis

Old English

Scear, Sceara, Spiwere


Arator, stiba, stivariouis


Old English

Sulhhandla, syla, yrþlingc

Using mallets to break up clods
Breaking up the clods, from the British Museum's Luttrell Psalter,
Add MS 42130
c. 1330 CE.


Mallet, beetle; long-handled, heavy hammer





Old English

Biótul, bítel, bitl, bytle, from beátan to beat, strike


Slegebýtle, sledgehammer


Man swinging a maattock

Mattock, from the
Makiejowski Bible, c. 1250 CE


... then with the tooth of rake or broken mattock, mix the living turf with clods of earth and set free all the loamy wealth of ripe fields...

Columella, De Rei Rustica,
Book I.x.89-91

A long-handled digging tool, the mattock has a strong, wedge-shaped blade at right angles to handle.



Ligo, becca, bidens, fustis, tridens, marra, palus, rastris


Old English

Mattuc, mattoc, mettoc, meotticMan digging with a bidens


The bidens has two broad prongs at right angles to the handle, used to lift (ligo) the soil

Man swinging a pick-ax

Man using a pickaxe
Anglo-Saxon Calendar,  British Library Cotton Tiberius B.V., England, c. 1050

Another digging tool, the pickaxe has a curved blade parallel to the handle.


Four farmers with their toolsLatin

Dolabria fossaria


Old English




Shovels scoop and haul while spades dig and break up.



Palas, palas lignea - shovel, winnowing shovel

Spadu capella - shovel

Trulla - small shovel, trowel


Old English

Mexscofle - manure shovel

Scoble, sceofel - shovel

Two men using iron-shod spades

Cuthbert digging with a monk, Taymouth Hours, British Library Yates Thompson 13, England c. 1350 CE


Man carrying a bifurcated spade
Man carrying bipalium,

Luttrell Psalter, British Library
Add MS 42130
c. 1330


Two men, one digging with a spade, one holding a mattock

Men with spade and mattock,
Abingdon Apocalypse, British Library  Additional  42555 f. 46
, c. 1275 CE

Three early spadesSpade

Many different types of spades were developed, each for a specific purpose.



Bipalium, older name for a spade with a cross-bar above the blade for the foot to push against

Costere, stake or paling, digging tool

Fossorium, digging tool

Fovesaarria, spade

Palas, paratas, iron-tipped spade or stake

Scudicia, spade or shovel for shallow cultivation around the base of a plant

Veru - spear, dart

Vanga, pala cum ferra, spade with a cross-bar


Old English

Delfísen, digging iron

Pal - spade

Spad, spædu – Spade, digging tool

Spitel, handspitel, a spade used for spittlin, light digging


When Adam delved (using an iron-shod spade)

Caedmon MS,
c. 950 CE

York Psalter, 
1170 CE

Adam with a short spade

Taymouth Hours,
c. 1230 CE

Adam holding a short spade

Carrow Psalter,
c. 1250 CE


Two men Harrowing a field with a horse-drawn harrow

Harrowing a planted field, from the Luttrell Psalter,
British Library Add MS 42130
c. 1300

Horse-drawn harrow

Harrowing a field, 
Fécamp Psalter, Normandy,
c. 1180 CE


A flat, heavy frame or hurdle, sometimes made of wicker, brush, or branches; sometimes a wooden framework set with tines or teeth. It is dragged over plowed land to break up clods, destroy weeds, and cover seed.



Cratis, crate, a woven wicker panel used as a harrow; called crate dentate when it had iron or flint teeth

Hirpex, irpex, erpix, hircipes, a large rake or sled with iron teeth

Occabat, harrow


Old English

Egeðe, egide, eiþe, from ecgan, to break up, harrow

Hyrdel, woven wicker panel used as a harrow; called crate dentate when it had flint or iron teeth

Three men using rakes to create a haystack

Shaftesbury Psalter,
British Library Lansdowne 383,
c. 1135 CE


A tined tool that has changed very little in the last thousand years, the rake is used to spread manure, prepare seedbeds, collect weeds and other debris, and gather hay.



Rastrum, a heavy rake; rastellum, small rake


Old English

Racu, raeca


Wooden rake

Once the seed bed was prepared, it would be time for planting.



Medieval garden tools

I. Preparing

II.  Planting

III.  Cultivation

IV.  Harvest and storage


About the Astute Reeve

Medieval baskets





Medieval garden tools

I. Preparing

II.  Planting

III.  Cultivation

IV.  Harvest and storage


About the Astute Reeve

Medieval baskets


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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


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