Growing heirloom plants
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Medieval Gardens on the Continent
The Charlemagne's estate at Asnapio, the Capitulare de Villis
and the Plan of St. Gall
In the early 800s CE, Charlemagne commanded his
stewards to inventory a royal estate called
Asnapio, in northeastern France.
they gathered profiled an enterprise that became the model for Charlemagne's Capitulare de Villis,
guidelines for what a royal estate should provide.
Capitulare de villis, Charlemagne
list of the plants
of the Capitulare)
As we try to understand Britain in the years
after the Romans and before the Normans, Britain's continental
neighbors provide some insight.
In about 800 CE, Charlemagne issued the Capitulare de
a plan delineating the plants that
would ideally be included in
estate and monastery gardens throughout
his empire. The Capitulare contains the names of some
of which we know that at least 73 were used medicinally.
The list may have been compiled by Abbot Benedict of Aniane in
Languedoc, near Herault, France, and there is a remarkable
British connection here, as Abbot Benedict is known to have
exchanged plants with Alcuin of York, one of Charlemagne’s most
trusted advisors. At the time, Alcuin was Abbot of Tours
(796-804 CE), where he was famous for his roses and lilies.
Charlemagne also had his agents inventory his royal estates,
among them Asnapio.
The Plan of St. Gall
Plan of St. Gall
A work that is contemporary in both time and locale
to the Capitulare
was a plan,
probably created by Abbot Haito of Reichenau,
for an ideal monastery at St. Gall, in Switzerland. Highly
detailed, this ground plan includes a physic garden, a kitchen garden,
and an orchard containing both fruit and nut
In her marvelous book, A
History of Kitchen Gardens, Susan Campbell writes that at
…an orchard-cum-cemetery …contains thirteen well-spaced fruit
trees, each bearing a different fruit or nut. …Next in size is
the kitchen garden or hortus. This is about one-tenth of
an acre …and contains eighteen long, narrow rectangular beds,
each twenty feet long and five feet wide… The third garden, the
infirmary garden… contains sixteen beds, half as long and half
as wide as those in the hortus... (p. 84).
These Plan of St. Gall also
gives us the names of the
plants grown in three different gardens, and detailed plans of
each of these gardens.
At about the same time, two other
continental gardeners -- Walafrid Strabo, later himself
the Abbot of Reichenau,
and Wandelbert, a Westphalian monk,
wrote about gardening. From these four sources -- Charlemagne’s
Capitulare de Villis, the
Plan of St. Gall, Walafrid’s
("little garden"), and Wandlebert’s verse calendar of gardening
-- come the names of nearly one hundred plants that were then in
cultivation, and some idea of the gardens in which they were