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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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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. The information they gathered profiled an enterprise that became the model for Charlemagne's Capitulare de Villis, guidelines for what a royal estate should provide.

Plant list from the Capitulare
Capitulare de villis, Charlemagne
(View a list of the plants
of the Capitulare)

Capitulare de Villis Imperialibis
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 Villis Imperialibis, 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 89 plants, 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.



Plan of St Gall, on vellum

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 trees.

In her marvelous book, A History of Kitchen Gardens, Susan Campbell writes that at St. Gall,

…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 Hortulus ("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 grown.



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F.D. Drewitt


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