Growing heirloom plants
Resources for gardeners
Designing a Medieval Garden
If you are thinking about creating a medieval
herb garden, your first job will be to narrow down what you mean when you say
The term "medieval" covers
a period known as the
which began with the fall of Rome in 476 CE and continues to
year 1400. This thousand-year period is divided
into three shorter timespans:
Early Middle Ages
Ages (1000-1300 CE)
Middle Ages (1300-1400 CE)
We know less about the
gardens of the Early Middle Ages than about the later periods,
but in each period, some traits appear to be more prevalent than
As you plan your own
recreation of a medieval garden,
some key points to consider include:
Do you want a garden
primarily as a feast for the senses, or will you want to
harvest herbs for use in your kitchen or elsewhere? This
will affect your choice of plants, as well as where you
locate your garden, and how you lay it out.
The physic garden of the Early Middle Ages
that is drawn in the
Plan of St. Gall is very geometric, using raised
rectangular beds with paths between. Then and now, raised beds provide the
well-drained soil required by many herbs, give the garden structure, and make
similar to those of
crofts throughout the Middle Ages, may appear to be unstructured, but
actually require considerable foresight in order for each plant to have enough
sunlight, air flow, and leg room to flourish. On the other hand, the careful
placement of plants can make maintenance easier, and provide seasonings,
foliage, and flowers in every season.
formal gardens were part of Roman garden design, for
example at Fishbourne in Roman Britain, whose garden dates to about 100
CE. By the Late Middle Ages,
parterre or knot gardens,
similar to the one at London's
Garden Museum, had become popular in Britain and on the Continent.
Knot gardens are more ornamental than utilitarian, and require more
The books listed to the right, with their wonderful photos
and detailed discussions of a variety of gardens, are an
excellent source of inspiration.
3. A plan.
Whether you want to create a garden with
simple, rectangular raised beds, an intricate knot garden, or something akin to
a cottage garden, planning is crucial.
First, learn what sort of
habitat each of your plants requires to flourish. Group plants by their needs, putting sun-lovers
in the well-lit parts of your garden, and settling
shade-tolerant varieties together beneath trees or taller
plants. Many herbs prefer drier conditions, but not all, and
again you should group plants,
creating plant communities where the requirements of
each individual plant can be met.
Draw up a plan, to scale, of your garden,
and locate each of your plants within it, paying attention
to the height and spread of each plant at maturity.
Consider sunlight and shade, soil types, water supply and
drainage, and air flow.
Think about how your garden will appear
in every season, including winter. Consider the vantage
points from which you will enjoy it. For example, we see our
front garden from the house when we look out our living room
windows, which are about 8 feet above the garden -- a
wonderful vantage point. But we also view the garden as we walk
through it, and passers-by see it from yet another vantage
point beyond the fence. All of these views are important to
Maintenance is crucial consideration for all aspects of your
garden. For example, beds
should be no more than 4 feet wide, so that you can reach
weeds without having to walk in the beds. They should be
laid out to make optimal use of sunlight and shade, and to
allow rainwater to soak in, rather to run-off and cause
erosion -- a serious consideration on a sloping site.
Paths are important, not just as
walkways, but also as boundaries to your beds. They are
elements that will be visible in your garden year round. Paths need to be safe to walk on; wide enough to accommodate
your wheelbarrow, your visitors, and yourself; aesthetically pleasing;
and easy to maintain.
Putting your plans on paper will help you to think all this
Once you have clarified
in your own mind
the design and purpose of your garden, you will need to
choose the plants with which to populate it.
know a good deal about the
plants grown in
medieval gardens; a group that includes many old
friends, as well as a number of new faces, some truly exotic. Creating a beautiful garden using these plants
becomes an ongoing experiment -- one of the greatest
pleasures of gardening! You can find many suppliers of seeds and plants online;
two of my favorite sources for less
common plants are
Sandy Mush Herb
J.L. Hudson Seeds.
Finally, a great source
of inspiration is a visit to one (or several) of the
re-created medieval gardens
to be found in Europe, Britain, and the U.S.
In it's first year, while your plants
become established, you'll need to weed and water and
generally nurse your garden along. In the second year, the plants
will reward your careful planning and hard work with
fragrance, color, texture, flavor, and even sound, courtesy
of the birds, bees, and hummingbirds who come to share in
the bounty you have created.
Maintenance will be easier each year, as
the weed seeds present in your soil exhaust themselves, and
the plants you are cultivating become more robust. Volunteer
plants will spring up thither and yon, to be enjoyed, moved,
or removed as your garden develops its personality -- while simultaneously