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Medieval garden

A monastic garden was used by many and for multiple purposes. In many ways, gardening was the chief method of providing food for households, but also encompassed orchards, cemeteries and pleasure gardens, as well as medicinal and cultural uses. Gardening is the deliberate cultivation of plants herbs, fruits, flowers, or vegetables.

Furthermore, gardening was especially important in the monasteries, as they were used extensively by the monks and created a way of life, supplying their overall livelihood. Typically, many of the fruits, vegetables, and herbs that were grown were utilized in multiple ways and over multiple parts of the garden, such as peaches grown in orchards as well as used for closing bleeding wounds.

The majority of data about the methods and means of gardens in the Middle Ages comes through archaeology, surviving textual documentation, and surviving artworks such as paintings, tapestry and illuminated manuscripts. The early Middle Ages brings a surprisingly clear snapshot of the European gardening situation at the time of Charlemagne with the survival of three important documentations: the Capitulare de villis, Walafrid Strabo's poem Hortulus, and the plan of St Gall which depicts three garden areas and lists what was grown.

Gardens were seen mainly in monasteries and manors, but were also used by peasants. Gardens were used as kitchen gardens, herbal gardens, and even orchards and cemetery gardens, among others. Each type of garden had their own purpose and meaning including medicinal, food, and spiritual purpose.

Gardening was particularly important for medicinal use. Monks and healers alike used plants and herbs for different medical remedies. Some herbs, such as poppies, could be used in helping an open wound. When the peel of the poppy stalk was ground and mixed with honey, it could be used as a plaster for wounds. Other herbs and plants were used for internal complications, such as a headache or stomachache. For instance, almonds were said to make a person sleepy, provoke urination, and induce menstruation. Other herbs include roses, lilies, sage, rosemary and other aromatic herbs.

  • Apuleius, Herbal 11th century
  • Charlemagne, Capitulare de villis (c. 800): listing the plants and estate style to be established throughout his empire
  • Palladius, Palladius On husbondrie. c. 1420
  • Walahfrid Strabo, Hortulus
  • Jon Gardener, The Feate of Gardening. c. 1400: poem containing plant lists and outlining gardening practices, probably by a royal gardener
  • Friar Henry Daniel (14th century): compiled a list of plants
  • Albertus Magnus, De vegetabilibus et plantis (c. 1260): records design precepts on the continent
  • Piero de' Crescenzi, Ruralium Commodorum Liber (c. 1305): records designs precepts on the continent
  • 'Fromond List', original titled Herbys necessary for a gardyn (c. 1525): list of garden plants
  • Thomas Hill (born c. 1528).
  • Master Fitzherbert, The Booke of Husbandrie (1534): includes commentary on past horticultural practices
  • T. Tusser, Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry (1580): another relevant commentary though written in the post medieval period


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