According to Teresa McLean in her wonderful book Medieval English Gardens, herbs were  grown side by side with vegetables and flowers in common kitchen gardens of the medieval period. Larger estates and monasteries often had separate herb gardens, that were very well organized and full of herbs of many uses (including medicinal).  In this section I will focus on common herbs of the Medieval period that could have been found in many cottage gardens.

Clary (Salvia verbenaca) is a type of wild sage that is native to England.

Rue (Ruta graveolens) was “used to make pickles that sharpened up broths and pottages” (McLean 178) and was widely used by the 15th century.

Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) was infrequently grown in cottage gardens, but was extremely useful.  It was often grown next to Rue.

Betony (Stachys officinalis) was considered a cure-all, and I imagine in the cottage gardener could cultivate only one medicinal herb it would be this.

Dill (Anethum graveolens) was used to flavor foods and its seeds were used to aid digestion.

Cumin (Cuminum cyminum) was widely grown and at times was collected as part of peasants rent.

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) was “grown in infirmary, herb and kitchen gardens all through the medieval period” (McLean 184).  This plant had many uses, and was much appreciated for its scent.

Pot/ Winter Marjoram (Origanum vulgare) was grown in kitchen gardens for its use in pottage’s.  This plant also attracted bees.

Pennyroyal (Mentha pulogium) was the favorite mint in medieval times, because it is very strong.  Other mints were also grown, including spearmint, water mint and corn mint.

Black mustard (Brassica nigra) grown in both herb and mixed kitchen gardens.

Parsley (Petroselium crispum) was extremely popular, growing in “every single kitchen and infirmary garden too” (McLean 188).

Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) was a common cottage garden plant and was often found planted next to Fennel, Coriander and Angelica.

Fragrant tansy/tansy balm/Costmary (Tanacetum balsamita) was “a common plant in tavern, cottage and all kinds of kitchen gardens” (McLean 191)

Burnet (Poterium sanguisorba) this plant is semi wild, but found its way into herb gardens because it attracted bees and was sometimes used in salads

Herbs are used very differently today than they were in the Medieval period.  They have a less important role now, but then they provided flavor, medicine, and even food preservation.  I would love to cultivate these herbs and try out some of their ancient uses.

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Beginning in the 14th or 15th century the garden pond came into vogue.  These ponds, shallow and lined with a clay water barrier, not only supplied a water source for the renaissance garden but were also “appreciated (for) their ornamental value” (Campbell, 38).  Manure was often added to these ponds as a fertilization method.

Water was also diverted from town sewer and drainage systems, into kitchen gardens, creating a closed-loop system that recycled “night-soil”(Campbell, 36).

Campbell also mentions the use of capillary watering methods, which I find very interesting and hope to implement in our Renaissance Garden.  This method, in use as early as 1385, involves hanging a pot of water that has been perforated with many small holes, over any plant that requires water.  A feather, a piece of straw or a bit of cloth was often inserted into the small holes of the pot, allowing the water to gently reach the plants below (36).  This method is more interactive that the passive watering system I have previously mentioned, but less time-consuming than constant manual watering, and could be particularly useful with plants that require constant moistness.  Perhaps this was a precursor to our modern-day drip irrigation systems.

The website Old & Interesting (http://www.oldandinteresting.com/medieval-watering-pot.aspx ) offers this photo, of a similar watering system, and provides some interesting information. Check it out!


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Garden Layout: Form and Function

French medieval garden Bios Richeux via http://www.designsponge.com/2010/05/past-present-kitchen-garden-history.html

I have been intently reading Susan Campbell’s book Charleston Kedding, A History of Kitchen Gardening which chronicles the changes in one English estate’s kitchen gardening practice from the 1630’s into the 1990’s.  Campbell extensively researched english gardening practices over a fourteen year period, and provides a plethora of knowledge regarding monastic and medieval gardening techniques.

The sections regarding garden layout were particularly helpful for our project.  Campbell highlights the importance of a water supply in early gardens, when hoses were not to be found.  Because of this a water source was often found either at the highest point in the garden, or at its center, to make irrigation an easier task.  Aaron, another member of our research team mentioned an interest in raised vegetable beds ( http://adrenaissancegardens.wordpress.com/2012/10/05/what-are-we-growing/ ) , these beds, also known as ados were also key to simple irrigation.  This method used in English monastic gardens,  was first documented in the Roman agricultural system.

The gardener could easily divert water (from its high location) to the beds that required a good soak by creating small dams and letting gravity do the rest of the work.  A manure pile was often located close to the water source so “moisture oozing from it could be diverted into the water channels”(Campbell, 35).

An example of a centrally located watersource in a raised be garden can be found here (http://medieval.la.psu.edu/garden/kitchengarden.html ) at Penn State’s Mediaval Garden Center Website.

Continue reading

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Two Interesting Articles




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It is hard to imagine life without corn, especially now that it is used not only as a food source (tortilla chips and succulent corn on the cob throughout summer months etc.) but also in ethanol, and disposable silverware etc. However we are reminded in The Cultural History of Plants that corn was not always a global food source.  This passage from Prance and Nesbitt’s extensive plant origination guide details the history of corn, and the journey it made to become a global product: “The earliest domesticated corn cobs have been found at archaeological sites in the Tehuacan and Oaxaca valleys of southern Mexico, dating to 6000 to 5000 C years ago.  Similar cobs are found on a primitive form of popcorn cultivated today on a small scale in Argentina.  With its small cobs and branched stems, this variety is intermediate in appearance between teosinte (the only ancestor of modern corn) and modern corn.  By about 3000 years ago corn had spread from Mexico with early farmers, south to the Andes and north to eastern North America.  Corn arrived in Europe and Asia after Columbus reached the Americas in 1492, and spread rapidly.  Although many claims have been made for pre-Columbian dispersal of corn in the Old World, these are firmly contradicted by the complete absence of corn in the Old World archaeological record before 1492” (54).

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Renaissance Center Garden Project

The plan is to research European gardens before and after Christopher Columbus traveled to the New World.  Hopefully through this research we will discover a clear shift in cottage gardening practices, and types of species present, induced by globalization.  Should be very interesting!

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