“The Middle English of Renaissance Gardening, Understanding Terminology and Phrases”

10/01/12 – 10/15/12:

The Middle English of Renaissance Gardening, Understanding Terminology and Phrases

      During my research, I found that there are many words and phrases related to gardening and plants, that I could not simply look up in a modern dictionary. This led me to take out a few Middle English dictionaries, as well as insightful books entitled “Middle English Nicknames and another “Contributions to Middle English Lexicography and Etymology”. I found both to be very helpful in my search for cultivation practices, plant and animal names, etc. I discovered lists and chapters on many part of Medieval life, including, “names from coins, names from animals, Names from Flowers and Herbs” (Jonsjo, 1979), even dress and the human body. There are simply too many nicknames of things to list them all here, but this book will prove to be a good resource when we get closer to comparing plant names and shoring up what to plant in the gardens. Most common plants, as today, were called by many names.

I was trying to find out what sort of ground/soil cultivation was practiced, as I know project members have recently rota-tilled and added compost to the gardens. After looking hard through chapters on “Words denoting persons, animals, plants and trees, implements, machines, (household) utensils, etc., land plots of land, etc., houses, Rooms, etc. (Lofvenberg, 1946), I undoubtedly found a lot of information, but not a great deal about workings with the soil. I figured that looking at household/kitchen items would help to reaffirm what was going on, i.e. what was being processed and therefore, grown outside.

There are some good facts about names, for instance, in the section “words denoting Land, Plots of Land, etc.”, there is mention of the strip of land in front of something, or a building, also called a “Foreland”, or “Fore-yard”, which was outside a building, possibly a home that was sometimes, at least in twelfth century England, “given out for rent (Lofvenberg).” Are these some of the kale yards mentioned by Holden, are these the kitchen gardens? A “Bore-land”, was land “held by a tenant in borage”, also called “werklond, gaderetherde, cotlond, forapelond, bordlond, hawelond and akerlond (Lofvenberg, 77)…”


1)      Lofvenberg, M.T. Contributions To Middle English Lexicography and Etymology. Sweden: Lund, 1946. Print.

2)      Jonsjo, Jan. Studies on Middle English Nicknames I. Compounds, Doctoral Dissertation. Lund: CWK Gleerup, Lund University, 1979. Print.

3)      Stratmann, Francis. A Middle English Dictionary, words used by English writers from the twelfth and fifteenth century. London : Oxford University Press, 1891. Print.

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