“Artwork of the Garden, Soil, Site and Form of the Renaissance Garden”

10/15/12 – 10/28/12:

“Artwork of the Garden, Soil, Site and Form of the Renaissance Garden”

I have been researching the differences and most common similarities among Renaissance gardens of the wealthy and common people. When looking for information about garden structure, design and literal workings of the soil, I have found a few books quite helpful. These include “The Country Housewife’s Garden”, “Early English Gardens and Garden Book” and “The Medieval Garden”.The elaborate and very geometric gardens many of us think of from the nineteenth and twentieth century have their roots in medieval times, in what is known as “the Albertus type of herber” ( Landsberg, 28). Instead of patter, I am looking at are the more basic components of structure, elements that were common across the board, for the wealthy and common gardener alike.

In 1617, William Lawson wrote a book to the “Country House Wife”, in which he mapped out what was expected and “normal” in that day for a gardener, more importantly, how to do the individual tasks. Although much of the descriptions pertain to “country estate” homes, there are some good notes about soil, garden sites and structure in reference to the orchard.

In terms of soil, Lawson states that, “the soyl of an Orchard and Garden differ only in these three points (13)”. It should be drier than the soil in the orchard, due to the more tender plants that could get waterlogged. Secondly, “the soyl of a Garden would be plain every square, at least every square, (for we purpose this square to be the fittest form).” This is for the retention of the water present in the garden soil and for the roots of the herbs, which may be disturb, damaged or moved easily in looser soil. The third difference between garden and orchard soil is that it should be free of weeds in order for the plants to thrive, “…and leaves more plentiful sap for your tender herbs (14).”

Lawson says that the garden should always be smaller than the orchard, because it takes a great deal more of labor to work the garden than the orchard, “and also the pains in a garden is not so well repaid home, as in an orchard (21).”  He does, however recommend that the size be up to the gardener. In terms of garden sites chosen, Lawson says that there is not much, if any difference between the garden and the orchard site both can be used for either. He says that the ends of the garden and the orchard meet. We are lucky to have a newly planted apple grove next to the garden plots. This filtration of light may help some of the plants.

As for the form of gardens, Lawson states that he believes there are as many shapes and designs as the gardener can imagine and instead, focuses on some general form elements, helpful when trying to find common links between wealthy and common population gardens. What is clear, is that all gardens had some sort of barrier around them, “… and note this generally, that all plots are square, and all are bordered about with Privit, Raisins, Fea-berries, Roses, Thorn, Rosemary, Bee-flowers, Hysop, Sage, or such the like.”

When considering garden construction for the spring and if we do install some sort of vegetative border, I think it will be helpful to consider planting some of the smaller varieties listed here, as many of them can grow quite large and will further block sunlight from the garden. Wooden fences were also used as barriers, in addition to plants, but not so common in the Kitchen Garden.

In medieval garden design, there were often gardens that focused more on herbs with flowers and others more on herbs with vegetables (Lawson, 22). The garden of herbs and flowers was called “the Summer garden”, whereas the herb and vegetable garden was deemed “the Kitchen Garden”.  Alliums, like onion were not grown in the summer garden. Again, pottage is mentioned, as in my previous post. The pottage herbs are in fact grown in the “Kitchen Garden” and mainly pottage herbs (Lawson, 23), the purpose of which was to be a daily harvesting garden for the kitchen of course.

Although the kitchen garden was different from the flower/summer garden, it did not lack its own form, at the least, enough to be able to walk between, to weed and harvest. Another design factor, is that or raised beds or not. Lawson says that raising the beds is not necessary, but is in the flower garden. Of great importance to the kitchen garden is the placement of herbs and plants within it. The largest plants would go against the boarder of plants previously mentioned, all descending inward to the smaller; strawberries and onions for instance, grew in the center. Lawson them goes on to describe some of the herbal groupings based on height.

He includes a full disclosure on the husbandry of herbs, exactly how and when to plant them throughout the year, which I think will be very valuable for this projects. He does not however, talk about vegetables in addition. He does go on to list the “the general rules of gardening (33)”, even some self-seeding techniques of plants. Many of the planting times correspond with pagan holidays throughout the year, a topic that I have continued to look into. Bees were also a part of many medieval gardens. Lawson includes a chapter on “the Husbandry of Bees” as well as herbs and is found in many garden designs of the time.

In “The Medieval Garden”, Sylvia Landsberg draws a distinction between kitchen, or utilitarian gardens and the “pleasure garden”. The kitchen garden “contained food and medicinal plants as well as plants for strewing on the floors, making hand waters, quelling insects and other household purposes (27). Kitchen gardens were the daily supply closet for food, medicine and something I have not thought so much about thus far, household cleaning and groundcover.

Pulling from Harvey (1984), as I did in a recent post, Landsberg states that “medieval gardens were filled primarily with brassicas (cabbage family), usually the colewort whose nearest equivalent is a plain kale (together with cabbage at the height social levels). Leeks and Parsley were the next most common vegetable, and leefbeet and root crops such as parsnip, turnip and skerrits appeared increasingly in the later middle ages (28). Many of these plants were “the pottage herbs”. Also mentioned are beans and peas, commonly eaten from dried forms. Green leaved onion, hemp and flax were grown, as were kinds of “salad” plants like the flowers borage, marigold, heartease, langedebeef and poppy (28). Salad plants were not eaten as we think of salad today, but were in a category all their own for ornament and medicine among other uses.

Of great interest is “The Fromond List” c. 1525, found on page 79 of “The Medieval Garden”. Its original title was “Herbys Necessary for the Garden”. There are detailed and easy to read charts of every plants, divided into categories, “herbs for pottage, herbs for sauce, herbs for the cup, herbs for the salad, herbs for the distill, roots and bulbs, herbs for both savor and beauty (i.e. taste or scent) (79-81)” and then a list for the herber, or ornamental garden. It becomes clear here, that the term “herber” does not refer to the kitchen garden, our interest.

There are more lists’ too, some plants that don’t fit into any of the categories. This list of plants, being that they are in Ethnobotanical categories seem invaluable to this project, it certainly should help when deciding what plants to grow. Another important aspect of the lists is that all of the plants are indicated as native, or not. This may give us some information about plants post Colombian exchange, or at least newly introduced.

In reference to depictions of Gardens in Art, I am looking at the miniature paintings in “The Tres Riches Heures of Jean Duke of Berry”. Jean Duke of Berry created a calendar, in which he depicts many scenes of farming/gardening throughout different times of the year in France. They have some amazingly beautiful and elaborate depictions of people doing work and the layout of land plots, etc. There is a celestial/astrological piece on the top of each calendar page, marking the alignment of the stars during each month. The connections between planting and astrology, maybe even older pagan holidays, are very important to this work. In addition, this calendar was very important to farmers of the time. It is clear that men and women worked together in many of the gardens depicted. I am looking into it further

A picture of what is described as a “September” harvest on royal grounds, can be viewed below.



1)      Eyler, Ellen. Early English Gardens and Garden Books. Virginia:

University Press of Virginia,The Folger Shakespear Library, 1963. Print.

2)      Lawson, William. The Country Housewif’s Garden. 3rd edition (1983). London: Breslich & Floss, 1617. Print.

3)       Harvey, John. Mediaeval Gardens. Beaverton, OG: Timber Press, 1981. Print.

4)      Landsberg, Sylvia. The Medieval Garden. Italy: British Museum Press, 1996. Print.

5)      Jean, Duck of Berry, Benedict, Victoria. The Tres Riches Heures of Jean, Duke of Berry. George Braziller. NY. Paris: Draeger Freres, 1967. Print.

6)     Limbourg and Colombre, . LEs Tres Riches Heures Du Duc De Berry. calendar. Rue Ferou, Paris: Verve, 1940. Print.

2 thoughts on ““Artwork of the Garden, Soil, Site and Form of the Renaissance Garden”

  1. Pingback: Interesting posts | Just Food Now "News and Views"

  2. Pingback: Interesting Posts Lately « Massachusetts Renaissance Center Vegetable Garden Project

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