The garden in Medieval Europe

Text : Marie Josèphe Moncorgé. Translator: Jean-Marc Bulit

Be it a monastery garden, a castle garden, a peasant’s garden or Maître Chiquart’s imaginary garden, the Medieval garden is always a much varied one.

If it be a monastery garden it shall most often be laid out in a chequered pattern, as shown on the map of St Gall's monastery (820 AD), with the aromatic and medicinal herbs garden separate from the vegetable garden, the orchard, and the garden of bouquet flowers – grown to adorn the altars. Little room is left for recreation as everything is productive when there are many mouths to feed. The layout of Canterbury’s monastery (1160 AD) displays a quite complex irrigation system.

Oldcook: The garden in Medieval Europe - The garden of Cinq Sens in Yvoire (France)

The garden of Cinq Sens in Yvoire (French Alps)
The cloister: medicinal and aromatic herbs
Photographer's credit

Illustrations will reveal a less rigorous ground plan if it be a castle garden, with room left for leisure space - lawns, ornamental trees and fountains - as if it were to combine business with pleasure.

Be it a humble peasant’s hortus however and its surface area will grow with the villein’s wealth. But mostly it will be aggrandized by the surrounding grounds where the gathering of mother nature’s wild species is a necessity that compensates for the uncertainties of climatic conditions: when salad or greens for porry wouldn’t grow in the garden, you could always substitute smallage, dandelion or plantain for it.

Moving forward to the garden of king Louis the Great in Versailles, designed by Jean de la Quintinie (17th century) gives symbolic light to the evolution of cultivated views and produce: one and only word refers to the art of cultivating plants and to the cultural aspects of a civilisation!

Maître Chiquart’s imaginary garden:

A few pictures from the garden - Spices - Beneficent herbs - Vegetables - Greens for porry - Fruit

Spices, herbs and condiments make up for almost any sauce or seasoning, but what makes the difference between them ? Here’s what we say:

Spices are exotic flavouring substances, mostly made from plants. They come from Oriental countries but also from Africa as grains of paradise.

Herbs are indigenous flavouring substances. They are plants of European origin or plants that don’t require a tropical climate and grow easily in Europe.

A condiment is a preparation akin to a sauce, mix of several spices or herbs.

Saffron, a plant of the crocus family, originally Asian but grown in Spain and even in England is counted as a spice, considering its price and rarity.

Coriander however, which is basically grown in Northern Africa and the Middle East, is considered a herb, and is widely cultivated, notably in the gardens of the South of France.

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Le jardin en Europe médiévale