Medieval and Renaissance Gardens

Notes from a class presented at events in the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism), by Jadwiga Zajaczkowa (Jennifer Heise)

How do we know about Medieval, Renaissance, and Sixteenth-Century Gardens?

Classical Influences

Medieval and particularly Renaissance gardening was heavily influenced by the writings of the ancient Greeks and Romans:

Period records

Technical Terms

While there isn't a clear delineation between gardens for pleasure and utilitarian gardens, orchards, etc. it's clear that some parts of some gardens were intended primarily to be a delight to the senses, and others for their end products. 16th and 17th century writers, such as Hill, Lawson, Markham and Parkinson, made very clear distinctions between them in their writing. Landsberg, a garden researcher and re-creator, says:

"The kitchen or utilitarian garden, in contrast with the pleasure garden, contained food and medicinal plants as well as plants for strewing on floors, making hand waters, quelling insects and other household purposes." (p. 27)

Most every manor, abbey, and great estate would have utilitarian gardens, demesne farm fields, and perhaps woods and even vineyards or orchards in addition to some sort of pleasure garden. (Vineyards were less prevalent and less successful in Northern Europe than Southern Europe but grape vine plantings were useful for the production of verjuice and perhaps grapes for eating even when wine quality was not achieved.)

Etching of a Later-period garden


One of the primary characteristics of the medieval garden was that, large or small, it was always enclosed.

Hill sums up the 'forms of the Inclosures' which he says the ancients invented:

"..First, the skilful and wary Husbandmen in time past, being those of good abilty, built them walls about of Free-stone artly laid, and mortered together, and some did with baked bricke like handled. Others of lesser ability, and of meaner sort, formed them inclosures, with stones handsomely laid one upon another with morter or clay; and some of them couched the broad salt sontesk, with other bigge and large stones (in like order about). . . but very many of the baser and poorer sort, made them fences and wals about, with mudde of the ditch, dung, chaffe, and straws cut short, and wel mixed together. Others there were, which with bigge Canes set upright, by smal poles bound together, so fenced their garden plot, in handsome manner round about. Some also with young Willow trees, set by certaine distances, and the drie black thorne (purchased from the wood) being bound in (between the spaces) so framed their inclosure. . ."

He also reports on pole fences, hedges, banks and ditches.


Lawn/Flowery mead

Albertus Magnus was a great admirer of lawns: "For the sight is in now way so pleasantly refreshed as by fine and close grass kept short."  Writers recommend digging out the original 'waste' plants, killing the seeds in the soil by flooding with boiling water, then laying out the lawn with turves laid in and pounded well. Another writer recommends mowing them twice a year; lawnmowing would have been done with scythes or primitive shears.

Raised Beds & Sunken Beds

"For instance beds could be raised and edged with boards or woven panels of willow to improve drainage, just as Columella recommended" (Hobhouse). Parkinson suggests edging your beds with either live plants or dead stuff such as tiles, lead, sheep shank bones, or boards.

Sunken beds appear to be used primarily in Islamic gardens, where the idea would be to facilitate irrigation and keep the earth from drying out. Good examples appear in the Alhambra in Spain. (Islamic gardens tended to strongly follow the Roman pattern of square layouts and canals or streams running through the garden.)

Trellising & Topiary

Grapes, roses and rosemary in particular were grown over trellises; gilliflowers (carnations, pinks) were trellised in their pots to keep them from falling over. Other kinds of vines were also grown that way. Lattices with climbing plants and trellises with climbing plants were used as garden walls, often starting from the back of a turfed bed or seat, and also for arches and pergolas.

Topiary animals appear in late period, either self topiary, or fastened over a frame, as in this account of Hampton Court in 1599:

"There were all manner of shapes, men and women, half men and half horse, sirens, serving-maids with baskets, French lilies and delicate crenellations all round made from dry twigs bound together and the aforesaid ever green quick-set shrubs, or entirely of rosemary, all true to the life, and so cleverly and amusingly interwoven, mingled and grown together, trimmed and arranged picture-wise that their equal would be difficult to find." (Strong, p. 33)


Trees were planted either along walls, geometrically placed in orchards (about 20 feet apart), or pleached into allees. Some trees, such as the walnut, were avoided in gardens, but fruit trees and other trees with a good smell or pleasant aspect were included in most gardens as well as adjoining orchards. Sometimes trees were trained against a wall but that may be a late period development.

There are two techniques used in forestry that are worth mentioning: pollarding and coppicing. Both were/are used to get the maximum growth of branches and wood out of farmed trees, rather than gardens, except possibly in hedging. Coppiced trees, such as beeches, were cut down at ground level or a little above, and the stumps allowed to sprout suckers. After the suckers had grown to medium sized branches-- or the right size for fences, wattle, poles, etc-- they were harvested. Pollarding is the same process, but done much higher off the ground, beyond nibbling reach for deer, cattle, etc. Pollarding survives as a landscaping technique and as the result of trees being cut back for electric and telephone lines.

Plants & trees in pots

There is ample evidence in the pictorial representations of plants in pots either outdoors or in the house (in addition to the works cited below, see The Italian Renaissance Interior: 1400-1600, by Peter Thornton, Abrams 1991) Gillyflowers in pots appear to have been especially popular in that period, both indoors and out. Potted plants and trees are depicted placed on top of grassy beds in gardens and entryways-- these may have been tender perennials or fruit trees.

Pots made of ceramic seem to have been the norm, usually in the familiar 'Italian' flowerpot, or in the shape of urns, with either wide tops or narrow. Plants are also pictured growing from wide-mouthed jugs or crocks.

This sketch based on Carpaccio's Dream of St. Ursula shows two types of planting urns. The railing at the top of the second pot is a support for the carnations being grown inside.Sketch of
        potted plants from Carpaccio's Dream of St. Ursula

Woven baskets are shown being used to transport plants from one place to another in manuscript illuminations,

Potting plants was used to extend the season, as well. Thomas Hill points out that you can start your cucumbers early if you plant them out in pots, leaving them out all day in warm weather and moving them into a warm shed at night.

"The Gardiner which would possesse Cucumbers timely and very soone, yea and all the yeare through, ought (after the minde of the Neopolitane [Rutilius?]) in the beginning of the the spring, to fill up old worne baskets and earthen pans without bottomes, with fine sifted earth tempered afore with fat dung, and to moisten somewhat the earth with water, after the seeds bestowed in theses, which done when warme and sunnie daies succeede, or a gentle raine falling, the baskets or pans with the plants, are then to be set abroad, to be strengthened and cherished by the sun and small showres; but the evening approching, these in all the cold season ought to be set under some warm cover or house in the ground, to be defended from the frosts and cold aire, which thus standing under a cover, or in the warme house, moisten gently with water sundry times, and these on such wise handle, untill all the Frosts, Tempests, and cold aire be past, as commonly the same ceaseth not with us, till abut the middest of May.

After these, when opportunity or an apt day serveth the Gardener shall bestow the Baskets or Pannes unto the brimme, or deeper in the earth, well laboured or trimmed before, with the rest of the diligenceto be exercised, as before uttered; which done, the Gardener shall enjoy very forward and timelier Cowcumbers than any others.

This matter may be compassed, both easier, in shorter time, and with lesser travell, if the owner, after the cutting of the waste branches, doth set them in well labored beds, for these in far shorter time and speedier, doe yeeld faire Cucumbers.

The one thing I think necessary to be learned, for the avoiding of the daily labour and paines, in the setting abroad and carrying into the house, either halfe tubs, baskets, or earthen bannes, which on this wise by greater facility may be done, if so be the Gardener bestwo the vessells with the plants in Wheel-barrowes, or such like with Wheeles; for these, to mens reason, causeth marvellous easiness, doth in the bestowing abroad, and carrying againe into the warme house, as often as need shall require.

The young plants may be defended from cold and boisterous windes, yea, frosts, the cold aire, and hot Sunne, if Glasses made for the onely purpose, be set over them, which on such wise bestowed on the beds, yeelded in a manner to Tiberius Caesar, Cucumbers all the year, in which he took great delight, as after the worthy Columella, the learned Plinie hath committed the same to memory, which every day obtained the like, as he writeth."

Tender perennials and Mediterranean trees such as the orange, bay and pomegranate were sometimes managed this way in Northern Europe during the Renaissance, raised in tubs and brought into a shed, sometimes a heated shed, in the winter. Le Menagier says to bring violets inside in pots for the winter.

Raised beds

Not used in every garden, but in vegetable and medicinal gardens, raised beds were often a major feature from the plan of St. Gall onward. Columella, a Roman writer, dictated:

"The ground is divided into beds, which, however, should be so contrived that the hands of those who weed them can easily reach the middle of their breadth, so that those who are going after weeds may not be forced to tread on the seedlings, but rather may make their way along paths and weed first one and then the other half of the bed."

Landsberg suggests:

"We can deduce that the minimum bed and path width would be four to five feet and one foot respectively. These beds could be simply paced out to any length that fitted the small domestic garden. In large institution gardens. . . a subdivision into perches was most likely to be used. . . subdivisions of an eighty-four foot line can also be made. . . One way of subdividing a perch of 16 1/2 feet is to lay out three beds of four feet in width, two intervening paths of wone foot, and a two-foot-six access path between one perch and the next, wide enough for barrows. Plots could be in strips of several perches in length, but one perch width is the optimum for good access from the sides."

Hill suggests beds of "one foot of breadth, and into what length the owner or gardener will. . . let the pathes between the beds be of such areasonable breadth (as a mans foot) that they passing along by, may freely weed the one half first, and next the other half left to weed."

Parkinson suggests that beds be edged with lead "cut to the breadth of foure fingers, bowing the lower edge a little outward," or "oaken inch boards four or five inches broad," or shank bones of sheep, or tiles, or "round whitish or blewish pebble stones of some reasonable proportion and bignesse." He says, with distaste, that jawbones were sometimes used as edgings in the Low Countries.

In any case, beds were almost universally rectangular, and arranged in aregular pattern, either windowpane check or checkerboard. The fashion of putting a central circular feature with semi-rectangular beds with their corners cut out appears, according to Roy Strong, to have been introduced after 1600. However, it can't have been too long after 1600, as Markham's English Husbandman (from the early 1600s) gives illustrations of both this and triangular beds.



Turfed seats were a major feature of 'gardens of pleasure'. Marble or stone seats also appear. One illustration shows a portable wooden bench. 

The turfed seats, also called excedra, were generally built along the lines of slightly higher raised beds, the outer wals constructed with wood planks, bricks or wattles, though some illustrations show the benches with sod sides as well. (Period depictions show people sitting on the pointed ends of the wattles, demonstrating, as one commenter pointed out, 'an unwonted cuticular toughness'.) Often the turfed seats were arranged around the inner borders of an enclosed 'herber', providing seats as well as anchorage for the trellised plants

Tables also appear, as in one illustration of the Garden of Paradise, where the Virgin has at her elbow a marble table containing a glass of something to drink and some snacks. Dining al fresco was a popular summer activity, and there are many illustrations of couples and groups eating, drinking, and/or playing games at tables and benches set up in the garden.

Water features

Markham's English Husbandman is very emphatic about the need for a water source in your garden. The 14-16th century gardens we have depictions of generally include a water feature. However these were generally surrounded by a lawn, rather than a planting of any sort.

Naomi Miller, in her article "Medieval Garden Fountains" in Medieval Gardens, Dumbarton Oaks, 1986, describes the typical fountain before the vogue for classical statuary beginning in the 14th century:

"...Throughout the late Middle Ages, whethere the fountain was placed at the center of a town square, a monastic cloister, or a Garden of Love, its form remained relatively unchanged. Defined by a circular, polygonal, or quadrilobe basin, it was rooted to the ground or raised upon a basin or steps. Water usually passed through a column; sometimes it rose from the center of the first basin to support a second one and was dispensed by one or more spouts. A more imposing fountain would usually have secondary basins used a troughs, provisions for washing, and even fish tanks. Spouts in the form of lions' heads or grotesques decorating the column were commonplace." (p. 152).


Statuary doesn't appear to have been a major part of early medieval gardens, except in the cases of fountains, and in abbeys, elaborate fountain-type handwashing arrangements.

However, in the Renaissance, interest in statuary, specifically Greek and Roman statuary, boomed. From "museum" gardens designed to display and highlight one's collection of Greek and Roman statues (or copies thereof), the idea of statues as focal points for gardens and grottos took hold.

Generally, statues were in the form of people (Greek, Roman, or Christian characters), mythical animals, or birds, horses, and occasional putti (cherubim types), medusas, or heraldic beasts on the walls seem to be typical. River gods, water nymphs, goddesses with or without fountain outlets in their bosoms, children pouring water from jars, muses, mountain giants, were all popular as statuary and fountains in the last part of the 16th century. Many major English gardens from the Elizabethan period had references to Elizabeth as Diana or Cybele, or as the Rose.

Hampton Court, one of Henry VIII of England's principal seats, was enlivened by sundials and  "The Kinges bestes made to be sett vp in the privie orchard . . . vij of the Kinges Bestes. That is to say ij dragons, ij greyhounds, i lyon, i horse and i Antylope . . ." (1531 household accounts, quoted by R. Strong). This fashion of having heraldic beasts carved out of wood and set up on poles in your garden seems to have spread somewhat, as the beasts appear in other places; there were also topiary beasts appearing in gardens of the period. These beasts might be painted in heraldic colors or gilded, either on appropriate parts or all over.


Mazes & Labyrinths

Labyrinths, in which one cannot get lost, seem to have been more popular in period than Mazes. Copying the fashion in Roman tiles (and perhaps a Roman boys' exercise), big festival or game labyrinths were made of cut turf in some places; by the sixteenth century, the inclusion of a labyrinth laid out with herbs and small shrubs seems to have been one way to use up space in a big garden.

"Hyssop, thyme, and cotton lavender, which were used in the early mazes, are small-- the grow, at the most, knee-high. Mazes made with these are therefore to be surveyed as well as walked in. Their color should be remembered, with box and yew also recommended: these were invaluable as evergreens. . Charles Estienne in his Agriculture et Maison Rustique recommends. . .  'and one bed of camomile to make seats and labyrinths, which they call Daedalus.' In the first English version of this work, translated by Richard Surflet in 1600. . .'these sweet herbes . . . some of them upon seats, and others in mazes made for the pleasing and recreating of the sight.'" Thacker, The History of Gardens.

Knotwork and Parterres (Embroidery-work)

This apparently began to be a fashion in the early 1500's, though its heyday was  in the 1600's. Knots or pattern-work laid out in plants and/or colored stones, usually in blocks of four -- at first generally mirrored both horizontally and vertically, then, later, mirrored only along one axis and even only broken into 2. Markham gives instructions for laying out your knots. (Some knots included spots for the inclusion of the owner's heraldry, etc.)

In 1599, a observer's account of some partierres at Hampton Court (quoted by R. Strong, p. 33):

"By the entrance I noticed numerous patches where square cavities had been scooped out, as for paving stones; some of these were filled with red brick-dust, some with white sand, and some with green lawn, very much resembling a chessboard."

Elaborate, embroidery work 'partierres" were a feature of gardens in the late 1600s and early 1700s.

A Design for a Parterre from a 16th century work"Quarters for knots or armes" from Markham's English Husbandman:

Garden Placement:

Two opposite schools of thought:

Away from refuse dumps, standing water, etc. (See Markham's remarks on garden sites)

Major manor gardens of the latter part of the 16th century often sited the gardens so that they could be seen from the owner's principal private quarters; royalty might have two gardens, one for the king and one for the queen.

Heating arrangements

Hugh Platt, in Floraes Paradise (1608) advocated what Campbell (Charleston Kedding) calls "Sun-entrapping fruit walls, concave, niched, or alcoved . . . He suggesed lining concave walls with lead or tin plates, or pieces of glas, which would reflect the sun's heat back onto the fruit trees. He also considered warming the walls with the backs of kitchen chimneys."

Campbell also gives a good description of period references to hotbeds in Moorish agricultural manuals, in De Crescenzi, and in Thomas Hill. These hot beds were constructed by putting fresh dung in a pit and either putting soil over it and planting in the soil, covering over the plants with a shelter in inclement weather.

Some notes on types of garden

Peasant gardens

We suspect that peasants had mostly just a vegetable garden, perhaps with some medicinal herbs, surrounded by a wattle fence to keep the pigs, etc. out. Definitely they grew pease, beans, etc.

"The garden of the Arden peasant's holding was an important, if poorly documented, resource. Apple, cherry, plum and pear trees seem to have been common on many holdings, as in 1463 at Erdington, where nearly all peasant holdings contained orchards. The range of crops cultivated on the peasant's curtilage is poorly recorded, but the garden of Richard Sharpmore of Erdington was probably typical. In 1380 trespassing pigs ruined his vegetables, grass, beans and peas."-- Andrew Watkins, "Peasants in Arden",  in Richard Britnell, ed. Daily Life in the Late Middle Ages, (Stroud: Sutton Publishing, 1998), p 94.

Abbey Gardens

Monasteries would have multiple gardens: vegetable gardens, an Infirmarer's garden of medicinal herbs, cloisters or orchards for pacing and praying, and perhaps herbers also. Monasteries, hermitages and almoner's establishments sometimes had separate plots for each person to work.

Description of the grounds of the Cistercian Abbey of Clairvaux in the 12th century:

"Within the enclosure of this wall stand many and various trees, prolific in bearing fruit. It resembles a wood, and since it is near the cell of the sick brethren, it offers some comfort to their infirmities, while providing at the same time a spacious place for those who walk, and a sweet place where those who are overheated can rest. Where the orchard ends the garden begins. Here too a lovely prospect presents itself to the infirm brethren; they can sit on the green edge of the great fountain, and watch the little fishes challenging one another, as it were, to war-like encounters, as they meet and play in the water."
 (quoted by Paul Meyvaert, in "The Medieval Monastic Garden," Medieval Gardens, Dumbarton Oaks, 1986)

Infirmary/Hospital Gardens

Carole Rawcliffe, in an article on "Hospital Nurses and their Work," notes that hospitals and infirmaries had gardens that not only had  practical function but also "contributed in less immediately obvious ways to the holistic therapy characteristic of the time." She goes on:

"During the twelfth century, the garden of the Hospital of St. John the Baptist at Castle Donington, Leicestershire, had, indeed, produced such 'powerful herbs and roots' that a local physician had gone there to seek a cure for his own tertian fever. Following a practice discernible at all levels of society, from the peasantry to the baronage, the cultivation of many hospital gardens appears to have been undertaken by women. Since it was such a large and affluent institution, the Savoy could afford to retain a gardener, who took his orders from the matron, as well as the physician and the surgeon. He grew herbs, fruits, and other plants 'for the relief and refreshment of the poor who flock to this hospital.' These were used in cooking, for the preparation of medicines and medicinal baths and for other 'health giving purposes' which probably included the production of scented candles and fumigants for dispelling the miasma of disease. . . "

"In smaller houses, such as St. Giles' Hospital, Norwich, the sisters themselves  grew and processed whatever plants might be needed. Their walled garden, with its thatched pentice, was but one of several green spaces in the precinct, which included the master's ornamental garden, a great garden where trees and vegetables were cultivated, a pond yard, a piggery and a kitchen garden. During the fourteenth century surplus apples, pears, onions and leeks were sold on the open market as a cash crop; other produce included saffron, garlic, hemp and henbane. . . the hospital precincts also incorporated a great meadow, with its prelapsarian 'paradyse garden'. . ."

"At the London hospital of St. Mary Bishopgate the sisters lodged in segregated quarters . . . which gave access to their own garden. Elderly corrodians, such as Joan Lunde, who lived in a 'celle sett yn the sauthe part of the [in]ffermory' of St. Giles' Hospital, Beverly, were anxious to secure such a source of 'greate yerthely comfort'. In 1500-1 she complained to the Court of Chancery that, notwithstanding the money she had spent on maintaining the garden which formed part of her corrody, it had been given to another sister. . . The fitter and more mobile residents of English almshouses, such as those at Ewleme and Arundel, were expected to weed and tidy precinct gardens, but we have little evidence of their use by convalescent patients. At the leper hospital run by St. Albans Abbey inmates were who had been phlebotomized were permitted to rest in a private garden, but many of them appear to have been Benedictines, already accustomed to the prophylactic regimen of the monastic infirmary."

-- Carole Rawcliffe, "Hospital Nurses and their Work", in Richard Britnell, ed. Daily Life in the Late Middle Ages, (Stroud: Sutton Publishing, 1998), pp 58-61.

Ladies' Gardens

Supposedly, castles and manors often had gardens of pleasure for walking in, with seats, private nooks screened from the wind for sitting, flowery meads for sitting and/or playing games. We see many of these in pictures of young ladies and pictures of the Virgin and Child.

Italian Renaissance villa gardens

Italian Renaissance gardens are characterized by lots of space, walks, statuary and 'toys'. The fashion for god and goddess statues, statues with water coming from significant points, and sculptures meant to indicate river gods, naiads, dryads, etc. was extreme; they also attempted to spotlight (or create, if necessary) Etruscan ruins on the property.

From The Decameron (Bocaccio, mid-14th century):

"After this they went into a walled garden beside the mansion, which at first glance seemed to them so beautiful that they began to examine it more carefully in detail. On its outer edges and through the centre ran wide walks as straight as arrows, covered with pergolas of vines which gave every sign of bearing plenty of grapes that year. . . . The sides of these walks were almost closed in with jasmin and red and white roses, so that it was possible to walk in the garden in a perfumed and delicious shade, untouched by the sun, not only in the early morning, but when the sun was high in the sky. . . In the midst of this garden was something which they praised even more than all the rest; this was a lawn of very fine grass, so green that it seemed nearly black, colored with perhaps a thousand kinds for flowers. This lawn was shut in with very green citron and orange trees bearing at the same time both ripe fruit and young fruit and flowers, so that they pleased the sense of smell as well as charmed the eyes with shade. And in the midst of this lawn was a fountain of white marble most marvellously carved. A figure standing on a column in the midst of this fountain threw water high up in the air, which fell back unto  a crystal-clear basin with a delicious sound. . . the water which overflowed. . . ran out of the lawn by some hidden way where it reappeared again in cunningly made little channels which surrounded the lawn."

Large gardens/parks of the very rich:

Parks often included multiple structures, many water features, and, at least if you listened to Crescenzi, were stocked with wild beasts. The large gardens at Woodstock, perhaps orginally made for Henry II's light'o'love Rosamund, and suspected by at least one author to have been made imitation of those in the romance of Tristan and Iseult, are an example.

"Castles, manors and great monastic establishments would have both small herbers for useful and decorative plants and also grander enclosed areas in which walks could be shaded by trees and where there were artificial pools for fish as well as natural streams. . . Geoffrey de Montbray. . . came back to Normandy to sow acorns and grow oaks, beeches and other forest trees inside a park enclosed by a double ditch and a palisade" (Hobhouse)

The park at Hesdin, northern France, created in 1288, included:

"a menagerie, aviaries, fishponds, beautiful orchards, an enclosed garden named Le Petit Paradis, and facilities for tournaments. The guests were beckoned across a bridge by animated rope-operated monkey statutes (kitted up each year with fresh badger-fur coats) to a banqueting pavilion which was set amongst pools." (Landsberg, p. 22)

Compare this prescription from Crescenzi:

"Of the gardens of royal personages and powerful and wealthy lords. And inasmuch as wealthy persons can by their riches and power obtain such things as please them and need only science and art to create all they desire. For them, therefore, let a great meadow be chosen, arranged, and ordered, as here shall be directed. Let it be a place where the pleasant winds blow and  where there are fountains of waters; it should be twenty 'Journaux' or more in size according to the will of the Lord and it should be enclosed with lofty walls. Let there be in some part a wood of divers trees where the wild beasts may find a refuge. In another part let there be a costly pavilion where the king and his queen or the lord and lady may dwell, when they wish to escape from wearisome occupations and where they may solace themselves."

"Let there be shade and let the windows of the pavilion look out upon the garden but not exposed to the burning rays of the sun. Let fish-pools be made and divers fishes placed therein. Let there also be hares, rabbits, deer and such-like wild animals that are not beasts of prey. And in the trees near the pavilion  let great cages be made and therein place partridges, nightingales, blackbirds, linnets, and all manner of singing birds. Let all be arranged so that the beasts and the birds may easily be seen from the pavilion. Let there also be made a pavilion with rooms and towers wholly made of trees...”

Petrus Crescentiis, Opus Ruralium Commodorum. 1305.


One of the best modern resources for information about medieval plants is the Blog of the Cloisters (Metropolitan Museum, NYC) Gardens, The Medieval Garden Enclosed:

In pots:

Basil, rosemary (supposedly reintroduced to England by Queen Phillipa), marjoram, gilliflowers, others.


Mints and fennel (Roman de Rose), hyssop, balm, sweet marjoram (introduced in the 14th c to England), parsley and sage, 'other herbs'.

Charles Estienne in his Agriculture et Maison Rustique recommends the cultivation of many rows of scented herbs, 'both for the reserve of your scented garden, for your hedges, and for your winter stews;' for example, sage and hyssop, thyme, lavender, rosemary, marjoram, costmary, basil, balm, 'and one bed of camomile to make seats and labyrinths, which they call Daedalus.'

Walafrid Strabo lists: Sage, Rue, Southernwood, Wormwood, Horehound, Fennel, Iris, Lovage, Chervil, Lily, Poppy, Clary, Mint, Pennyroyal, Celery, Betony, Agrimony, Tansy, Catmint, Rose, as well as Gourds, Mellons, and Radish.


Coleworts (cabbage, kale), leafbeet, pasnips turnips, and skirrets, sometimes beans and peas (grown mostly as fielc crops), garlic, chives, bulb onion, green leaved onion, watermelons, fennel, leeks, parsley, Salad plants such as borage and langdebeef.

Hills' The Gardener's Labyrinth  lists (for a kitchen or physic garden):

Colewort, Beete, Arage [Orach], Sperage [Asparagus], Spinage [Spinach], Sorrell, Pimpernell, Lovage, Buglosse, Marigolde, Parsely, Tyme, Mints and Holihoke [Hollyhock], Mallows, Artochoke, Endive, Succory, Lettuce, Purselane, Chervils, Smallage [Wild Celery], Targon, Cresses, Bucks horne, Strawberry, Mustard seed, Leeks and Cives [Chives], Onion, Garlike, Scallion, Squill Onion, Saffron, Navews, Rape, Turnips, Radish (long and round), Parsnips, Carrets, Poppie, Cucumber, Gourd, Pompons, Mellons, musk Mellons, Blessed Thistle, Angelica, Velerian, Bitony, Lovage, Elecampane.

Crisp says that Capitulare lists:

 Lilies, Roses, Fenugreek, Costmary, Sage, Rue, Southernwood, Cucumber, Melon, Bottle Gourd, Bean, Cummin, Rosemary, Caraway, Chick pea, Squill, Orris, Tarragon, Anise, Bitter apple, Chicory, Herb William, Laser-wort, Lettuce, Fennel flower, White pepper?, Garden Cress, Butter bur, Pennyroyal, Alexanders, Parsley, Celery, Lovage, Savin, Dill, Fennel, Endive, Dittany, Mustard, Summer Savory, Water Mint, Horse Mint, Tansy, Catmint, Feverfew, Poppy, Beetroot, Asarabacca, Marsh Mallow, Mallow, Carrot, Parsnip, Orache, Blite, Kohlrabi?, Cabbage, Onion, Leek, Radish, Garlic, Madder, Cardoon, Bean, Field or Grey Pea, Coriander, Chervil, Wild caper, Clary, and Houseleek, as well as trees of apples, pears, plums, service tree, medlars, chestnuts, peaches, quince, hazel, almond, mulberry, bay, stone pine, fig, walnut, cherries.


Grapes, roses, jasmine, ivy. Hill suggests mellons or cucumbers in addition to vines (grapevine) for covering pergolas, and rosemary, red roses, briony, cucumber, gourd, jasmine, 'set to grow upright' -- that is up poles, I think. He also mentions the musk rose, the damask rose, and the privet tree.


Roses, White madonna lilies, violets, florentine irises and sweet flags, borage, daisies, lavender, calendula, poppy, etc. Neckham also lists mandrake, daffodils, chicory, calendula (pot marygold), mugwort, feverfew, houseleek, stickadove. (Fifteenth century and later, says Hobhouse, you would see pinks, clove carnations, , stoechas lavender [aka stickadove], and heartsease). Hobhouse says that myrtle in a northern context meant bog myrtle, in the south apparently it would be the aromatic (Greek?) myrtle.

The Unicorn Tapestries include campion, bistot, orchis, lords & ladies, violas, sweetrocket, carnations, white lilies, holy thistle, leopard's bane, stock and lady's mantle. (Hobhouse)

The flowerbeds of the gardens of the Hotel de Pol in the 1370s included 'roses, rosemary, lavender, wallflowers, marjoram, and sage as well as strawberries', when it was refurbished in 1398, 'grape vines. . . pear and apple trees, cherries and plums as well as eight "green bay trees"' as well as roses, lily bulbs, and flag irises. (Hobhouse)

Shrubs & Hedges

Germander, Box, Roses, Lavender, Rosemary, Privet and others.

Crescenzi's gardens of the middle size should be 'surrounded by ditches and hedges of thorns or roses. . . . in warm places make a hedge of pomegranates and in cold places of nuts or plums and quinces'. Hill gives directions for creating a quickset hedge using seeds of Briers (Eglantine roses), brambles, the white Thorne, Gooseberry and Barberry trees, mixed with vetch-meal and smeared into old untwisted rope, thus making a sort of 16th century seed-tape. For short hedges/edgings inside the garden Parkinson suggests thrift, germander, hyssop, marjoram, savory, thyme, lavender cotton, juniper, yew, and box; for larger hedges Hill and Parkison suggest privet, sweetbriar, white thorn, roses; also lavender, rosemary, sage, southernwood, lavender cotton, or Cornell (cherry trees).

The visitor to Hampton Court (1599) describes it: "The hedges and surrounds were of hawthorn, bush firs, ivy, roses, juniper, holly, English or common elm, box and other shrubs, very gay and attractive."

Thomas Hill gives instructions for making a sort of 'seed tape' for hedges, by slightly unplaiting an old rope, and mixing shrub seeds with tar and spreading it into the rope. Mixed hedges where shrubs of quicker growth were mingled with slower growing ones in order to provide a succession growth, were often recommended.


Orchard trees that give fruit (apples, pears, plums); tender perennials such as bay, orange, pomegranate in the south and later in period, Olives and date palms in the south. Nut trees such as chestnut and almond. Pine and Cypress. Of non-fruiting trees, linden or lime trees were popular in northern Europe; William Stephen in 1180 mentions elms, oaks, ash, and willow "along watercourses and to make shady walks" (says Hobhouse); the Roman de la Rose also mentions fir, and oriental plane trees.

Crescenzi says:

"Trees are to be planted in their rows, pears, apples,  and palms, and in warm places, lemons. Again mulberries, cherries, plums, and such noble trees as figs, nuts, almonds, quinces, and such-like, each according to their kinds, but spaced twenty feet apart more or less."

He also suggests box, broom, cypress, dogwood, laburnum, rosemary, eonymous or spindle and tamarisk.

Albertus Magnus recommended:

"every sweet smelling herb such as rue, and sage and basil, and likewise all sorts of flowers, as the violet, the columbine, lily, rose, iris and the like. . . sweet trees, with perfumed flowers and agreeable shade, like grapevines, pears, apples, pomegranates, sweet bay trees, cypresses and such like."

He also suggested  a lawn, a bench of flowering turf, seats in the center of the garden, and a fountain.


Clarkson has some good material on tools, including scythes, and very modern looking rakes, trowels, and shovels. Robin Roe (Raisya Khorivovna) has the following notes on tools for the Carolingian garden:

"There was very little evidence of the tools available, but I've found that  the Romans had forks, a primitive spade, sickles, a variety of hoes, a dibber and an odd tool called a falx.  The falx was the main tool for pruning,  particularly in viniculture, throughout the medieval period.  Most of the tools show up in Roman tombs along the Rhine, and any of them may have been in use in the Carolingian garden." -- personal communication


Pre-1650 (Primary Sources)

Period Illustrations:

Secondary Sources

Other resources

Additional Titles with Material on Medieval/Renaissance Gardens:

A collected Albertus Magnus quote (John Harvey's translation):

"There are, however, some places of no great utility or fruitfulness. . . these are what are called pleasure gardens.  They are in fact mainly designed for the delight of the two senses, viz. sight and smell. . .[about the lawn] may be planted every sweet smelling herb such as rue, and sage and basil, and likewise all sorts of flowers, as the violet, the columbine, lily, rose, iris and the like. So that between these herbs and the turf, at the edge of the lawn set square, let therebe a higher bench of turf flowering and lovely; and somewhere in the middle provide seats so that men may sit down there to take their repose pleasurably when their senses need refreshment. Upon the lawn, too, against the heat of the sun, trees should be planted or vines trained, so that the lawn may have a delightful and cooling shade, sheltered by their leaves. For from these trees shade is more sought after than fruit, so that not much trouble should be taken to dig about to manure them, for this might cause great damage to the turf. Care should also be taken that the trees are not too close together or too numerous, for cutting off the breeze may do harm to health. . . the trees should not be bitter ones whose shade gives rise to diseases, such as the walnut and some others; but let them be sweet trees, with perfumed flowers and agreeable shade, like grapevines, pears, apples, pomegranates, sweet bay trees, cypresses and such like."

Copyright 2001-2023, Jennifer A. Heise. CC BY-NC-ND

Permission is explicitly granted for limited reproduction as a printed handout for classes in schools, herb society meetings, or classes or guild meetings in the Society for Creative Anachronism, as long as I am notified and credited and the entire handout is used.