The Medieval Enclosed Garden

Most every manor, abbey, and great estate of Medieval Europe had gardens. Gardens provided a continual supply of fruit, vegetables, and flowers to many people and were a necessity before the growth of trade and modern food preservation techniques. You would usually find on the grounds a kitchen garden, farm, vineyard, orchard, pleasure garden, and perhaps woods. Peasants, too, had gardens by paying wealthy landowners for the rights to use their land. They worked the fields’ daily, planting, harvesting, and fertilizing the plants. Then, a portion of their harvest would be given as payment.

It was essential to shelter the garden’s plants from wind and frost so walled gardens were built to provide an encouraging microclimate for fruit, vegetable and flower growth. Sheltering by walling can raise the temperature within the garden by several degrees, permitting plants to be grown that might not otherwise survive in that climate. Medieval gardens were enclosed with stone, brick, branches, or hedges.  An enclosed garden also kept out animal and human intruders besides being decorative.

The skillful and wealthy built walls of stone or baked-brick, artfully laid and mortared together. People with less money or ability formed fences with large and small stones, handsomely laid and held together with mortar. The poor enclosed their gardens with fences made with canes of young Willow trees set upright and bound together with small poles and dried black thorne. Mortar was made from mud, dung, chaffe, and straws cut short and mixed together.

The traditional design of a walled garden was to split it into four quarters separated by paths with a pool at the center. This technique dates back to the very ancient gardens of Persia.