I am a gardener. Despite the gloves (hate dirty hands), the perspiration (ugh! Excretory system, people), and the labor (no exposition needed), I NEED to garden. Working the soil, making things grow, creating something beautiful all fulfill me in a way nothing else does. It allows my mind to wander where it will, freeing ideas or solutions otherwise hidden.
Medieval people were avid gardeners. Not everyone loved it, of course, or used it to trick their muse into being forthcoming, but folks liked to eat, and most had some basics planted in their yards. Beauty was secondary to survival when it came to planting. A quick trip to the grocery store wasn’t an option. To make it through until the next harvest, food had to be grown and stored.
On large estates, be they castle or manor, medicinal herbs, cooking herbs, onions, and the like were often reserved for what was called “The Kitchen Garden” for obvious reasons. Now, I’m not suggesting you plant a kitchen garden, per se, but using some of the items found therein among your own decorative plantings adds color, texture, fragrance, and a quick source of fresh ooomph to your culinary offerings.
This is a photo my recently completed ‘Meditation Garden’.
Within you will find many fragrant herbs like thyme, rosemary, sage, basil, mint, oregano (common in Mediterranean gardens), and lemon balm–all of which flower. Medicinal and edible flowers also populate this garden: foxglove, holyhocks, lilies, and lavendar, predominently, and add their fragrances to the mix.
Parsley, chives, more rosemary, and lavendar are located in other gardens, all of which contribute themselves to whatever is being mixed, grilled, baked, boiled, steamed, sauteed, or roasted either in the kitchen or in the yard.
I have a hummingbird feeder and a solar powered fountain, as you can see, as well as solar lighting—none of which would have been found in a medieval garden, of course—but the angel statues, the stone path, and the wrought iron-looking entry aid the illusion.
I’m thinking about putting a willow at the base of the yard—the bark, which can be chewed or brewed into tea, contains salicin, a pain reliever that has since been synthesized into salicitic acid which is the primary component of aspirin–because soaking the green shoots in water produces a rooting compound head and shoulders above what is available commercially.
Medieval gardens also included flowering fruit trees, apple, pear, and plum being the most common in Britain, arbored grape vines, and other climbing medicinals like honeysuckle and ivy. These were ruthlessly pruned and pulled to keep them from overtaking the entire garden. Lily of the Valley, Bluebells, and other bulb-grown plants were also used. The bulbs provided the medicines, the flowers, fragrances for soaps, unguents, and perfumes.
One of my favorite books on medieval gardens is Brother Cadfael’s Herb Garden by Rob Talbot & Robin Whiteman. It warns of the dangers even as it explains the medicinal uses of each plant. Another good book is called The Medieval Garden by Sylvia Landsberg which explains layout and gives a more comprehensive view of how gardens were actually used in a medieval home.
A path lined with fragrant herbs leading to your door will always provide a warm welcome to your guests while saving money on herbs for your kitchen. Give it a try!