Friday, January 8, 2016

Plan a Medieval Garden (Pictorial Guide)

Winds will howl and snow may fall, but one of winter's greatest consolations is time to snuggle down by the fire with a cup of something warm and plan your garden. This is usually, in my household, accompanied by much engrossed reading of seed catalogs, an art form all their own. If you don't receive any, never fear. Just order a catalog from a seed company online and others are bound to follow.

In this post I'll cover the elements of a medieval pleasure garden and explain why it's a good idea to incorporate them into your own planning. This is a topic that calls for pictures, don't you think? After the bustle of the holidays, staring at pretty images might hold a certain appeal.

Plan a Medieval Garden

Medieval gardens had various functions. There were kitchen gardens, infirmary gardens, cemetery orchards, vineyards, as well as vegetable and herb gardens. Medieval pleasure gardens were places to unwind, do needlework, flirt a little or court in earnest, listen to music being played (the non-CD variety), read poetry or other literature, and enjoy art.


One of the distinguishing elements of a medieval garden was its walls. These were made of stone, brick, hedge, rammed earth, wattle, lattice, strong fences called palisades, trees, topiary, or the walls of the building it adjoined. This gave the visitor to a medieval garden a feeling of being set aside in a world apart. For Christians, walls symbolized the virginity of Mary, mother of Christ and derived from Song of Solomon 4:12: "A garden locked is my sister, my bride, A rock garden locked, a spring sealed up."
France: Alhambra palace gardens by Bruno befreetv (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

“A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.” - See more at:
France: Cloister of Saint-Leonce Cathedral, Frejus by Patricia.fidi (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Netherlands: Medieval garden wall, east of the Coendersborg estate in Nuis By KinghenryIX (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 nl (], via Wikimedia Commons


A European medieval garden usually contained a launde, the Middle English word originally used to describe a forest glade. Medieval lawns were at first made of flower-strewn grasses, chamomile, or thyme to emulate the look of a meadow. Later in the middle ages, the short-cropped lawn came in favor.

England: Medieval pleasure garden illustration from Roman de la Rose, ca. 1490-1500 held by the British Library
Italy: Medieval Garden, Perugia by Grifomaniacs via Wikimedia Commons

England: Mannington Hall - south elevation. The view was taken across the moat, from the south lawn by Evelyn Simak [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Raised or Sunken Garden Beds

In milder climates, beds were usually raised and lined with boards or wattle to improve drainage. Medieval gardens in a sunnier climate might have sunken beds to capture needed moisture. Beds were edged with plants, bricks, stones, or wattle (woven willow). Besides bringing beauty to the garden, edgings protected plants from being foraged by animals.
France: The medieval garden at the bottom of the castle of Sainte-Agnès (Alpes-Maritimes, France)By Tangopaso (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

England: Rodemack, the medieval garden by Dguendel (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
France : Medieval Garden Musee de l'Oeuvre Notre Dame, Strasbourg by Pethrus (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Water Features

Medieval gardens generally included a water feature as a central focus, much as we use them today. These included wells, springs falling into a pool, streams, and tiered fountains.

Spain: Alhambra palace gardens in Granada I, Wela49 [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC BY 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

England: the garden and fountain at Westminster Abbey, Anthony M. from Rome, Italy (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Spain: the Alhambra palace gardens by night. Image from Grand Parc - Bordeaux, France from France [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Garden Walks

Garden paths of course had their practical use but also were an invitation to wander among nature's beauty. As today, these walkways were made from grass, packed dirt, brick, gravel, stone, or paving materials.
France: Avenue of Hornbeams, in the gardens of Eyrignac Manor, in Dordogne by TwoWings (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

England: Rodemack, the town wall at the medieval gardenBy Dguendel (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

England: A view of Belsay Castle at the beginning of the return garden walk by HARTLEPOOLMARINA2014 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Garden Seats

A place to while away an afternoon was an important feature in a medieval garden. Garden seats of turf, marble, or other kinds of stone were rectangular, circular, U-shaped, or L-shaped and might be built in the fashion of raised beds enclosed by planks, brick, wattle, or even sod. Garden seats would be placed either in the center of the garden or along the edge and sometimes were encorporated into the enclosure.

Netherlands: Honor Making a Chaplet of Roses tapestry from the The Cloisters Collection shows a U-shaped garden seat, also known as excedra, courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Germany : Maria Rose Haag with saints and donors Date circa 1420-1430 by Kölner Maler um 1430 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Germany: You can see how the turfed garden benches were used in these images of Saint Anne with Mary and Jesus and a kneeling Carthusian monk with Saint Barbara circa 1490 in the Master of the Brunswick Diptych (fl. between 1480 and 1510) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Some Last Thoughts

History books tend to focus on the darker parts of medieval living, but these images make the middle ages seem downright civilized, don't they? They could even be said to put our rushed modern world to shame. Recapturing the a bygone lifestyle in your garden can add richness to a harried life.
A castle garden features in Tales of Faeraven, a medieval epic fantasy series based on 13th-Century Europe. 
In the garden, mysterious breezes filter through the trees, and the fountain at the garden's heart sheds rainbows of light-infused water while telling a story of courage from the history of its people. 
In the mode of the middle ages, the inner garden yields its share of intrigue, romance, chivalry, and music.

About Janalyn Voigt

Janalyn Voigt's unique blend of adventure, romance, suspense, and whimsy creates breathtaking fictional worlds for readers. Look for her upcoming western historical fiction. She also writes fantasy. Beginning with DawnSinger, Janalyn's epic fantasy series, Tales of Faeraven, carries readers into a land only imagined in dreams.

Bohemian by ethnicity and mindset, Janalyn is an eclectic artist who creates in multiple disciplines. (she also draws, sings, writes poetry, and toys with a camera.)

Janalyn is represented by Wordserve Literary Agency. Her memberships include ACFW and NCWA. When she's not writing, she loves to discover worlds of adventure in the great outdoors with her family.

Visit Janalyn Voigt's website.

References and Further Reading


  1. These gardens are GORGEOUS! I spotted lots of great reading areas.....

    1. I couldn't agree more, Caryl. It would be awesome to while away time reading in any of these gardens.

  2. Beautiful post, Janalyn! May I join you two?

    1. Sorry for the delay in replying, Golden. I came down ill right when this published. You would, of course, be welcome. Oh, what stories we could weave!

  3. Janalyn, these pictures are amazing. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Beautiful and so interesting...thank you for sharing!