The Medieval French Garden Was Exclusively “Utilitarian,” Serving Food-Related & Monastic Functions. They Normally Comprised Three Distinct Garden Areas, Were Often Rectangular And Enclosed With Walls.

The French Medieval Garden, can teach us about UK gardening, and had three areas, as follows:-

Le jardin des simples (herbularius)

Essentially, this was the medicinal garden situated near the infirmary, apothecary, bloodletting house, or cloister. The term “simples” denoted remedies derived from a single plant, contrasting with the intricate preparations of scholarly or monastic based medicine.

Le verger (viridarium or pomarium) or “orchard cemetery”

This garden evoked paradise and featured fruit trees pruned in espalier. For monks, it served primarily utilitarian purposes and as a place for meditation. In it were cultivated a variety of fruits such as apples, pears, blackberries, peaches, plums, pine, service tree, medlar, cherries, chestnuts, figs, quinces, hazelnuts, almonds, and walnuts.

Potager Garden Beds in Medieval French Garden

Le jardin potager (hortus)

Medieval French Gardens 
Antigng, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This garden housed the primary flowers essential for altar decoration, plus the plants used in the kitchen. It was often arranged in defined beds surrounded by woven willow hedges and was typically located close to the kitchens.

In medieval times, vegetables, being associated with the earth, were reserved for the common people, while the elite preferred the consumption of fruits, considered closer to the heavens. Recipes for vegetables in the cookbooks of the 14th and 15th centuries were relatively scarce. Occasionally, “bouquet gardens” brought together vegetables, condiments, and small fruits for altar decoration.

The Carolingian Influence On Medieval Gardens

The “Capitulaire de Villis,” is the origin of these bouquet gardens which were generally situated near the kitchens.

Legislative texts enacted between 770 and 813 by Charlemagne (or his successor Louis the Pious) aimed at the proper management of the empire’s domains. These texts, written in medieval Latin, provide insights into how Carolingian gardens should be managed and are currently preserved at the Wolfenbüttel Library in Germany.

A total of 94 plants (73 plants and herbs, 16 fruit trees, 3 textile plants, and 2 dye plants) are mentioned as cultivated.

University Influence of Medieval French Gardens

Since medieval times, the faculties of medicine and pharmacy in Marseille and Montpellier played a crucial role. The therapeutic virtues of plants was taken seriously, and and care was taken not to confuse species or to use the wrong part of the plant, which can be dangerous. Only a doctor, pharmacist, or herbalist prescribed the use of a particular plant for therapeutic purposes.

Knowledge of local plants was considered essential. The School of Medicine in Salerno, the first medical school, welcomed both men and women. They recognised nine categories of plants, including various panaceas, species for alleviating stomach ailments, purgatives, fever remedies, expectorant herbs, and plants for women. It was the origin of the most significant source of European medical knowledge in the Middle Ages.

From the 13th century, the School of Medicine in Montpellier began to overshadow the School of Salerno. In the Middle Ages, numerous works testified to the use of plants for therapeutic purposes. Saint Hildegard of Bingen, in her important work “Liber Simplis Medicinae,” describing nearly 300 plants, explained that the health of the soul depends on the health of the body, leading to an approach that focused more on symptoms than on causes.

So the number of plants being recognised had grown from 94 to nearly 300. It’s a far cry from the many thousands of plants grown in European countries today. However, those grown in the medieval period are still with us today and we still see many of them grown in gardens across Europe and the UK.

French Medieval Gardening Cultivation

I can find little about how these gardens were cultivated. My instinct is that they were hand cultivated and that the horse, ox or donkey were not used to plough them. But much will depend on the size and location of the garden.

Specific Medieval Garden Plants .. For Growing Today

Agnieszka Kwiecień, Nova, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

In the next few posts I’m going to detail several of them. I’ll start with one that is more likely to be found in France, where it flavours drinks. That is absinthe.

Later in the series I’ll include nigella, onions, parsnips, lavender plus a few others finishing with verbena.

Medieval Plants: The Video

Children often ask the best questions ….. here’s one asking about medieval plants

Tag: Medieval French Gardens

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Image Attribution:
AntigngCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Agnieszka Kwiecień, Nova, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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