The Late Medieval garden And An Italian Renaissance garden

The Late Medieval garden And An Italian Renaissance garden


All the exquisite quality of a manuscript illumination is evoked in this garden, over which the eye is asked to wander and drink in every detail. The medieval gardens that we know about were simple yet highly sophisticated; recorded with meticulous accuracy in contemporary illustrations, the Flemish gardens of the fifteenth century encompass the essential common factors which add up to make a style. They were small and inward-looking, and so would suit both country and urban sites. In layout they were formal, and their design was about enclosure: outer walls or wattle fences, and inner lattice-work low fences allowing access to rectangular raised beds held in by wood or brick. The plant range was extremely limited; each flower was to be viewed in isolation and with wonder; and there was no sculpture apart from simple fountains into which water reluctantly spouted.

In this plan I have deliberately divided the space into two in order to give expression to the main types of garden — or ‘her- bee as they were known — typical of the close of the Middle Ages.

One contains raised beds arranged with quite a high degree of formality, while the other is a flowery mead whose essence is a sophisticated and studied naturalism, achieved through seemingly artless informality. Together they provide a delightful contrast, with the symmetry and geometry of the raised beds making a graceful transition between the house and the apparently wild garden beyond. Although medieval gardens were generally flat enclosures without changes of level, they were often reached down a flight of steps from the bedroom of the lady of the house. This reflected both a keen appreciation of horizontal pattern in the garden, best viewed from above (knots had become fashionable by the close of the fifteenth century), and a desire for ready access.

The raised bed herber is based on similar ones depicted in many paintings of the period, including those illustrated overleaf, and depends heavily on structure. For modern gardeners perhaps the most unaccustomed element in the garden, both visually and horticulturally, is the turf that fills virtually all the beds, which should be studded with topiary (which was often curiously supported and tied into place), shrubs and flowers. Exceptionally, a bed may be filled with flowers of a single species supported by a lattice-work frame.

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