Sunday, July 6, 2008

Medieval Gardening & Herbs

Gardens were a great source of ingredients for both cooking and medicinal purposes in medieval times. Some herbs and plants were also used for religious ceremonies and for dyeing of fabrics.

A selection of herbs and plants grown in medieval gardens are still around today with a few still used for the same purpose – eg. Rosemary (Romarinus officinalis) was used then, as it is now, in cookery for seasoning.

Others include:
Angelica (Angelica archangelica)
Borage (Borage officinalis)
Dill (Anethum graveolens)
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia
Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Thyme (Thymus spp)

Photo: Rosemary growing in my garden

Many medieval castles have gardens, not all dating from the medieval era admittedly, but many of the families who have owned these castles over the centuries have developed herb gardens within their castle gardens. I once enjoyed a super meal cooked by Lady Carlisle at Naworth Castle and recall how she enthused about the quality of the herbs in the recipe – all from her own herb garden within the castle grounds. I must admit, the food did taste really good!

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Castle Gardens: Arundel Castle, Leeds Castle, Naworth Castle

"How many kinds of sweet flowers grow in an English country garden? "

A famous line from a famous song ... and a very good question too. What is 'an English country garden' anyway? Just a garden of someone living in the country? To my mind, the best of all country gardens is a castle garden, especially a medieval castle. Many of today's common flowers as well as some fruits and herbs were being grown in or around castle gardens as far back as the 1300's.

A great example is Naworth Castle in Cumbria. The Howard family still live there today and their garden is a credit to them as well as to previous generations who loved and nurtured it. The herb garden in particular has contributed to everyday meals and banquets held at the Castle for centuries and the flowers are too numerous to mention. There is also a wonderfully characterful, wooden seat at one end of the castle garden known as ‘Tennyson's Seat' where the great poet used to enjoy sitting when paying one of his customary visits to the Howard family at Naworth (seat, now painted white, is featured in the photograph). In summer the castle garden is awash with colour and a sense of timelessness seems to pervade the air.

There are many other castle gardens like this, especially in England, including Eastnor Castle which also has a marvellous arboretum with a collection of cedar trees thought by many to be the finest in Britain. Other medieval castles with superb gardens include:

Arundel Castle - A new garden was opened by HRH Prince Of Wales (14 May 2008)
Berkeley Castle - Elizabethan gardens and Queen Elizabeth I's bowling green
Dunster Castle – The National Collection of strawberry trees is here
Herstmonceux Castle - Elizabethan gardens
Hever Castle - Award-winning gardens
Leeds Castle - Extensive gardens and lake setting

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