February 16, 2016

Spoiled for Choice

Since I knew next-to-nothing about medieval gardening, I started with a broad overview of the early medieval period and the British Isles. There seem to be several good books on the subject, and I'm working my way through them. (I'll post more on those sources later.)

These sources have a heavy focus on monastic gardens, since those are some of the most well documented and preserved. There is also some discussion of lay gardens, most of which are utilitarian kitchen gardens and/or small crop fields.

My initial impression is that there are some different types of gardens I can create and look more into:

1. Orchard - an open stand of fruit trees

2. Herber - a small, enclosed garden with mixed elements for utility, beauty, shade, and recreation

3. Kitchen Garden - a utility garden planted with herbs and possibly fruits and vegetables for the kitchen

4. Physic Garden - a small garden with medicinal plants and sometimes space for patients to take walks

5. Vegetable Field - a garden or field of varying size where vegetables are planted and cultivated in traditional row or mound formation

6. Vineyard - a grape garden, either with vines cultivated onto supports or trailing along the ground

7. Leisure Garden - a garden where the focus is beauty and tranquility rather than utility, usually with flowers, sweet-smelling shade trees, open lawns with or without flowers, and seating areas for enjoying it in relative comfort

8. Pleasure Park - a managed and enclosed forest where game animals could be hunted for sport

These are all attractive options, but I think I'll probably get started on the orchard, herber, and vineyard first. The herber will let me play around with elements from most of the others to get started!

February 4, 2016

Medieval Plant Project: Formulating a Question

Knowing that I want to research agriculture and gardening around the historical time period and location of my SCA persona (9th century eastern Ireland), and that I want to translate that research into real, live gardens and landscaping, I have a big question to answer.  

Where do I start?

 Plant use is a tremendous field that spans the entire world for all of human history, and active cultivation is only slightly less broad. I know I want to get "into the weeds" eventually, but it's hard to produce something you can present as a discrete project without a mission statement.

I also happen to be house shopping, so anything that requires me having land available for longer than a season is out for the time being. That's probably a good thing, since I tend to dive in piece by piece without a coherent idea of the overall context unless I'm forced to plan ahead. So plan ahead I shall!

And thus, my question is born: What are the types of gardens and cultivation that were used in and around 9th century Ireland, and what are the individual features and plants in each type?

This will be my first incremental project on what I hope will be a fun and engaging research journey. I have a pretty good number of books and publications to peruse and collect information. My local library system has been great for getting references shipped in from elsewhere!

This blog is set up specifically to be my project journal for all of my work with medieval plant research, so feel free to follow along as I nerd out about the history of my favorite outdoor pastime!