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A Guide to Medieval Gardens (Hardback)

Gardens in the Age of Chivalry

Medieval History Photographic Books Colour Books Medieval Gardening Nature White Owl

By Michael Brown
Imprint: White Owl
Pages: 176
ISBN: 9781526794543
Published: 30th January 2022
This Week's Best Sellers Rank: #6

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Medieval gardens usually rate very few pages in the garden history books. The general perception is still of small gardens in the corner of a castle. Recent research has shown that the gardens were larger than we previously believed. This book contains information and pictures that have not been generally available before, including the theory and practice of medieval horticulture. Many features of later gardens were already a part of medieval gardens. The number of plants was limited, but was still no less than many modern gardeners use in their own gardens today. Yet medieval gardens were imbued with meaning. Whether secular or religious, the additional dimension of symbolism, gave a greater depth to medieval gardens, which is lacking in most modern ones.

This book will be of interest to those who know little about medieval gardens and to those with more knowledge. It contains some of the vast amount of research that the author carried out to create the medieval gardens at the Prebendal Manor, Nassington, Northamptonshire. The author has tried to use previously unused sources and included his own practical experience of medieval gardening methods that he carried out to maintain the gardens. Some worked, others certainly didn’t.

This is a well written and illustrated layman accessible book. The author provides a good overview over the (scant) extant historical records for the locations and aspects of medieval gardens associated with castles and monasteries in Britain and surrounding areas. It's well organized and easy to understand. The chapters are arranged thematically: historical records of medieval gardens, cultural influences, monastic and secular gardens, design, water features, parks, plants, gardeners, period tools, cultivation techniques, the gardener's seasonal calendar, and a very short tutorial guide with inspiration for modern gardeners to incorporate medieval features into their modern gardens.

The book is peppered throughout with drawings, facsimile historical documents, illustrations from period illuminated books, and modern photographs of recreated gardens - many of which have historical recreators in period dress. The photos especially added a lot for me and made it easy to imagine what the original gardens must've been like.

This is a good general introduction. It's not a scholarly work, so there aren't any chapter annotations, but the author has included a fair number of website resources and period gardens and resources which are open (at least part time) to the public. There's an abbreviated bibliography which will also provide opportunities for further reading.

Four stars.

NetGalley, Annie Buchanan

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Gardening is difficult to imagine on this brutal -36C winter day. Nonetheless, this book transported me immediately to the beauty and practicality of gardening, namely in the medieval period. As a master gardener I look at many aspects of gardens yet had not thought enough about the the whys of depictions of gardens and plants through ancient art, such as idealized landscapes on tapestries. Fascinating information and gorgeous and compelling photographs abound in this book. The author also includes places where some gardens can be seen. I have had the fortune to visit some of them (Bodiam, Kenilworth, Tintagel) plus others outside of the UK. Well worth seeking out!

Gardens can be public and private, practical and strictly for pleasure. In this interesting look into history which begins with Biblical Eden the author describes the roles of fish ponds, deer parks, dovecotes and fountains in gardens and explains monastery gardens with their cloisters, decorated shrines and wells. Plants were...and are...used in creating colours and textiles. Evidence is not only found in art but also in documents and plans such as state expenses and pollen analysis.

This book is packed with details about garden tools used then, willow withies (which I see in the Mediterranean), pest control, fertilizers and an intriguing story about Constantine IX. Tree arbours, pattens, vineyards, moats and turf seats are detailed. But there is so much more.

Gardeners and historians alike have reason to fall in love with this gorgeous book but you needn't be either to appreciate it.

My sincere thank you to Pen & Sword and NetGalley for the privilege of reading this fabulously rich and educational book! It has changed the way I will view art and literature in this manner from now on.

NetGalley, Brenda Carleton

Informative book. I was familiar with coppiced trees, but had no idea they dated back so far. Also, turf seats sound so interesting. I always assumed gardens were only kept for food and herbs and decorative gardens didn't develop until the 18th century. It was amazing to learn that topiaries developed so early in history. Quite a bit of research went into writing this book and as a gardener, I enjoyed reading about the discoveries. Gardeners will likely enjoy this book, it's not too technical and the history of gardens is always of interest!

NetGalley, Catherine Hankins

Some people enjoy gardening and some people enjoy visiting gardens. I hate gardening and the only reason I have for visiting a garden is to check out the cake in the café. No café = no visit. I am possibly not the ideal reader that the publisher had in mind when hoping for a review of Michael Brown’s A Guide to Medieval Gardens then...

However, I was highly, highly impressed. I am obviously not going to admit that I enjoyed the book because that might lead to “If you enjoyed READING about gardens, maybe you’ll enjoy having a go yourself. Why don’t you try some gardening today while it’s sunny?” Then, before I know it, I’ll be expected to do terrifying unsupervised tasks like decide whether a plant is a weed or not (that ended badly last time); and how much to prune the bushes (ditto). That said, I read A Guide to Medieval Gardens from cover to cover. It’s obviously written by an expert who is also a practitioner; and experts who can write well are always worth reading, whatever the topic – and the photos are stunning.

Michael Brown’s experience shines through with throwaway comments such as this one about using onion skins to dye cloth, “[…] an iron dye-pot will produce a much darker colour than an earthenware one.” His humour is less obvious, but it’s worth paying attention to enjoy sentences like “The process to extract the blue dye from the leaves involved fermented human urine and caused the dyers to smell and have blue hands, so the dye families had to inter-marry as nobody else would have them.”

Brown writes about the gardens’ design and the plants they would have contained, as well as how the gardener would have worked them. There are chapters on tools and cultivation techniques; the medieval gardening year; water and other garden features. Finally, there is a chapter on making your own medieval garden that concludes with Brown’s best advice: “One thing is important, make the time to sit in your garden to enjoy the scents and sounds.”

NetGalley, Colin Edwards

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Michael Brown created the largest medieval gardens in Europe featuring a tunnel arbor, a vineyard, a vegetable garden, a coppice and many other decorative features. He shares his historical research of medieval gardens here, telling readers about the symbolism, the Islamic influence, the influence of chivalry and other factors involved in creating a beautiful garden. He also tells fascinating anecdotes about Kings and Queens, garden saints and the meaning of flowers.

Stunning pictures enhance the book's extensive coverage. This will be extremely useful for passionate gardeners and historical researchers.

NetGalley, Lisa Sanderson

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This comprehensive text covers several aspects of medieval gardens including layout, techniques, plants used, locations, tools, eradication of pests, etc. Advice on those endeavoring to set up their own garden is included along with a list of modern medieval-styled gardens to visit and the optimal visiting times. Bibliography is provided for further reading. An interesting read for any avid gardener and lover of history.

NetGalley, Katherine Wehrle

When I first came upon this book I knew that I wanted to read it, as it combines two of my favorite things - history and gardening.

This book is just wonderful, with illustrations and full color photos. There is so much information within, and I came away having learned quite a bit about medieval gardens -different types, different plants, plans, yearly tasks broken down by month, vineyards, orchards, etc. There really is a lot here.

Recommended.

NetGalley, Michelle Smith

What a beautiful book! The book has a great flow from one topic to the next. The artwork and photography are breathtaking. I love the attention to detail with everything pertaining to gardens instead of just the plants. Discussing the different tools used was very interesting. Would love to have this showcased on my coffee table.

NetGalley, Heather Schreiber

About Michael Brown

Michael J Brown has an MA in Garden History and is an experienced gardener. He has been interested in history and gardening for as long as he can remember.


He spent his childhood building camps, cooking (well actually, burning food) over open fires, making bows and arrows and using cricket stumps for swords - he still finds cricket very boring.


Michael became a qualified gardener and worked his way up to become a Head Gardener and later a college lecturer teaching horticulture and garden history. He created the medieval gardens at the Prebendal Manor at Nassington, Northamptonshire. This book is the result of some of his research of medieval gardens and the uses of the plants at that period. He has also assisted with several other early garden projects.


Pen and Sword also published his book about poisonous plants, Death in the Garden, in 2018.

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