Gardening with a Purpose
A Monastic Garden was used by many and for multiple purposes. In many ways, gardening was the chief method of providing food for households, but also encompassed orchards, cemeteries and pleasure gardens, as well as medicinal and cultural uses. Gardening was especially important in the monasteries, as they were used extensively by the monks and created a way of life, supplying their overall livelihood. Typically, many of the fruits, vegetables, and herbs that were grown were utilized in multiple ways and over multiple parts of the garden.
Monks not only used these medicinal herbs on themselves but also on the local community. One prominent healer was Hildegard of Bingen, a woman who lived in a double monastery that housed both men and women and eventually was elected magistra and later cared for her own secluded monastery. Besides the extensive writing she did, Hildegard was regularly visited by people throughout Europe, including Henry II of England, the Holy Roman Emperor, and the empress of Byzantium, as well as the local community. Hildegard was seen as the “first woman physician” because of her work as a healer and her medical text writings.
Monasteries and Manor houses dictated the garden style of the medieval period.
A list of what you may find in the garden of the Monastery
- Gardens enclosed with wattle fences or quickthorn hedges
- Trellis walkways and arbours providing shade and privacy
- Raised beds to prevent plants becoming waterlogged
- Grass treated as a flowery mead planted with low growing wild flowers
- Turf seats usually built against a wall with flowers planted in the grass
- Physic gardens with regimented beds of medicinal herbs
- Orchards providing apples for the kitchen and for making cider
- Fish ponds and stew ponds (where fish were purged of muddy water before cooking) to ensure a regular supply of protein during the many fast days of the Christian calendar
- Dovecotes to provide pigeons for the kitchen, feathers for cushions and dung for fertilizing the garden
- Pleasances, or ornamental parks for recreation, relaxation and sport