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Archive for the ‘Plants History’ Category

Gardens in Post Norman England

The end of internal warfare in Norman England permitted the precincts of the castle to become less restricted without loss of security. At the close of the thirteenth and the beginning of the fourteenth century the connection between France and England was very intimate. The French language was spoken by the upper classes in both countries; and as to manners and customs in general, and their gardens, fountains and statuary in particular, the same fashions prevailed, although the French were somewhat more advanced than the English, especially when it came to water fountains. Frequently at home there was leisure to give attention to domestic comfort and to engage in the peaceful contests of chivalry, and enhance the simple functionality of the outdoor fountains. Then the castle, becoming more than a bare fortress, was treated as a commodious residence for the lord and the little court of retainers living under his protection.

The description of a French garden in the twelfth century would answer for an English one during the two following centuries; the basics of a fountain, fragrant plants, and adorned with statuary. During this era, the pleasure garden (developing from the terrace walk containing little collections of herbs) began to enjoy a less precarious existence, and extravagance in fountains and décor was accepted. In France, earlier than in England, its form became more clearly defined, and, by covering more area, answered more varied requirements, and leading to ever larger fountains, statuary, and garden planters.

In the twelfth century the garden was habitually situated outside the main entrance, and was entered from the castle by a secret door in the fortifications. A wall, if the garden was in the courtyard, surrounded it. These low walls, often hosting water sall fountains, were built in three parts to form a grass-covered seat, an ideal setting for intimate conversations. In a corner, a fountain in the Gothic style often served to water the parterre and the greensward. Sometimes a round flowerbed might be found in the middle of the fountains. On the sides were cradle-shaped tunnels and trelliswork fastened to the walls. Sometimes a labyrinth, or house of Daedalus, twisted its tangled paths in conflicting directions.

Flowers. grown in garden planters on the wall, brightened the enclosures. Several trees, clipped into balls, gave shade and freshness to the air. The ingenuity of the gardener, like that of the topiarius of ancient Rome, was exercised in clipping the shrubs to give them geometric forms. Finally, if the space permitted, there was a small garden pond for fish and swans. Great luxuries were to have an aviary for game-birds close by, and a number of peacocks strutting about under the eyes of the guests.

Gardens at the Time of the Norman Conquest

The Anglo-Saxon ways of living were greatly altered by the advent of the Normans in the latter half of the eleventh century. In architecture, as well as horticulture, the Normans excelled the Anglo-Saxons at the time of the Conquest. But, until the Normans had subdued the entire country, home life was an impossibility, and there was no occasion for domestic architecture or decoration. Thus, while the early monasteries were substantial stone buildings, commonly situated in the broadest and most fertile valleys, castles were ruder structures, generally erected on windy hilltops, where their inmates devoted both time and space to projects for offence and defense. These bare strongholds were impractical for such a peaceful pursuit as gardening.

After a few years, the danger of insurrection having lessened, the Normans replaced their first wooden structures by permanent castles built of stone. Of the early Anglo-Norman style of architecture, Berkeley Castle is perhaps the most complete example now existing. The keep is said to date from the time of William the Conqueror. Around the massive building runs a terrace intended both for a walk and to prevent the walls from being mined by besiegers. One of these terraces, covered with grass and flanked by an ancient yew hedge clipped in the shape of rude battlements, forms a quaint bowling green.

Terraces, like the one adjoining these battlements, were, in those tumultuous times, the only safe place for the ladies to enjoy an airing. A portion was often reserved for their special use, and, as at Castle Carlisle, called the Ladies Walk. There, at a much later period, Mary, Queen of Scots, when captive, was allowed to take her exercise. At Bridgenorth, a pleasant terrace walk, much admired by Charles I, encircles the ancient castle walls and is more than half a mile in compass. On the borders of such a terrace, beside the hedge, a few herbs were usually cultivated by the chatelaine to be
used in sickness, or to make a poignant sauce for whetting the satiated appetite.

Gardens and Fountains in the Dark Ages

In the tenth century, the darkest of the Dark Ages, a period of great industrial depression reached its lowest ebb in Europe. Monasticism, for the previous two centuries on the decline, almost ceased to exist, and horticulture, as early in the Christian era, practically became a lost art. Lush gardens, elegant statuary, and decorative water fountains were no longer to be found in good repair.

In the eleventh century, however, a revival of religious zeal, in England as elsewhere, brought about an improvement in the condition of these outdoor areas.  Europe was under either religious or military rule, and the common people turned to the former for security. As a result, the monasteries acquired more influence and more riches than the castles. Religious houses were the place of refuge for sick souls, for great repentance, for hopes deceived, for work and meditation, for feebleness and poverty, at a time when the first condition of earthly existence was a strong arm and a shoulder capable of carrying a coat of mail.

William the Conqueror and his followers brought new styles in architecture for the castles, gardens, and monasteries they established to subjugate England. The rage for founding monasteries, then at its height in Normandy, spread across the conquered nation. William himself began this movement by erecting and richly endowing several superb abbeys with large and lush gardens, adorned with fountains and large statues, and many of his subjects of means followed his example.

The Benedictine order was the first to flourish in this new wave of artistic garden expression. In order to avoid unnecessary contact with the outside world, its rule prescribed that each community contain all the essentials of life within its precincts. Since the flesh of no four-footed animal could be eaten, the raising of fish and fowl was customary, while that of vegetables was indispensable. Large garden planters filled with vegetables, fountains full of fish and duck garden ponds, poultry yards, orchards, and vineyards were connected with every religious foundation, and were often its greatest pride and glory. Manual labor was obligatory, and the monks adopted the building of lush gardens, complete with classic statuary and dramatic fountains as their favorite pursuits.