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Pattrn-Gardns-art - 10/13/00

"Parterres and the Jardins Potager in the Current Middle Ages" by Akim Yaroslavich.

NOTE: See also the files: gardens-msg, gardening-msg, Palladius-art, herbs-msg, lavender-msg, herb-uses-msg, angelica-msg, p-agriculture-bib.


This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set
of files, called Stefan’s Florilegium.

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Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.

While the author will likely give permission for this work to be
reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first
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                               Thank you,
                                    Mark S. Harris
                                    AKA:  Stefan li Rous
                                         stefan  at florilegium.org

Parterres and the Jardins Potager in the Current Middle Ages
by Akim Yaroslavich

Nearly thirty-five years after the beginning of the Current Middle Ages, many noble Lords and Ladies who survived years in student cells at universities or in crowded city housing have moved to country cottages, majestic manors or even comfortable castles. Finally, the gentle Lady can grow her own garden so her next Tudor feast will have everything seasoned just perfectly with her own herbs. Maybe, if she entreats her Lord to engage a few of his squires to goode effort, the back gardens will be transformed into a stunning period "parterre" with knotted beds and all period plants. Perfect. Right? Welllll...

As one of these comfortably landed Lords, perhaps I can offer some helpful insights into the "Parterre" or pattern garden and its larger relative, the "Jardins Potager" or the kitchen pattern garden.  First, and foremost, decide how much time and effort you are willing to invest in your garden. This venture is not quite as simple as making an embroidered corset or hammering out a barrel helm. A garden requires constant upkeep. Don't forget that while you are at the Pennsic Wars for the week, your poor garden is withering because you aren't there to water it!  Once you have decided how much effort you will budget, then the concept has to be scaled to the physical size of the garden you will actually plant. For example, my Tudor herb garden in the back forty of my erstwhile residence was 70 feet wide and 145 feet long. This required (during the main planting season of March through June) my laboring an average of five hours every day and at least a 14 hour day every weekend.   Initial construction, mainly digging and leveling, was executed under construction flood lights until almost midnight every day after work.  This phase took over four months and I lost over fifty pounds!  Of course, I used period methods (a shovel and wheelbarrow) and no power equipment whatsoever. Obviously, this scale of endeavor cuts into prime SCA event season very badly. Next, you must decide what you want to plant.

Here the SCA gardener must make some very realistic declsions in order to avoid some big disappointments. All of those lovely gardens in Europe grow beautifully..... in Europe.  If you want to make an absolute period-to-the hllt garden in an unreasonable climate, I have no pity for you (I bet you wear full Tudor in mid-August in Ansteorra, too!).  Assuming there are at least some rational proto-gardeners reading this treatise, for purpose of illustration, assume a moderate size parterre (pattern) garden of 36 feet by 50 feet (I have never claimed that I was a ratlonal gardener.)  Research the main plants you wish to grow.  If you are fortunate to live in Caid or Meridies, you have an advantage of having a climate that can accept a large variety of period species and further, they will be perennial rather than annual.  Research the pattern style that is pleasing to you and adapt it to your needs.  In dry climates, sink the garden a few feet below the general level of the surrounding yard and slope it so that precious rainfall pools in it. If you have poor drainage and lots of rainfall, mound the beds up. Good drainage is essential to almost every period herb species. Design your pathways so that any bedding area can be worked comfortably without having to get into the bedded areas. That is one of the main reasons this kind of garden evolved in the first place. Each very special and valuable plant in these gardens got the care it required to bountifully produce its product. One must realize that herbs and spices in period times were wealth, health and substanance not merely for taste. Beds should be double or even triple spaded; paths on the other hand should remain fairly dry and servicable. To outline my large (sunken) potager pathway system required 7,000 bricks: another 20,000 were used to pave it with a herringbone pattern. If you decide to rely on gravel or even grass paths, make sure that your paths are at least 30 inches wide. Three feet is better. PIants will tend to overhang and grass paths should allow access for small power mowers (masochists can ignore this point.) At each turn, there should be some larger area, either radii or squares, to allow equipment (like wheelbarrows) to turn around.  My new gardens on my 50 acre homesite will definitely take advantage of all the experience I gained in my previous one. The new gardens will be similar in pattern except that they will be SIX times the size of my previous effort and will be defined by a 1000 foot long avenue and formal border of trees (Carpathian zelkovas) on both sides.  The new theme is late period Italian and will incorporate symmetrically designed vistas one-half mile long (on site).  As I am older (and mayhaps wiser), I will use major earthmoving equipment and every modern trick of landscape science to make maintenance feasible for such an ambitious project.  This will include a new polymer (sprayed on packed earth) for paths; they will look exactly like clay-lined period paths, but will perform like they are asphalt.  Authentic appearance can be established with far less effort than just using a shovel and wheelbarrow or being plagued with constant weeding.  Determine just how period you are willing to go before you begin.  Remember, absolutely period methods will be best utilized in small projects; high tech help is needed to replace the virtual army of gardeners that were required to build and maintain large period gardens originally.

Plan to include some focal points and decide whether or not your land is suitable for inclusion of such concepts such as vista and perspective(how deep is your lot and how good is your view?). Good ideas are small water troughs or basins, benches or perhaps a sundial. The use of ancient standing columns, ironwork pot stands or birdbaths are mostly Victorian and Edwardian, so avoid them unless you can specifically document them. Cute elves, toadstools, and unicorn statues (especially horny horses) are modern kitsch; avoid these even more so! An excellent idea for gravel paths is to use coloured gravels to make flat designs in the manner of knotwork. This may either be loose raked or set in a concrete bed.

Keep in mind that the late Medieval and Rennesiance gardens all the way through Elizabethan times mixed herbs, vegetables, shrubs and flowers in the same garden; this is quite different from the American concept of a formal herb garden. Some period plants that add a great deal of interest and texture that one might not expect are artichokes, hollyhocks, tobacco. Local weeds are also a good source because a large number of common weeds are escapes from colonial gardens or grown as food in Europe (chicory, common teazels,daylilies, dandelions).

In order to be reasonably period in overall concept, some form of enclosure is generally customary. This is accomplished by box and Engish yew hedges in most of Europe. Regrettably, both of these species are a.) expensive, b.) tempermental to climate, c.) very slow-growing, but usually, d.) all of the above.  Be prepared to substitute reasonable replacement species. In central Meridies I have used cedar as a good trimable tall hedge. It also makes excellent topiary.  Many cooler areas will find hemlock to be an adequate species for hedges. In extreme cold or dry areas, junipers may suffice. The short edging box may be replaced by thick groundcovers (like ajuga) or trimmed herbs (like thyme, lavender-cotton, or rosemary). If your climate and budget will support the original species, wonderful; but the rest of us will have to make do. Everything covered so far establishes the framework or the backbone of the pattern garden. What about the main feature, the period planting?

Very fortunately, most of the herbs, vegetables and a large number of the flowers are just as popular today as they were back in period. A little research can uncover enough species to make the entire project worthwhile in SCA terms. If you want exact varieties, they are available with effort. Some of the period varieties are particularly rewarding (fruit trees and roses). Even some of the modem plants are not too far removed if you avoid hybrids. Please remember though, that many period flowers were rather weak by today's standard; but they often have surprising pleasures such as stronger scent to compensate. Some good sources for these plants are other SCA gardeners who can supply seeds and cuttings. Remember when you are planting, you should decide whether you will follow the rigid patterns of symmetry or just plant indiscriminately. Allow enough room for adequate growth. I can not emphasize this enough!  Five or six healthy basil plants will produce more and better basil than thirty crowded ones. Plan your perennials to be placed in areas where they will be attractive at their mature size. Plan to divide them regularly to increase your display as the years pass. It is much less costly than buying them in large numbers.   Some herbs (yarrow, mint, chives) are invasive and should be placed in their own bedding area. Others reseed freely and must be controlled by deadheading (no that isn't a fighting term) or your garden next season will be all one or two species (catnip, dill, thistle). Since it is nearly impossible to duplicate conditions exactly (for various reasons), make reasonable decisions by these criteria: Would this plant contribute to the overall effect of the periodness of the pattern? If this plant had been available then, how would they have used it?

While it is very excellent to grow your own materials for A&S Faire, it is so much more challenging and satisfying to grow your period treasures in the semblance of a period garden. Enjoy the fruits of your labours.
Copyright 1991, 2000 by Randall W. Diamond, 3407 Gillespie Lane, Columbia, Tennessee 38401.  Email: ringofkings  at mindspring.com .  Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited and receives a copy.

If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in
the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also
appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being
reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.

<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org