Incorporating Period Garden ideas in your garden or encampment

From Gervase Markham, The English Husbandman, 1613:

"How for the entertainment of any great Person, in any Parke, or other place of pleasure, where Sommer-bowers are made, to make a compleat Garden in two or three dayes.
If the honest English husbandman, or any other, of what quality soever, shall entertaine any Noble personage, to whom he woul give the delight of all strange contentment, either in his Parke, or other remote place of pleasure, neere unto Ponds, River or other waters of cleerenesse, after hee hath made his arbors and Summer-bowers to feast in, the fashion whereof is so common that every labourer can make them, hee shall then marke out his garden-plot, bestowing such sleight fence thereon as hee shall think fit: then hee shall cast forth his alleys, and devide them from his quarters, by paring away the greene-swarth with a paring spade, finely, and even, by a direct line (for line must ever be used in this worke) then having store of  labourers (after the upper-most swarth is taken away) you shall cast up the quarters, and then breaking the mould and levelling it, you shall make flat(?) the earth againe, then upon your quarters you shall draw forth either Knots, Armes, or any other device, as Birds, Beasts, and such like: and in your knots where you should plant hearbes, you shall take greene-sods of the richest grasse, and cutting it proportionably to the knot, making a fine trench, you shall lay in your sod, and so joyning sod to sod close and arteficially, you shall set forth your whole knot, or the portrayture of your armes, or other device, and then taking a cleane broome that hath not formerly been swept withall, you shall brush all uncleanenesse from the grasse, and then you shall behold your knot as compleat, and as comely as if it had beene set with hearbes many yeeres before. Now for the portrayture of any living thing, you shall cut it forth, joyning sod unto sod, and then afterward place it into the earth. Now if within this plot of ground which you make your garden piece there be either naturall or arteficiall mounts or bankes upon them, you may in this selfe-same manner with greene sods set forth a flight, either at field or river, or the manner of hunting of any chase, or any story, or other device that you please, to the infinit admiration of all them which shall behold it: onely in working against mounts or bankes you must observe to have many small pinnes, to stay your worke and keepe your sods from flipping one from another, till such time as you have made every thing fast with earth, which you must rame very close and hard: as for Flowers, or such like adornments, you may the morning before, remove them with their earth from some other garden, and plant them at your best pleasure. And thus much for a gardne to be made in the time of hasty necessity."

Garden Arrangements

A number of different garden arrangements are documented. Some examples:


Including fencing or a wall around your garden gives it the period touch. Examples of the easier types of fence to build are:

Water features:

Solar powered fountains or ponds with solar powered fountains can be constructed using special solar fountain pumps.
The DIY network show includes instructions for construction of such a pond:,2037,DIY_13803_2277489,00.html

A pedestal urn-in-urn or pillar-in-urn fountain is typical of 14th & 15th century illustrations.

Classical-style statuary, such as a child pouring water from a vase, is more typical of the 16th and 17th centuries.

Modern pond liners can be used to make fish holding ponds, wellheads, or other water features. However, period style water features appear to have been regular (square, circular, rectangular, oval) in shape rather than freeform, so rigid pond liners may be your best bet. Container ponds of moderate size are another suitable choice, if the outer surface is appropriate.

Benches and Arbors

A turf bench, perhaps with a section of trellis fastened to the back, can be made with either wooden or brick sides. Some examples seem to be stucco'd over, others made with stone slabs. Landsberg's Medieval Gardens gives plants for concrete block or brick 'excedra' as she calls them. If you make a U-shaped one large enough to fit a table in, it can be used for al-fresco dining.

Stone and wooden benches are sometimes seen in the pictures-- stone benches would have been stored inside and brought out for use.

Benches against a wall or trellis would have a climbing plant such as rosemary planted next to the back and trained up the wall or trellis.

Your library's self-improvement section will include books with directions for contructing arbors or pergolas. Hop vine, ivy, grape vine, or white-flowered gourd (lagenaria) vines can be trained over these to make the period look.

Plants in Pots:

A container garden in an entryway
Plants in urns, large flowerpots, and similar containers can be arranged on turf-benches, or around the house and garden.
Carnations, cottage pinks, and cornflowers are very suitable for pots, enclosed in a peony-frame:
Gillyflowers in pot

Rosemary, bush basil, rue, germander, and other herbs and tender perennials of upright habit would also work, as would lilies in pots.
Sculpted shrubs in pots, or ivy and other climbers trained over a framework to make topiary.
Small orange, lemon, bay, and fig trees in pots to can be brought out in summer and brought in in winter.

Plants for a lawn:

Daisies, field poppies, rocket, plaintain, pot marigolds, violets, viola (johnny-jump-ups), periwinkle, primroses, gladioli,  wild marjoram/oregano, mint, ladies' bedstraw, speedwell, self-heal, strawberry, pinks, ladies' mantle, borae, clary, costmary, lavender, gromwell, woodruff, centaury,
Thyme, camomile, and other creeping herbs can be used in areas where traffic is low, along with taller plants such as rue, feverfew, yarrow, iris, lilies, lily-of-the-valley, wallflower and columbine.
Naturalized food plants such as chickweed, purslaine, and dandelion would also be welcome.
A flowering mede/lawn should be cut short periodically but allowed to grow higher in the interim-- once a month mowing is probably in order.

See Medieval and Renaissance Gardens for more information.


Copyright Jennifer A. Heise. Contact me via email for permission to reprint:
Permission is explicitly granted for limited reproduction as a printed handout for classes in schools, herb society meetings, or classes or guild meetings in the Society for Creative Anachronism (except to corporate officers and board members of the SCA, Inc.), as long as I am notified and credited and the entire handout is used.
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