On 5 May, Rosemary Jury spoke to the Archeological and Historical Group on the topic of “The Mediaeval Mead to 18th Century Landscape”. This is the first time for a number of years that the Group’s talk has been about historical aspects of the garden; this theme clearly proved popular as evidenced by the number of attendees, which included quite a number of new faces. Rosemary is a garden researcher with an MA in Garden History and has worked with the National Trust on Stowe Landscape Gardens.
There is little documentary evidence about the layout of mediaeval gardens; most of what we do know is derived from works of art and, more recently, archaeological survey and excavation. One of the earliest documents we have is a 9th century copy of a plan of the monastery of St Gall in Switzerland. This shows, besides the cloister yard for the monks, a vegetable garden, an orchard (which also served as a cemetery) and a medicinal herb garden (close to the infirmary). Later, in 1290, Bartholomew the Englishman described three types of garden: the herber (a small, ornamental garden of less than an acre, often in castles), the orchard (to provide fruit and shady alleys) and the park (for viewing, rather than hunting, animals and birds).
The early Tudor garden, such as that at Nonsuch Palace of 1590, was a development of mediaeval gardens. This showed the influence of European, especially Italian, artisans in its construction, with fountains, statuary, topiary and knot gardens making their appearance. A reconstruction of this type of garden can be seen at Kenilworth Castle. With the arrival of the country house, rather than fortified buildings, the garden became an extension of the house itself. As seen in Montacute House in Somerset, garden gazebos took the place of defensive gatehouses.
After the restoration of Charles II, gardens became more elaborate still, following the influence of, for example, Versailles. Knot gardens became flower parterres and canals flanked with trees appeared, as in Hampton Court. In the 18th century, European influences became more widespread, following the adoption of the Grand Tour and the appearance of paintings from artists such as Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin. Nature was now regarded as a force to be cooperated with rather than coerced, according to the Landscape Movement, a pioneering result of which may be seen in Stowe Landscape Gardens.
Rosemary’s talk provoked lively discussion and questions, with Oxford’s Botanic Garden featuring strongly.