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Medieval to 16th century | 17th - 19th century | Garden Restoration | The Nonsuch Restoration Project

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The Medieval Pleasure Garden


Despite the difficulties of life, or perhaps even because of them, medieval people loved their pleasure gardens. Homes, whether peasant hovel or nobleman's castle, were usually dim, draughty, smoky, cold, and usually with a complete lack of privacy, so it is hardly surprising that people took whatever chance they could to spend time outdoors.

Castles and manor houses always had pleasure gardens (as well as their herb and vegetable gardens), and these pleasure gardens were often frequented by every member of the household. Sometimes, however, the lord kept them for the exclusive use of himself and his family - Chaucer's noble knight of January kept his stone-walled flower garden under lock and key, which he guarded jealously.

Pleasure gardens were an opportunity for outdoor living, much as they are for us now. People ate, drank and played games within them, particularly chess and other board games. Music and dancing were also favourite occupations, as was illicit sex within shadowed corners - church court documents regarding annulments show many people became a little carried away with the wine, the scent of the roses, the freedom from spying eyes and indulged in romantic escapades they regretted later.

Great nobles and kings also held court within their extensive pleasure gardens on warm days: it was, again, an excuse to get out of draughty, cold and smoky halls into the sunshine and promenade about the garden.

Women loved to pick flowers and weave garlands, which they often then wore about their heads. The love of wearing flower garlands was not confined to women - many medieval romances mention knights wearing them as well.

In short, there was very likely not much difference to the way medieval people used their gardens to the way we use them now. Gardens were for flowers and fruit, and they were for extending domestic life beyond the house, and into a 'tamed' natural world.

Please also visit Old London Maps on the web as many of the maps
and views available there have plans and depictions of gardens from
the medieval period through to the late nineteenth century.

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