Monday, January 22, 2007

The Pleasure Garden

When seeking an outdoor landscape for a medieval scene, I have used the castle gardens more than once. While some stories offer more broad terrain-- a couple on the run, or a heroine who has been stolen from her home-- a traditional medieval maid would not stray far from her family's keep. In this way, I've found myself researching period gardens and plants more than once, and I'll admit it's always a treat.

For a people who lived much closer to the land than we do, the gardens played a more central role and much attention was lavished on these areas. Crofter's huts had functional gardens for food. An extravagant keep had herb gardens, kitchen gardens, an orchard, possibly a vineyard and a pleasure park or pleasance designed with more careful attention to beauty than I put in my own living room.

It is the pleasure garden that intrigues me.

Unlike the utilitarian herber or the space maximizing plantings of an orchard, the pleasure garden exists for its beauty, extending the living space of the keep in the way our modern porches and desks function as another "room." The pleasure garden offered fresh air and sunshine or a place of privacy for the lady of the keep to retire with her companions. Games were played within the space, which was often walled for protection. If there were no traditional walls, the space might be ringed with trees, decorative hedges, trellises or even a moat.

While the pleasure parks have sometimes been described as "small," historical evidence points us to plots twenty acres in size, and Sylvia Landsberg, author of The Medieval Garden, suggests these gardens were only little in comparison to the 200 acre hunting parks that might have predated them or inspired them.

A pleasure garden might have contained water features-- pools or baths, springs and fountains-- in addition to small clearings among the trees designed for entertaining or relaxing. A small retreat house might be built within the garden for guests to take their leisure.

For more on medieval gardensm visit


Charlene Sands said...

Very nice pic and explanation, Joanne. I'm always in awe of those who can write medievals!

Joanne Rock said...

Thank you, Charlene! The blog has been a really fun way to share some of the things I love about medievals. My list of "To Discuss" items keeps growing.