Medieval Forests and Gardens

When you put the words forest and medieval together, you usually get visions of trackless wilderness and merry outlaws: Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest, or King Arthur and the Knights Who Say Ni. In fact, a lot of medieval forests were carefully managed to generate a steady stream of useful timber. Techniques like coppicing and pollarding let people harvest wood without killing the trees. Good forest management was complemented by all sorts of other efforts to control the landscape, including crop rotation, artificial habitats for food animals like rabbits, and dikes and sluices to drain marshlands (especially in the Low Countries from the eleventh century on).

Medieval gardens came in all sizes, offering not just pleasant views but also herbs, fruits, vegetables, and sometimes even fish (from specially designed ponds). In the late thirteenth century, Pietro de’ Crescendi wrote a guide to garden design. He suggested a well-ordered arrangement of fruit trees, complemented by vines and grassy open spaces:

Plant lines of pears and applies in [the garden], and, in warm places, lines of palms and lemons. Or plant lines of mulberries, cherries, plums, and lines of noble trees as figs, nuts, almonds, quinces, and pomegranates … The lines or rows should be spaced twenty feet apart, more or less … Noble vines of different types that provide delight and utility may be planted between the trees. Hoe the lines of trees so that the trees and vines grow stronger, and treat the intervals as meadows and weed them often. Mow the meadows of the garden twice a year, so that they may remain beautiful.


  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s medieval gardens at the Cloisters have a blog with details on many of the plants there.
  • The National Trust website includes a brief summary of medieval garden types, with links to sites they operate in Britain.

The quote from Pietro de’ Crescenzi is from Johanna Bauman’s translation, excerpted in The Glory of Gardens: 2,000 Years of Writing on Garden Design, ed. Scott J. Tilden (New York, 2006).

Feudal cover April2013

It’s a Feudal, Feudal World: A Different Medieval History is available for pre-order from and your local bookstore, to be released in July 2013.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s