Medieval Garden 2012

Medieval Garden 2012

Medieval Garden Summer 2012

by Lin Saines, Medieval Garden Advisor     All photos ©Martyn Saines

Women's Tower and part of Medieval GardenOur Medieval Garden is unfortunately completely closed this year, due to vital work required to the Women’s Tower situated within the Garden itself that has made the area directly around the Tower unsafe. I have found it rather disconcerting, when gathering bunches of herbs around the Tower area that are needed for the Stillroom display, to be aware of the risk of falling Masonry during this period when the Tower is obviously something to be avoided! Many anxious glances skywards and a quick exit seem to be the best policy. Needless to say the Chamomile Bench positioned directly next to the Tower will not be planted this year, and many of the plants in large tubs and barrels will need to be moved to a place of safety when work finally gets underway.

Medieval Garden Cauldron The Cauldron water feature has also been shut down as this will be moved under the Arbour for the present, giving us the opportunity to give it a complete clean-out before moving it back into position for our re-opening, probably in 2013. So I thought you may like to see my earlier photos of both Bench and Cauldron, which are something to look forward to seeing again in the future.

Water features and scented Chamomile seats were essential parts of Medieval Pleasure Garden designs. By their very nature, pleasure gardens were the prerogative of the rich where hours could be idly spent. Beyond the enclosed garden walls peasants would be labouring hard to both work the land and look after stock animals.

Camomile Seat and ViolasMeanwhile, those within the Garden borders could fully enjoy the experience of this almost secret space, where all five senses were catered for. The sound of birdsong and water fountains mingled with conversation and gentle music, ladies could sit on scented benches of Chamomile “Treneague”, the non-flowering variety with highly-fragranced leaves to scent clothes with a heady mixture of apple and pine. Herbs such as tall-growing Rosemary and Fennel could be touched, herbs run through the palm of the hand to release their fragrance, and roses in pure colours of red, pink, cream and white were both highly scented and decorative.

I have written an article focusing purely on the place of the Rose in the Medieval Garden which is now available on this Website. Plants to taste were always present, in particular wild strawberries – those tiny, fragrant and very sweet berries, a member of the Rose family indeed, and imbued with Christian symbolism. The three leaves were thought to represent the Holy Trinity, the white flowers the purity of the Virgin, and the red fruits the Passion of Christ. It was also thought to be the most pure of fruits, as it is the only one to have seeds all around its surface and not hidden deep within.

Medieval garden group visitAnother essential feature of the Pleasure Garden would be a Vine Arbour, where grapevines mingled with sweetly-scented honeysuckles and climbing roses to produce a darkened, shady space to keep ladies both cool and pale-skinned. To be suntanned and probably more healthy-looking was a sign of poverty, the field workers of necessity having to work in the sunshine, while a pale complexion was an outward sign of wealth and therefore highly prized.

Medieval Garden VisitorsOur own Vine Arbour was used to good effect in July 2011, when Rye Castle welcomed a charming group of Ladies from nearby Westfield to “ A Summer’s Evening with Herbs” within the Medieval Garden. Although a bright and sunny evening, lanterns were lit, chairs set out, and a buffet meal positioned directly underneath the Arbour. The ladies arrived right on time and each enjoyed a glass of sparkling wine served from our drinks tables within the Upper Courtyard by Tower Guide Ted Emson and my husband Martyn. Our Chair, Jo Kirkham, welcomed the ladies and gave them a most enjoyable tour of Ypres Tower while the food was set out below.

Medieval Garden Whites at Dusk

Following my guided tour of the Garden, in particular pointing out the herbs used in providing the meal, everyone did that most English of occupations and queued for their buffet, before taking their places in the now dusk-descending Garden when all of the white and palest flowering plants came to the fore.


Medieval Garden SupperSavoury courses of smoked salmon and dill mayonnaise and a 3-cheese, red onionand tomato tart flavoured with basil and thyme were accompanied by a colourfully floral salad incorporating rocket, marjoram and nasturtium leaves, with viola, marigold and nasturtium flowers scattered over the top. To finish, a strawberry and mixed fruit salad with an infused mint, basil and white wine syrup and lots of double cream proved a popular choice. The photos show everyone found the evening both interesting and enjoyable, and hopefully other groups will be able to book similar Herbal Evenings when the Women’s Tower has finally been made safe.

Medieval Garden BookletMy new booklet The Garden Beyond the Tower, giving a full tour of the Medieval Garden and Still Room, together with a comprehensive list of herb uses and many illustrations by well-known artists Joyce and Brian Hargreaves was on sale for the first time, and is now available at both Museum sites, priced at £3 per copy.

Even though the Medieval Garden is presently closed the plants are still growing quite safely within the steep walls beyond Ypres Tower, and although perhaps a little “woolly” and out of shape, will only take a few days to get tidied up and back to normal when it is safe to do so. Just a week ago walking down the “Dyers’ Border” looking skywards, I was most surprised to be grabbed round the ankle by the overgrown, sprawling Madder Plant, a creeping, ancient herb prized for the red dye gained from its roots and found even within Egyptian tombs.

BargeIt reminded me that for centuries this was grown in huge quantities in the Netherlands, landed in Rye Harbour in colour blocks, then transported on red-sailed barges up to the Port of London and beyond, where those blocks would be delivered to Dyers producing “Turkey Red” wool cloth, worn for centuries by English soldiers whose scarlet uniforms are still recognised the world over.


Madder plant July 2012This Madder plant is easily overlooked and has been without the opportunity to take over such a large space until now. For me it was a timely reminder that it is not always the neatest and trimmest of gardens that provide the most direct point of contact with our fascinating herbal history, and no doubt there will be similar plants of great interest to discuss in future articles about our Medieval Garden.

First posted in Medieval Garden on 23rd July 2012
Last updated: 24th March 2013