Medieval Garden at the Ypres Tower

Medieval Garden at the Ypres Tower

by Lin Saines, Medieval Garden Advisor
Photos © Lin and Martyn Saines

Medieval garden stairs and cellsHidden behind the steep walls of Rye Castle, and bonded into the substantial brickwork of both the Ypres and Women’s Towers, is an important reconstruction of a 15th century pleasure garden. First created in 1997-1998, the garden includes essential features from the medieval period, together with herbs and plants of culinary, household and medicinal importance. Throughout the year herb grower and writer Lin Saines is re-introducing herbs from the original plan and replanting areas that have become somewhat overgrown. We will be reporting on progress throughout the year and regularly pointing out features of interest to visitors.

The medieval person saw gardens very differently to ourselves. Monastery gardens grew vital healing herbs for the community, the poor grew plants just to keep themselves alive including ‘pottage’ herbs to stew with a little meat or fish where possible and pleasure gardens such as the Rye Garden were richly planted to entice the five senses. A fragrant chamomile seat with adjacent table, set in a sunny aspect where red and white roses scented the area, was the perfect spot for listening to music while eating and drinking, sewing, reading and perhaps indulging in a little flirting!

Vine arbour, group visit

An arbour where vines and sweetly scented honeysuckles and roses intertwined gave shade, perfume and fruit. Wild strawberries abounded, the fragtrance of herbs filled the air as poeple brushed by them, or rubbed them between their fingers to enhance the scent, and the sound of water soothed the spirit. A vision of paradise indeed, in a time of turmoil.


Archers at Ypres TowerIn the 1400’s a hidden garden such as this reconstruction would be a haven for the well-born ladies of the castle to forget, for a short time, a century of war. October 1415 saw Henry V defeat the French at Agincourt. His son Henry VI lost France, leaving us open to invasion. In 1449 when French troops attached Rye, many of the healing herbs seen growing in this garden today would have been collected, then pounded or infused to provide medicines and healing ointments for the wounded. Fresh herbs strewn over floors kept fleas and vermin at bay, clothes could be washed and disinfected using soapwort, lavender and rosemary, while herbs grown for the cooking pot and costly spices kept locked away in cupboards “gingered up” a bland diet.

Medieval garden courtyard

To-date we have re-established the seating area, correctly siting table and benches at the Women’s Tower end of the garden with “Rose Gallica” and “Rosa Alba” nearby. The chamomile seat will be replanted again in May 2013 and the corner of important Dyer’s Herbs will be replaced where necessary.

Ypres Stillroom DisplayWithin the Ypres Tower one cell has been turned into a Stillroom where visitors can gain an idea of the herbs that were used and what was done with them. The original display panels pictured here have now been replaced by oak display shelves created by traditional means by Martin Riddell.  You can see them in other articles under the Medieval Garden and Stillroom heading.

First posted in Medieval Garden on 23rd November 2010
Last updated: 24th March 2013