Medieval gardens: Middle Ages to 1500

Studley Royal Water Garden, Fountains Abbey
Studley Royal Water Garden, Fountains Abbey National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Monasteries and manor houses dictated the garden style of the medieval period. Monastic gardens provided medicine and food for the monks and for the local community.

Herbs were cultivated in the ‘physic garden’ composed of well-ordered rectangular beds, while orchards, fishponds and dovecotes ensured there would be food for all.
The secluded garden, or ‘Hortus Conclusus’, was associated with the Virgin Mary in the monastery garden but in royal palaces and manor houses it represented a garden of earthly delights.
Enclosed within wattle fences, raised beds were filled with scented flowers and herbs. Trellis arbours ensured privacy and provided shade while the sound of fountains and bird song filled the air.

Style at a glance

  • Gardens enclosed with wattle fences or quickthorn hedges
  • Trellis walkways and arbours providing shade and privacy
  • Raised beds to prevent plants becoming waterlogged
  • Grass treated as a flowery mead planted with low growing wild flowers
  • Turf seats usually built against a wall with flowers planted in the grass
  • Physic gardens with regimented beds of medicinal herbs
  • Orchards providing apples for the kitchen and for making cider
  • Fish ponds and stew ponds (where fish were purged of muddy water before cooking) to ensure a regular supply of protein during the many fast days of the Christian calendar
  • Dovecotes to provide pigeons for the kitchen, feathers for cushions and dung for fertilizing the garden
  • Pleasances, or ornamental parks for recreation, relaxation and sport
Colourful poppies in the cottage style garden at Alfriston Clergy House, East Sussex
This garden laid out in the 1920s by Sir Robert Witt, to evoke a medieval garden National Trust Images / John Miller

Where to see gardens with medieval features 

Discover which of our gardens to visit to see examples of medieval garden style and even some original features.