'Feate of Gardening' at Bodiam Castle 1390 to 2016

A wooden sign for Winter Savoury in the Claremont herb garden at Bodiam Castle

Volunteer, Jan Black, has set herself an interesting target which will give our small gardens around the castle site a very medieval theme. With the help of some willing hands, Jan is on a mission to achieve her aim.

Volunteer, Jan Black, has taken on an ambitious project at the castle.  This is her summary of the story so far and of things to come.

How did it all begin?

For the last four years groups of pupils from Claremont School have been working on garden projects with Bodiam Castle. What started as a fairly modest idea of creating a herb bed in the grounds has now become an ambitious plan to establish all 101 plants that are mentioned in one of the oldest English gardening manuscripts, The Feate of Gardening, written in about 1390, the same time that Bodiam Castle was built.

The Claremont and dyeing gardens

In 2012 we created a herb garden containing plants for cooking, for the household, for strewing and freshening, for medicine and healing, and for well-being.  This was followed in 2013 with a bed of plants used for dyeing, and in 2014 with a bed of ornamental plants for scent and savour.

The seed is sown

During research for possible plants to include we came across many references to ‘The Feate of Gardening’. We contacted the library at Trinity College Cambridge where the original manuscript is held and they kindly provided a copy. It is written in verse and includes a list of 89 ‘Main Herbes’ and reference to a further twelve plants.  With the aid of this and other reference books we discovered we had more than half the plants mentioned either in the beds or growing wild in the castle grounds.  

And begins to grow

So the 2015 project was born – to try to establish the remaining 45. We have sourced all of them either as plants or seeds, and, provided the seeds all germinate and the ordered plants all arrive, are optimistic that by the end of the year we will have achieved something quite unique; all the plants on one site where the building is the same age as the manuscript.

Dyeing garden sign, Bodiam Castle
A wooden sign for dyer's camomile in the dyeing garden at Bodiam Castle

Links to the castle

The majority of the plants will go into a new bed which has recently been constructed. The design of the bed will continue the theme of the shields which can be seen over the castle entrances. The herb bed has the cross from the Dallingridge shield and the dye bed the zig-zag from the Wardeux shield. The new bed will have stepping stones featuring the martlets from the Radynden shield and the roses from the Knollys shield.

To help visitors identify the plants the Claremont pupils are making wooden information labels for them and slate information plaques to detail groups of plants used for a particular purpose.

All things herbal

Each year we hold an 'All Things Herbal' event where we use the plants for dyeing, herbal teas, washing, nosegays, smudge sticks, oak gall ink, and displays of information about their medicinal uses. Look out for information of our next event in our What's On section of the website and come along and find out about the 101 plants that we're aiming to have here at Bodiam.

Medieval character, Bodiam Castle
A medieval lady with some dyed cloth at Bodiam Castle in East Sussex

Extend your garden visit with a joint ticket

If you've enjoyed your visit to our gardens here at Bodiam Castle but would like to see more, you can extend your enjoyment with a joint ticket to Bodiam Castle and Great Dixter at Northiam.

Great Dixter was one of the former homes of Elizabeth Wardeux's family back in the 14th century.  Elizabeth married Sir Edward Dallingridge, the founder of Bodiam Castle.  Parts of the original Wardeux home still survive although Great Dixter has been much extended over the years.

The gardens were the creation of the late owner of the house, Christopher Lloyd, and are open to visitors from Easter to the end of October.

Ask at our visitor reception for details of our joint ticket which offers savings on entry to both locations.