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Use of Fountains and Statuary in English Monastic Gardens

Few exact records of English monastic gardens have been preserved. A twelfth-century plan of Canterbury, showing the cloisters containing a herbarium, garden fountain, and a conduit; with a garden pond, orchard, and vineyard outside the walls, gives only a rough idea of the planting and arrangement. But there is no other document even this complete belonging to this early period. Since, however, the various parts of all monasteries of the same order were as uniform as circumstances permitted, the general scheme of the English monastic gardens can be gathered from the plans and descriptions of those on the continent. The plan of the ancient monastery of St. Gall, in Switzerland, still exists, and supplies much information about the arrangement of a large religious establishment belonging to the Benedictines in the ninth century.

The monastery was placed in a valley, and the cultivated grounds within the walls consisted of four divisions: the cloister-garth, the fountains, statuary, and adornments, the vegetable garden, and a combination of orchard and burial ground. The cloister-garth was a square, planted with grass and shrubs, divided by two intersecting paths into four equal quarters. In the centre was a savina, a type of decorative outdoor garden fountain suitable for supplying water for drinking and washing purposes. These cloisters were south of the church, and surrounded by the large garden statuary, and other more important communal buildings. Logically, the fountains and garden statuary was placed close to the center of activity.

The fountains provided moisture for growing many of the lesser plants, including peppermint, rosemary, white lilies, sage, rue, corn-flag, pennyroyal, fenugreek, roses, watercress, cumin, lovage, tansy, kidney bean, fennel, or savory. All of these were regarded as herbs useful for medicinal purposes. The kitchen garden was necessarily on a larger scale and contained eighteen oblong beds of identical shape, each planted with a different kind of vegetable or pot-herb: onion, garlic, parsley, coriander, chervil, dill, lettuce, poppy, savory, radish, parsnip, carrot, cabbage, beet, leek, shallot, celery, or corn-cockle. Nearby was the house of the head gardener or hortulanus. In the burial ground, honorary statues, trees and shrubs were placed in the spaces between the graves, and must have produced the ornamental effect which in this connection we are apt to consider as modern. Mentioned as growing there, in circles around a large garden fountain, were apple, pear, plum, service medlar, fig, quince, peach, hazelnut, almond, chestnut, walnut, laurel, and pine trees. Amidst such a luxuriance of foliage, fountains, and statuary, the graves must have been almost hidden from view.


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