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Mediaeval Gardening Organically for the Benefit of Wildlife

Working with nature is a key aspect to my method of growing nutritional healthy fruit and veg for the family.


Working With Nature

Growing your vegetables medieval style, akin to the original Elizabethan English Cottage Gardens, can be easier than conventional gardening practices in that you're working with nature rather than against it, and its fun. This is especially so if you incorporate a wildlife pond (as opposed to a fish pond) into your gardening scheme, and then sit back and observe as the eco-systems find their own natural levels.

Gardening organically is eco-friendly; its good for the wildlife, its good for the environment, and its good for you and your family if the vegetables picked fresh from the garden (and packed with nutrition) are prepared and served healthily. Best of all, fresh fruit and vegetables from the garden are packed with flavour that you just don't get from supermarket bought produce.

Mediaeval Gardening

AKA English Cottage Garden

Across the known world the Middle Ages, also known as the Medieval period began with the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century and continued until the Renaissance which slowly rolled-out across Europe from the 14th to 17 century.

When the Romans left Britain in 410 AD we declined into the Dark Ages and didn’t join the Middle Ages proper until the Norman Invasion of 1066; and then the Medieval Period continued in England until the beginning of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I in 1558.

The style and principle of what we think of as an English Cottage Garden was first practiced in England during the Roman occupation 2,000 years ago and abandoned when they left in the 5th century; not to be revived again until the beginning of the Agricultural revolution in the 16th Century. So it’s in this context that the concept of English Cottage gardens didn’t emerge until the Elizabethan period (at the end of the Middle Ages). Although there is speculation that its roots stem back to the Black Death of the 1340s when out of necessity labourers utilised what little space they had in small personal gardens to grow much needed food and herbs. And it’s these peasants of the medieval period I’m thinking of when I refer to this gardening technique style so as not to confuse it with traditional Renaissance gardening which is far more formal and grandeur.

Cottage gardens of English origin are typically random and carefree in form. Originally, these gardens were created by the peasants (workers) who lived in village cottages to provide themselves with food and herbs, and flowers planted in for decoration (companion planting).

The more common flowers in cottage gardens, in addition to flowering herbs, were hollyhocks, delphinium and daisies. The method of planting closely packed plants reduced the amount of weeding and watering required.

Today, a cottage garden is often primarily flowers and completely free-form in nature. Many gardeners attempt to use traditional varieties of plants in their cottage gardens to preserve the antiquity of the method.

Foxglove in Medieval Garden

Foxglove in Medieval Garden

Companion Planting

Flowers and Vegetables Working Together

In the Medieval Style vegetable plot companion planting vegetables with flowers is an essential component in mediaeval gardening. The flowers, if well chosen, can transform a vegetable plot to make it more attractive and pleasing the eye while at the same time help to project your vegetables from pests; pot marigolds because they repel aphids and poppies because they attract the aphids predator (the ladybird) as two prime examples.

Some companion flowers, including pot marigold, borage and sunflowers, as well as being attractive and making a fine display in your vegetable garden also provides for an excellent addition to your herb collection. The petals of pot marigold and borage are edible and if picked fresh adds great colour to your salads. You don’t use the whole flower for pot marigolds, just pull the petals off and use fresh when required; just gently pulling on the centre of the blue borage flower and the whole flower comes away from the plant in one piece. ‘Sunflower seeds’, if you can separate the seeds from their husks which is an art in itself, are rich in vitamins and therefore provides an excellent nutritional food source for adding to your recipes.

Other benefits of companion planting includes camouflage, weed control and moisture retention. If you have your cabbages hidden by flowers they are less of a target from the air for cabbage butterflies (white in colour) than if you have then laid out in neat rows with nothing around them other than bare soil. Also, growing flowers between and around your vegetables makes it more difficult for weeds to take control and helps to keep valuable moisture in the ground during hot dry spells.

And above all for the benefit of wildlife bees love companion plants.

Companion Planting

Companion Planting

Organic Gardening

For the Benefit of the Wildlife

Organic gardening aims to sustain and enhance the health of ecosystems and organisms from the smallest in the soil to the wildlife and to humans. Wildlife benefiting from Organic practices in the garden includes foxes, hedgehogs, squirrels, and birds, all of which can help with pest without the need for the use of chemicals.

Organic pest control involves the cumulative effect of many techniques, including:

  • Allowing for an acceptable level of pest damage.
  • Encouraging predatory beneficial insects and animals to flourish and eat pests.
  • Encouraging beneficial micro-organisms.
  • Careful plant selection, choosing disease-resistant varieties.
  • Planting companion crops that discourage or divert pests.
  • Rotating crops to different locations from year to year to interrupt pest reproduction cycles.
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Organic gardening also helps to reduce pollution, is healthier for the soil, aids water conservation and can extend the growing season all of which is beneficial to wildlife.

Bee on Hibiscus

Bee on Hibiscus

Wildlife Gardening and Wildlife Ponds

Toads, Frogs, Newts (But No Fish)

Wildlife gardening aims to create an environment that's safe for and attractive to native wildlife such as birds, amphibians, reptiles, insects and mammals.

A wildlife garden is generally informal, often wild, and will usually contain a variety of habitats that have either been deliberately created by the gardener such as:-

  • Ponds to attract frogs, newts, toads and dragonflies
  • Nesting boxes for birds and hedgehogs
  • Log piles which can provide shelter for lizards and slow worms
  • Dry-stone walls for frogs during the winter months and
  • Native plants to attract 'beneficial insects' such as ladybirds; in America known as ladybugs.

Wildlife Pond and Water Features in Action

Night Lighting and Fun with My Wildlife Pond

A short video clip I made of our wildlife pond and its water features showing the pond during the light of day and the pond lighting at night. This video was made shortly after we had a BBQ party and a neighbour humorously left a family of yellow plastic ducks in the pond to keep the pond wildlife company.

Wildlife Pond Lighting Revamp

During the winter months (while the wildlife were in hibernation) I recently replaced the old halogen pond lights with waterproof LED RGB strip lighting, placing it around the back of the pond, and concealing it with decking screwed to the back wall.

The default setting (as shown in the video below) is to cycle between green, red and blue; albeit with the remote control you can get it to cycle through seven colours of your own choosing, or set it to auto where the lights do their own thing randomly.

LED RGB Lighting Suitable For Wildlife Ponds

Raised or Terraced Beds

Favours Plants over Weeds and Extends the Growing Season

A raised bed is a planting area above ground level to a convenient height. The sides can be made from many materials durable enough to hold in the soul, wood or stone (bricks) are frequently used.

Raised beds have a number of benefits, in particular they extend the growing season because they are warmer and offer good drainage, they reduce the need to rely on poor soil and if properly designed can reduce weeds.

Natural dry stone walling raised beds can be particularly beneficial for wildlife as it provides them with additional natural habitat, and during the winter months provide a protected place where toads, frogs and newts can hibernate in safety.

Robin Redbreast (The Gardener's Friend)

European Robin (Erithacus rubecula)

As any British gardener well knows the Robin being relatively unafraid of humans is a friendly bird that likes to come close when the soil is being dug, in order to look out for earthworms and other food freshly turned up. And when the gardener stops for a break the robin is known to use the handle of the spade as a lookout point. In this photo the Robin stayed within a few feet of me, sometimes only a foot away, while I was clearing and tidying up parts of the garden, and was more than happy to pose for the camera.

Robin Redbrest

Robin Redbrest


Herbs in the Mediaeval Garden

In the newly built raised back border, and in containers by the wildlife pond, herbs are being grown to add to the diversity of the garden and for kitchen use. The herbs include Mint (black peppermint, lemon mint, Indian mint (Satureja), Sage Icterina, Parsley, Bronze Fennel, French Marjoram, Feverfew, Laurus Lobilis (Bay Tree), Lemon Balm, Rosmarinus (a trailing form of Rosemary) and Thyme including Doone Valley and Thyme Silver Posie.

Culinary uses of wild Dandelion and Nettle, and making herbal teas from the garden are also covered in the Herb Garden.

Details of these and other herbs can be seen in my 'The Herb Garden' article on HubPages.

Borage herb

Borage herb

Hanging Baskets

Rather than just use hanging baskets for summer bedding plants I use them for herbs and alpine plants instead, in a novel approach to using hanging baskets, in an attempt to work with nature.

Working with Nature in My Medieval Organic Garden

For the Benefit of Wildlife

Many organic gardeners being sympathetic to the philosophy of wildlife gardening will often incorporate some aspects of the wild garden into their own gardens to both act as a means of biological pest control, and for its value in promoting biodiversity and generally benefiting the wider environment.

Some exotics planting may be included but the wildlife garden will often feature a range of native species and managed in a way that enhances rather than damages the natural eco-system.

As with other forms of gardening, aesthetics plays a central role. Wildlife gardens involves working with nature rather than against it and are therefore generally water-wise gardens achieved by using plant species native to the area and by adopting other good practices to improve the micro-climate and reduce the dependence on watering e.g. ground cover plants, growing plants close together and mulching.

The Frogs on Patrol in the photo are welcome inhabitants of the wildlife pond which is an intregal part of my medieval style organic garden.

Frogs on Patrol

Frogs on Patrol

Automated Lawn Maintenance

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2007 Arthur Russ

Your Say - Add your gardening tips or comments here

Raja Adnan Afzal from Rawalpindi, Pakistan on August 10, 2019:

This is brilliant you have given life to wildlife. A great work I watched the video.

Arthur Russ (author) from England on August 10, 2019:

Thanks Raja. Also, I find that seeing all the wildlife in our garden is very rewarding; just in the past few weeks, as well as all the usual animal and bird visitors to our back garden, I’ve been pleased to see a slowworm, dragonflies hovering above our wildlife pond and a large number of ladybirds on our vegetables; all good signs of a healthy eco-system (environment).

I’ve also started to film some of the animal and bird wildlife in our garden, and having recently got a second wildlife camera I hope to capture some interesting footage over the coming months and years.

One of my recent wildlife recordings in our back garden:-

Wildlife Camera (Wildlife Pond): Birds Foxes and Cats:

Raja Adnan Afzal from Rawalpindi, Pakistan on August 08, 2019:

@Arthur Russ first of all, very well written article and to the point. Secondly, what you are doing is a great job that is no only protecting the wildlife but also in favor of the environment. All of us must start this at the places we own. And this is our contribution that is going to save us all from the emerging issue of Climate Change.

Brilliant job

Arthur Russ (author) from England on June 13, 2017:

Thanks to everyone for all your feedback and comments.

Cynthia Hoover from Newton, West Virginia on February 18, 2015:

Very informative and inspiring! I look forward to testing my green thumb and trying many of the things I just read about!

Felicitas on August 06, 2014:

You have your own wildlife oasis. Absolutely beautiful. Just looking at the pictures from a computer screen gives me a sense of peace. It must be wonderful to be surrounded by it, for you and the amazing little critters. I especially like the wildlife pond. And, of course, your Guardian Statue.

RinchenChodron on July 31, 2014:

Wow I have garden envy! You have a lovely healthy beautiful garden. Here in dry Colorado we have to grow differently due to being arid. What a fabulous lens!

Paula Hite from Virginia on April 11, 2014:

Cool Lens! It'll be featured on our Facebook page on 4.12.14.

ashleydpenn on September 24, 2013:

Some very sound advice here. Working with the natural layers of vegetation in a forest garden can greatly increase the productivity per acre.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on September 22, 2013:

I was attracted to read on with your putting a bit of history. I am now reading a book and am at the Norman rule in what was to become London. Love the garden, too.

Anthony Altorenna from Connecticut on September 21, 2013:

Your garden is beautiful, and I really enjoyed visiting. Our gardens a mixture of flowers, veggies and herbs, and we share willingly with the local wildlife.

Rose Jones on September 20, 2013:

Really enjoyed my time visiting your gorgeous lens and daydreaming. Linked as related to my own lens: and pinned to my board Backyard Birds and Wildlife. I really enjoyed the historical focus.

anonymous on September 20, 2013:

Great lens, saw this featured on Editor for the Day: Bakerwoman Shows Us Some Great Garden Wildlife Habitat Lenses