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Period plant growing

Posted: Mon Mar 10, 2008 5:19 pm
by Fillionous
Greetings all,

I have finally (after over a year on a waiting list) got an allotment. And now I want to grow stuff.

I of cause will be doing some crops purely for home use and a number of 'modern' veggies like 'tatties. I thought it would be rather fun and a nice challenge to try and grow some 'aufentic' usable goodies. Now I well understand that I am not going to get hold of the exact 15C cultivars / seeds, but I would like to grow some things that would at least pass for Medieval. I am also not just interested in fruit and veg... what about herbs, dye plants, even flowers... I have a whole plot to fill and almost no restrictions on what I can plant...

So give me some ideas on what I can plant and grow... is there anyone out there who wants genuine home grown dye plants? Is there a veg that you just have not had the space for? Are there any of you a budding 'physic' and wanting a source for 'medicinal herbs'?

Name you plant and I might just find space to grow it!

Be bright, be bold

Posted: Mon Mar 10, 2008 5:49 pm
by Brother Ranulf
Beware of woad, I planted a couple of seeds in my monastic herb garden and within 12 months it had tried to take over the whole place, and the neighbour's, and the field next door, and a grass verge some 100 metres away. In the first year it looks innocuous enough - just a low, cabbage-like thing. In year 2 it is at least 5 feet tall and erupts into a billion seeds. Authentic, but I have been digging it out of everywhere since then. Would you like a couple of million woad seeds some time?

I recommend white and purple carrots, broad or field beans, peas, onion, leeks, parsnip and turnip, pretty well most herbs and "wild" strawberry plants (the fruit is tiny but tastes brilliant).

Posted: Mon Mar 10, 2008 5:51 pm
by sally
the BBC has a page on medieval gardens that might be useful as a quick overview, ... val1.shtml a few gardening manuals from the time do survive as well, plus you can look at excavation reports for info on what has been found re pollen, seeds etc on specific sites if you want to get really technical.

A good rule of thumb is start by growing what you will use yourself or what you fine hard to get elsewhere. The in between stuff tends to end up getting neglected because you don't find a quick use for it :)

Posted: Mon Mar 10, 2008 8:46 pm
by gregory23b
I can recommend Salad purlsane, lovely succulent and easy to grow.

Beware of growing umbeliiferae too close to each other as they can cross pollinate, eg caraway with coriander, resulting in poor hybrids.

Kales might be nice.


Fillionious, did you get my pm btw?

Posted: Mon Mar 10, 2008 9:16 pm
by Handbag
Brother Ranulf wrote:Beware of woad, I planted a couple of seeds in my monastic herb garden and within 12 months it had tried to take over the whole place, .

my woad must be very lazy then!! i planted it as seeds and all i have is 2 tiny little plants with 4 leaves each - not quite the masses i had expected!!!

Posted: Mon Mar 10, 2008 9:26 pm
by Neil of Ormsheim
Take yourself on a junket to upper Brittany, near the Prescile de Crozon and the small town of Daoulas, the Abbet Daoulas has one of the best physic and dyers gardens I have ever seen.

We grew wild carrot as an experiment. What we got was small, white, odd-shaped but packed with WOW flavour. I would recomend wild carrot to anyone.

Posted: Tue Mar 11, 2008 1:05 am
by ViscontesseD'Asbeau
You won't beat these people for variety and quality - I been buying from them since the 80s:

And this is the only book you'll ever need on herbs - tells you everything - history, cultivation and recipes etc: ... gory=Books

As for dye plants they take up a lot of space for not a lot of dye (I'm a dyer been growing them for nearly 30 yrs, but they ain't pretty or interesting and not worth the time for non dyers except for maybe the odd plant of summat like dyer's chamomile which flowers and flowers - lovely!)so I wouldn't waste your allotment on them unless you're a dyer - once you get planting you'll realise it's a smaller space than you think!

Someone offered me a spare acre to plant with woad but life's too short!

Really massive recommend for Jekka's book - will give you all the ideas and inspiration you need!

Posted: Tue Mar 11, 2008 8:24 am
by gregory23b
I have a tiny herb patch at the back of our garden no more than six by six, probably less, mostly taken up with sorrel broad leaf and buckler, savoury, lavender, rocket, fennel when it makes an appearance and whatever i can bung in with the space. Herbs rock, easy to grow and low maintenance, at least the ones I plant are.

V de A, doesn't woad dentrify the soil as well or is that a myth?

Posted: Tue Mar 11, 2008 8:54 am
by Merlon.
Woad is a very hungry plant and needs plenty of nitrogen to grow. lots of blood and bone meal is needed to get a good plant.
Other thing to bear in mind is what has been grown on the plot in the past. Many of the plots on my allotment site have clubroot in the ground, this will cripple woad and most other bassicas.
Talk to the old guys on the site they will be able to tell you about all the quirks of the site. Where it floods, where the frost pockets are.

Happy digging

Posted: Tue Mar 11, 2008 10:58 am
by Brother Kevfael
Avoid white valerian, not only does it sow itself with a vengence it also smells of dog crap when in bloom. Most importantly however, check what kind of soil you have have. Certain herbs have their preferenences for particular soils, Thyme, doesn't like clay soils, so I have to grow mine in pots; white horehound doesn't like soils where too much moisture is retained, same as rue while black horehound isn't fussy. I have a massive herb garden, but I learnt through trial and error. Also bear in mind that certain herbs are not small plants, elecampane, fennel, white valerian and lovage, and milk thistle can get over 6 feet in height. But suffolks and jekkas are wonderful suppliers. If you want any advice, e.mail me.

Posted: Tue Mar 11, 2008 12:33 pm
by gregory23b
"fennel...can get over 6 feet in height"

not 'alf mate. I liked the sight of the tall fennels, trying to find a use for the wide hollow stems, do you know of any?

Posted: Tue Mar 11, 2008 9:20 pm
by Cathryne
Hey there G23b, How about this use for Fennel stems: Harvest and cut to less than a foot in length, then tie together as if for a fire faggot, place somewhere sheltered (preferably south facing) to form a habitat for the Red Mason Bee - damn good addition to the garden for pollination and vaguely child friendly too as they are fairly docile...just a thought :)

Posted: Tue Mar 11, 2008 9:22 pm
by Neil of Ormsheim
I liked the sight of the tall fennels, trying to find a use for the wide hollow stems, do you know of any?

Period peashooters? :lol:

Posted: Wed Mar 12, 2008 9:02 am
by gregory23b
thanks Cathryne and Neil. ;-)

Posted: Wed Mar 12, 2008 10:25 am
by Brother Kevfael
I tend to bundle mine up and use them as places where ladybirds can hibernate through the winter.
Also, i forgot to mention, the chap who brings herbs to Tewkesbury always has a very nice selection including the more unusual kinds.

Posted: Wed Mar 12, 2008 10:18 pm
by ViscontesseD'Asbeau
Think you're fine with woad if you just cycle it with something else - pref a root veg or herbs or something different - precisely as you would for anything, really. And I've never had a prob growing it in amongst my veggies - and have grown it on several very different soils - but I do use a lot of organic compost, so maybe that's why we've never had a problem with the soil afterwards. It's never colonised much, either. What you want are the first year leaves but I've got good blues from second year prior to flowering. If it self seeds, you just need to hoe as you would anyways, but as I say, it's never been a problem for me. Apart from the chucking on of me compost, no special treatment and like most 'herbs' - it prefers a lot of neglect! So if you get on top of the weeds, no real problems.

As I say not recommended for anyone but the dyer. It's ugly, uninteresting and has no other real use! Dyer's chamomile is worth it for the flowers alone, though. I have a real fondness for violas, and borage flowers and violas are fun in salads! Things like sorrell and rocket are pretty traditional. I have some nice bronze fennel but dunno how traditional it is - probably a cultivar. Talking of 6' plants - elecampagne is interesting and I once had an angelica that was probably 7 foot or so tall and our dog ate the entire thing, one day. Weirdo!

Posted: Tue Mar 18, 2008 10:01 am
by Vez
I started a garden project last year. Garden is only 5 x 3 m but the lawn was too neglected over the summer so i dug it all up and built low rectangular beds. Still collecting plants, but I went through the Trotula and Sally's book and made a list of plants I needed from there which hopefully will really start to show this year. Plus of course the usual garden herbs. Coming into this as a complete novice , my problem is knowing if the green things showing in the garden are weeds or what I want ?!

Posted: Tue Mar 18, 2008 10:51 am
by Brother Kevfael
The only way is to wait . However, if you have lemon balm, smell the young shoots as it has its wonderful aroma even then. the mint family tends to send off roots above and below ground as does black horehound. But don't forget, a lot of what is now regarded as weeds are useful plants, (nettle and dandelion being the obvious.)

Posted: Tue Mar 18, 2008 11:41 am
by m300572
Try and get hold of Sylvia Landsberg's book on medieval gardens - she worked on the pottager for the Bayleaf house at Singleton (worth a visit, near Chichester )and has a lot of details on plants and a rotation scheme.

Posted: Wed Mar 19, 2008 12:03 am
by ViscontesseD'Asbeau
Vez I'd recommend 'Jekka's Complete Herbs' by Jekka McVicar for plant identification as it has lots of clear, sharp photographs and it's easier to ID a plant from a good photo, as opposed to a drawing! :lol: A dearer technique is to buy a ready grown little plant of whatever it is you're getting seeds of (expensive and not always practical) so you're sure you're not hoeing out the plants and keeping the weeds!

With Jekka, you're all set. :lol:

Posted: Wed Mar 19, 2008 9:26 am
by Vez
Cheers. Ive been trying to use Culpepper and its proved to be...frustrating.

Posted: Wed Mar 19, 2008 10:55 am
by gregory23b
"Vez I'd recommend 'Jekka's Complete Herbs' by Jekka McVicar for plant identification as it has lots of clear, sharp photographs and it's easier to ID a plant from a good photo, as opposed to a drawing!"

great book, except for one page, hope they have updated it, where it mentions a toxic plant but leaves out a large chunk of info, at work so can't recall it, maybe tonight.

But good book though.

Also you can't beat seeing the actual species or being shown them by herby people.

Some herbs are easily confused with poisonous varieties, the umbellifera range from caraway, fennel and aniseed to hemlock - and can look similar in some cases, Jekka rightly mentions this IIRC. Although not likely to be growing in your garden, it useful to knmow what the others are like too.

Once, many years ago I tasted what I thought was a young shoot of sorrel, I was smart enough to remember the innner lip test, chew a bit and leave it between the lower lip and teeth, to see if there was any reaction. Unfortunately I had picked up a small leaf of an immature cuckoo pint, it made my lip sting with its caustic juice. In retrospect the sorrel leaves and Cuckoo pint are very different, but it was an immature plant and wild varieties of herbs are not identical to their cultivars.

One reason I don't do wild mushroom picking, I don't trust myself ;-)

Posted: Sun Apr 06, 2008 2:14 pm
by Vez
If any one is after basic instant garden bits, my local Wilko's (Long Eaton) had 4 different kinds of thyme as well as sage, rosemary, mint etc. Dont know if other stores will have them but it may be wortha peek.

Posted: Mon Apr 07, 2008 9:43 pm
by Ace Rimmer
Also, for basic herbs, you could buy a pot from you're local tesco's. As long as you split them up as soon as you get home, I've always found I get plenty of healthy plants.

Also, if anyone wants about 6ft of Bay tree, let me know, because mine's getting somewhat out of control.

Posted: Tue Apr 08, 2008 12:31 pm
by bournio
We've got a back yard, with loads of herbs, some growing out of cracks in the concrete... a couple of bay trees, bonsai oak trees. A back garden with 2 oak trees, daffodils, brambles, fushia, rhubarb... A front garden with a budleia, rosemary, other random plants that i don't know.
The delicate way we select plants is by the minimum care method... if it dies and won't regrow without work, it's not worth it to us!

Posted: Thu May 29, 2008 1:45 pm
by DeviantShrub
Before I start harrassing people at the Heritage Seed Library, is there anyone out there who knows what sort of variety of pea I should be looking at growing to be accurate for the medieval period (ideally 12thC, but I am willing to be flexible!).

I already have a good collection of herbs and greens and am looking to expand!

Posted: Thu May 29, 2008 6:51 pm
by craig1459
Sara taught gardening history at a horticultural college - she has a list of C15 varieties of various fruits and veg - I shall dig out

Posted: Thu May 29, 2008 6:56 pm
by craig1459
Found it - it is from this:
The earliest account of gardening in English, The Feate of Gardening, dating from about 1440, mentions the use of more than 100 plants
and here it is
The Feate of Gardening

Posted: Thu May 29, 2008 10:17 pm
by Type16
In our house before last, we had a medicinal herb garden with some 40+ different plants. was sad to leave it.

However, after a gap of several years we have just enlarged our existing herb garden to go 'medicinal' again :D

Just got 25 different seed types from Suffolk's. Delivery within 5 days of order & they are coming up nicely.

Anybody know where we can get some Mandrake in the UK? Roots, seeds, plants ??

Thanks for the info re woad. Luckily, we have 2 tons of high nitrogen horse poo compost :D

Posted: Fri May 30, 2008 8:49 am
by DeviantShrub
Craig - thank you - that's a list worth saving. But still no pea hints.

Interestingingly, whilst on a browse of Google I stumbled across this: In the 12th century, among other foods stored at the famous old Barking Nunnery, near London, were "green peas for Lent."
I shall have to try and investigate further.