The evolution of edible gardens throughout the centuries

Edible gardens through history

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Garden designs from the past, like this ornamental French garden, continue to strongly influence modern herb and vegetable gardens today. Picture: Shutterstock.

Garden designs from the past, like this ornamental French garden, continue to strongly influence modern herb and vegetable gardens today. Picture: Shutterstock.

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Edible gardens have been a part of gardening history for centuries.

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Edible gardens have been a part of gardening history for centuries and garden layouts that date back to medieval and Renaissance Europe continue to strongly influence modern herb and vegetable gardens today.

Medieval edible garden

Medieval edible garden designs were mostly utilitarian but not all.

In the 13th century the German friar Albertus Magnus gave directions for laying out a herb garden, recommending that the lawn at the centre of the garden be surrounded by borders of sweet-smelling herbs such as rue, basil and sage.

Magnus wrote one of the earliest known texts on garden design, De Vegetabilibus. These medieval healing gardens developed the concept of raised planter beds that are still commonly used today for edible gardens.

Medieval monastery edible garden. Picture: Shutterstock.

Medieval monastery edible garden. Picture: Shutterstock.

These ancient gardens were more than just functional in terms of the plants grown for edible and medicinal purposes, they were pleasure gardens that emphasised elements we still associate with our own ornamental gardens that focus on enclosure, intimacy, and fragrance.

The utilitarian gardens of the 15th century were made up of several small square or rectangular beds arranged in a simple grid pattern. The paths between the beds allowing easy access to the plots.

A simple design that is still used in modern vegetable gardens, grid designs are both functional in form and visually pleasing in their simplicity and neatness.

Walls for the Renaissance

As in the middle ages, the formal gardens of the Renaissance favoured all sorts of enclosures including brick, stone, wattle fencing, or hedges. Even today, kitchen and vegetable gardens are often enclosed for practical reasons to keep out pests such as rabbits, kangaroos, or deer.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, farmers and householders usually mixed vegetables, herbs, fruits, and flowers in a single garden.

Formal gardens of the Renaissance favoured all sorts of enclosures. Picture: Shutterstock.

Formal gardens of the Renaissance favoured all sorts of enclosures. Picture: Shutterstock.

Lately gardeners have become increasingly interested in the ornamental qualities of the vegetable and herb garden.

In the last 20 years the plant list for ornamental edible gardens has greatly expanded to include new colour forms and cultivars of fruit trees, herbs and vegetables long grown for their usefulness, but now also provide a more interesting aesthetic in the garden.

Modern age goes vertical

Vertical gardens are breaking new ground in vegetable gardening, they are all about maximising the space available to growers. Vertical garden systems are as varied as the plants they can support.

A vertical garden on the Paseo del Prado Boulevard in Madrid, Spain. Picture: Shutterstock.

A vertical garden on the Paseo del Prado Boulevard in Madrid, Spain. Picture: Shutterstock.

Design is only limited by the imagination as gardeners continue to take vegetable growing to new heights building on the knowledge and experience of gardeners throughout history.

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