If you have ever wondered about the style and arrangement of mediaeval gardens then you should take a look at the exhaustive two volume work by Sir Frank Crisp (1843-1919) that was published in 1924 by the Bodley Head, and is one of the Limited Editions in our Cardiff Rare Books Collection. Crisp was a lawyer, and gained a baronetcy in 1913 for legal services that he provided for the Liberal Party. He was also a member of the Royal Microscopical Society, as well as being a keen horticulturalist. He owned Friar Park, in Henley on Thames, and used the extensive grounds to practice his interest in horticulture and designed many features that were based on mediaeval designs. Although Crisp died before his book, Mediaeval gardens : ‘flowery medes’ and other arrangements of herbs, flowers, and shrubs grown in the Middle Ages, with some account of Tudor, Elizabethan, and Stuart gardens, came to fruition, his daughter Catherine Childs Paterson edited his notes and compiled the illustrations which Crisp had collected from a multitude of orginal sources.
Volume 1 contains some relatively brief notes on types of gardens, and features that were utilised; for example, Knots and parterres, labyrinths and mazes, topiary work, and turf mounds. What is most useful about this work however, is the vast collection of illustrations that have been included from manuscripts and books that Crisp was able to access in Britain. Loosely gathered together in groupings that reflect the subject headings of the notes in volume 1, there is a vast range of illustrations featuring all kinds of gardens. Some pictures have been cropped where the rest of the image has nothing to do with the garden; demonstrating that Crisp has exploited his source material to the full, and identified even the smallest aspect of gardens from some pictures. In others it is obvious that the main theme wasn’t intended to be the garden, such as the one shown here representing Queen Elizabeth in the Tower of London, but a useful depiction has still been added. For a student of mediaeval gardens this book will provide plenty of source material.