Hortus Conclusus

Apparently the word ‘paradise’ is derived from the Persian word ‘pairideaza’, which means ‘surrounded by walls’. This discovery (along with the sudden arrival of Spring and a wine delivery), has lifted my spirits significantly, and I find myself regarding this walled square in a new and more positive light. I suppose a garden is always defined by its edges, but some are significantly more enclosed than others. And whilst to some, a completely inward-looking space, bound by tangible boundaries and deprived of external views is simply a back yard, to others it is a Hortus Conclusus.

And this, I have concluded, is what I have.

There are, of course, all sorts of religious connections and references at the heart of this, and I’m not going to dwell on these now. Suffice to say that I approach notions of virgin births and ‘closed off wombs’ with caution. What draws me to the notion of the hortus conclusus is its connection to the Medieval and a certain aesthetic rigour: ancient stone, warm brick, fruit trees, herbs and roses, Perhaps the odd monk.

And whilst I cannot claim to accommodate all the features that one would expect to find in a bona fide hortus conclusus, I certainly have the walls, the formal planting and the paving. I do not have either the symmetry or the life-giving fountain, but there’s a bird bath.

According to Wikipedia, the hortus conclusus of a royal palace or great house was quite different to that of the monastery or those shown in early religious iconography. Fifteenth-century illustrative depictions portray typical garden activities as ‘sitting, walking and playing music’. Strenuous activities were deemed ‘inappropriate’, and this, too, appeals to me. The most strenuous thing I’ve done in recent weeks is to get online and buy two mid-century outdoor lounge chairs which will allow me to do the sitting and the playing of music. You can look forward to a post about that when they eventually arrive.

But whilst  hortus conclusus as ‘garden of earthly delights’ is ticking boxes, I feel the more monastic vision also has some appeal. I can’t believe a little strenuous activity wasn’t encouraged amongst the brothers. Surely they did more than just sit around and chat. I think a little tilling of the soil might also be in order, so I’m contemplating some appropriate adjustment to the planting. Herbs are an obvious choice, so I’m thinking thyme, planted in gaps between paving slabs, some rosemary and a few less obvious ones like hyssop, betony or comfrey. A few years ago I planted some dill, so I think I’ll give that another go, and if I decide to go completely Friar Laurence with this I could introduce some mandrake or wormwood.

The National Trust tells me I also need a ‘flowery mead planted with low growing wild flowers’. Who doesn’t love a flowery mead? And if room permits, a dovecote. I have to remind myself that this is Hackney, not Wessex, so for now we’ll make do with a couple of bird boxes. So all is good, and despite never really being drawn to the idea of a garden ‘theme’, it seems I have stumbled across one. Let’s see how it goes.

3 thoughts on “Hortus Conclusus

  1. hmm I’d rather not have the odd monk.

    But this, our third garden has something in common with your walled space.
    Ours is small, but our walls are hidden by ivy and shrubs and they are not your beautiful old bricks.
    Sun we have, it is shady corners I seek out for the disgruntled Plectranthus.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your garden walls have charm and a sense of timelessness, something a fence or hedge lacks. (I’m trying to cover my fence with vines.) Having worked closely with a monk for about 3 years, I can tell you for certain that today’s monks are industrious. The Holy Cross brother in my office liked music and had a sense of humor but was never idle. I think if he’d been in a garden, he’d likely be working there and then later sitting and enjoying music. The herbs you mention are great ones. Some I’ve grown and wish I still grew. I hope you plant them.


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