K for kechengardyn

Rich red ruby chard

Garden historians have tended to celebrate the pleasure grounds and paradise plots of the wealthy, not least because they are better documented and lasted longer than those of their lesser yeomen. Yet the antiquity of the modest kitchen garden is incontestable. Many lie, like a host of Heligans, in outline awaiting rediscovery.

It did not help that classical writers stayed largely silent on the subject of the vegetable plot. In medieval times there was a lexicon of Latin, French and English names for garden places including gardinium, hortus, herbarium, viridium, virgultum and vergier. There was a wyrtyard, or little park, and a herber, a small ornamental garden with a lawn of less than one acre. The medieval kitchen garden was a curtilage, leac-garth or leac-tun from the Anglo Saxon for geard, tun or zeard meaning a yard or enclosure – this was the ‘backyard’ that the Elizabethan settlers carried with them to North America.

The common root for the word giardino in Italian, jardin in French, and garten in German, is the Old English geard or garth, an enclosed place or yard. The first mention of a ketchyngardyn or kechengardyn in Britain appears to be the Bishop of London’s manorial accounts of the 1300s. Up until then Europeans kept silent on the subject. The peasant, footstool of the manorial system and mainstay of the medieval economy, had neither the time, skills nor inclination to record anything about his or her methods of growing for the pot. Yet the talents of the peasant gardener ensured that the pottage, a boiled cauldron of vegetables and, occasionally, meat, kept their families alive.

From: Fifty Tales from the Kitchen Garden: A Social History of Vegetables

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