Bayleaf farmhouse garden Weald & Downland Museum

Historic Gardens

There are six delightful period gardens at the Museum, which have been recreated to show the transition of gardens from the early 16th century through to the late 19th century.

Each garden represents the period and social status of the house to which it is attached, with each garden containing the herbs, vegetables and plants that would have met the needs of the rural household.

The earliest gardens are purely utilitarian, but as we move through the centuries and social levels some plants begin to be grown for their aesthetic qualities – the first beginnings of decorative planting and display on the public face of the garden.

Where to find our historic gardens

Find our historic gardens at Bayleaf farmhouse, Poplar cottage, the Toll house, Whittaker’s cottages, house from Walderton, and Pendean farmhouse.

Herbs

Herbs were widely grown. As well as growing them for culinary purposes, ordinary country folk used herbs to make medicinal remedies, and a great deal of knowledge of domestic plant remedies was passed on from one generation to the next. Folklore played an important role: herbs such as St John’s wort were taken into the home to protect against evil spirits, a rosemary bush grown close to the dwelling helped to keep the witches out, and Vervain by the doorstep attracted lovers!

Vegetables

We grow several heritage varieties of vegetables in the period gardens, many of which closely resemble the original varieties. Some of the vegetables grown are:

  • Skirrets (a multi-rooted winter vegetable similar in taste to parsnips): introduced to Britain from East Asia in the 15th century, but fell out of fashion in the late 17th century.
  • Broad bean varieties include Martock, thought to date back to the 13th century, Crimson Flowered, dating back to the 18th century, and a Victorian variety called Bunyard’s Exhibition.
  • Carlin peas, which date back to the 16th century.
  • Pink fir Apple potatoes, one of the oldest varieties still in existence.

Our gardeners

Carlotta Holt, Museum Gardener, plus a team of dedicated gardening volunteers, look after the six period gardens and spend time interpreting their significance to visitors.

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Carlotta usually works in the gardens three days a week – on Monday, Wednesday and Friday – plus extra days for busy periods and events. Demonstrations about the historical use of herbs and vegetables are given at the Museum throughout the year, as well as guided walks around the period gardens.

To learn more about the Museum’s gardens, watch our video here.