Visiting the Castle Park Physic Garden in Bristol

I visited this garden by luck when wandering the streets of Bristol in search of a quiet corner to eat my lunch deal meal. Was a beautiful sunny day and the garden was showing off its best colours and fragrances, the first thing I noticed was the diversity of plants and herbs thanks to Google to know that those have been carefully cultivated for centuries.

The Castle Park Physic Garden is located in the heart of located in the heart of Bristol’s city centre, with historical significance tied to the site’s medieval castle, built in the 12th century and demolished in the 17th century.

This period in Europe was marked by the construction of many churches and monasteries with square gardens on the south side, containing various plant species from the Middle East, brought back during religious wars (Crusades) and by pilgrims. These gardens featured medicinal plants, roses, flowers for decoration, vineyards for wine production, orchards with fruit trees, and vegetable plots, emphasizing agricultural self-sustainability.

This garden’s layout is inspired by the original castle’s design, including a replica of a medieval garden. It covers just over half an acre, divided into four quadrants, each with its own distinct theme and collection of plants. In a traditional physic garden style, plants are arranged according to their medicinal properties, providing a practical and scientific approach to plant study, reminiscent of European gardens from the 16th to the 18th century.

As you wander through the Castle Park Physic Garden, you’ll discover a range of plants used for centuries for medicinal purposes, from chamomile and lavender to yarrow and St. John’s Wort. Alongside these medicinal herbs, the garden boasts a collection of beautiful perennial flowers, such as Centaurea Montana Jordy and Allium ‘Toabago,’ adding to the garden’s charm.

This unusual visit left me dazzled by how amazing is that we are still able to explore gardens from the Middle Ages, this offers a great insight into the social-historical context and remember what I studied about monasteries and Castle Gardens during my post-grad in Garden Design.

As they were marked by the spread of Christianity across Europe these ornamental, romantic, and poetic gardens were designed as true oases, captivating visitors with topiaries and marble sculptures. Castle Gardens were private spaces reserved for moments of conviviality, dances, and baths.

The most impressive Renaissance gardens graced castles, imperial residences, and noble houses, showcasing opulent staircases, marble sculptures, and beautiful patios. These gardens were artfully designed to impress visitors, reflecting the owner’s power and wealth.

The Italian Renaissance more specifically saw the creation of beautiful gardens characterized by formal elements and visual exuberance. These vast green spaces were meticulously designed to offer areas with sun, shade, and cool. Geometric designs, straight lines, box-bordered paths, and sprawling pergolas with entwined ivy were prevalent. Water features, such as ornamental fountains, cascades, and caves, added to the grandeur.

The concepts of these historical gardens continue to influence contemporary garden design. People today seek private gardens for entertainment, social gatherings, and outdoor dining. Geometric forms, simplicity, and open spaces reminiscent of these gardens endure in modern landscaping:

In the juxtaposition of the Castle Park Physic Garden’s historic charm and the grandeur of Italian Renaissance gardens, we find a testament to beautifully cultivated green spaces throughout the ages.

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Photos by Karine Nieman 2021

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