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In Horticulture, what is a Walled Garden?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 15 November 2016
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A walled garden is a formal style of garden surrounded by high walls. The walled garden is one of the oldest styles of garden in the world, dating back to ancient Persian times, though the style became incredibly popular in Victorian era England. In literature, walled gardens are often symbols for secrets or ambiguous situations.

The traditional practical reason behind a walled garden is debated by horticultural experts. It is commonly claimed that the walls protect plants from inclement weather, particularly in England. However, this is dismissed by some experts for several reasons. First, a wall can only offer protection for a distance twice its height, suggesting that a square walled garden could only be four times as wide as its walls are high. This is rarely the case, even in Queen Victoria’s garden at Windsor Castle, which had 9 ft (2.7 m) walls and a 32 acre span. Additionally, as the style originated in warm climates, it is unlikely their original purpose was to protect from constant bad weather.

Other experts suggest that the walls of the garden were meant to give privacy, or to prevent expensive plants from being stolen. Until the horticultural practices of the 20th century allowed for enormous variety of species, plants were usually very costly and gardens maintained only by the wealthy. A completely encircling high wall would help keep potential thieves away from the valuable plants within.

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The typical layout of a walled garden divides the garden area into four equal sections with a water feature, such as a fountain or pool, in the middle. In medieval times, the water feature was said to represent the fountain of life. Rock or brick paths are usually used to separate the sections from one another. The walls of the garden were often varying in height to allow proper amounts of sunlight in for the plants. Often, the walls were covered in climbing plants, such as ivy.

If you have a walled area or wish to build a walled garden, there are several factors to consider. Observe the sunlight conditions in the area you wish to work with. Near the walls, you will probably wish to put shade-loving or partial sunlight plants. Away from the protection of the walls, plants that prefer sun can be used. To cover the walls, consider using climbing shrubs or roses.

In literature, walled gardens are typically symbolic of secrets. In the popular children’s book The Secret Garden, a young English girl discovers a hidden walled garden unused for many years. In traditional stories, gardens are often trysting places for lovers or areas where guarded princesses can be found. Modern day usage of the term can also mean a computer content feature that only allows access to privileged users.

Many historic walled gardens exist in the great homes and castles of the United Kingdom. Although they fell from fashion in the 20th century, many examples have been restored and are available for public viewing. If you are visiting the United Kingdom and would like to see examples of the garden style, consult travel guides for information about local displays. Some of the most famous versions include Bodysgallen Hall in Wales, Myers Castle in Scotland, and Lutton Hoo in Bedfordshire, England.

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