Featuring a box parterre, perennial herbaceous border, fruit and vegetable beds, a medicinal and culinary herb bed, a wildflower garden and espaliered fruit trees, the Selly Manor garden is a great place to sit and relax.   

How Did Garden Design Change During the Reign of the Tudors?

Selly Manor might not be the absolute picture of a Tudor garden but we can actually see a lot of Tudor ideas about garden design in the grounds. Tudor garden design changed noticeably over the course of the 16th century and even Henry VIII quite enjoyed sprucing up his garden at Hampton Court Palace when he wasn't lopping people's heads off. The garden here at Selly Manor reflects at lot of the developments as well as the continuities to garden usage and design. Design and layout of the gardens of the elite were increasingly thought of as an extension of the house and as such there was a desire to bring nature into the domestic world by mastering it. But at the same time, gardens like Selly Manor's would have continued to serve a practical purpose as the bread-basket and medicine bag for the household. 

The Knot Garden:

The manor garden is certainly not typical yet it does model some of the themes that came about with the emergence of Knot gardens. Central to its design was its measured and square arrangements of flower beds which contrasted earlier customs of leaving gardens more wild. You can see this on the left as you come through the gate with the flower bed which is split into four quadrants with a rail to section it off. The idea of this was to separate plants and herbs which had distinct uses for ease of use. However, this practical concern later became an aesthetic feature as people found the neat and highly visible arrangement of flower beds was great for showcasing plants. Here at Selly Manor, we grow a range of different plants ranging from; fruits such as medlars, plums, and damsons which would have fed people; herbs such as thyme, sage, hyssop and many others which would have had myriad uses; and flowering plants which saw increasing popularity during Elizabeth I's reign. In this last point, we see the development of gardens as places of entertainment and beauty. It would amiss, to avoid the mentioning the wonderful topiaries which we have here at Selly Manor. Although Henry VIII's may never have boasted with a floral testament to his brutal severity in dealing with dissatisfactory spouses, topiaries were nonetheless used to add volume and height to the garden. In terms of appearance, it was common for topiaries to be shaped into a heraldic symbol or the Tudor rose, creating a sort of natural flag or emblem.[1]


As such, Gardens could entertain a number of different functions; they became a much more open and walkable space, but their flat, trimmed profile also allowed hosts and guests to view the garden from indoors. But while this decorative revolution played out, the garden still had  an important role to play in feeding the household.

Cooking and Eating from the Garden:

The manor garden with all its topiaries and flowers could be mistaken as a purely decorative in impression but its herbs, fruits and vegetables overlap with much of the Tudor diet.

Herbs and Spices:

As you'll see as you around the garden (and particularly round the back of the three cottages) the gardeners at Selly Manor tend to a variety of herbs- many of which you wouldn't expect to find on your dinner plate today. Of course, not all herbs grown were for consumption in food: many were believed to have medicinal purposes or dispel miasmas (foul smells that caused disease). To this end, herbs would have been picked when aromatic and hung up inside to dry. Due to their aromas, herbs went hand in hand with food staples such as meat and bread as it was believed that complimentary herbs could correct the humoral imbalances caused by consumption of one food in excess- a result of seasonal nature of the Tudor diet. Tudors were not ignorant to the flavour which could be added to meals with herbs, and it was therefore common to add herbs like Thyme and Parsley to meals. 


Spices were more exclusive than herbs with many having to be imported. Some spices such as cloves could be sourced more cheaply whereas pepper and nutmeg were less affordable. These spices would have been specially stored in a spice cupboard to keep them fresh. Spices were believed to be choleric (hot and dry) so they could be prescribed to someone with a phlegmatic disposition.[2]


Native fruit trees such as Medlar, Apple, plum, damsons can be found here at Selly Manor. Fruit grew from these trees from mid-summer to November-time and so the best time to appreciate our garden is at the end of summer. Fruit could either be eaten raw, cooked, or preserved. Eating raw fruit was not believed to yield any nutritional benefits, however physicians did not advise against eating raw fruit, as is commonly thought.[3] Consumption of raw fruit actually rose as shown by recipes from the period for fruit salad and other dishes.[4]With the arrival of Sugar in Tudor England, people were able to eat summer fruit in winter- a luxury which would have been marvelled at. This involved preserving them in honey or sugar. Sugar was highly prized among the wealthy as a sweetener and a preservative and usually came in the form of a solid white or brown block. Conversely to fruit, sugar was actually thought to be good for you! Being able to preserve food and herbs was as much a health benefit as an enriching dietary option, to Tudors. Preserved foods could address imbalances thought to be caused by the climate of a particular season, thus making an individual more robust.[5]

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Tudor Medicine:

Humoral medicine dominated the Tudor period, teaching that the body had to be regulated so that its four parts were in balance. Food played a huge part in this- one Tudor physician even said that a good cook was half physician.[6] It was thought that foods that were equal parts hot, cold, wet, and dry would maintain balance. And if somebody became ill and a physician decided they were suffering from a cold temperament, they may recommend pepper- which was hot. An imbalance with the humours could also be associated with the seasons. For instance, following the cold, wet winter, a popular easter food was Tansy cake- made from Tansy, resulting in a greenish appearance to the cake, it was thought to correct a phlegmatic (cold and wet) demeanour caused by the winter.

Feasts and Celebrations:

Feasts often coincided with religious holidays and agricultural practices.

Martinmas, for example, was a combination of the two: a celebration of St Martin of Tours but also a marker of the end of Harvest when livestock was usually slaughtered. It became a custom in Europe to serve a Goose at a feast during Martinmas.[7]

It was common for people to indulge in Easter following Lent when they would have fasted during the daytime. Easter, being symbolic of renewal, was a time when people would replace the rushes (much like straw) in their house, placing sweet smelling flowers amongst the new ones. Rosemary was popularly used due to its tendency to repel insects. If you can imagine that much like the spring clean that you Definitely do in spring-time, the floors here at Selly Manor would have undergone a similar process. So maybe the Tudors weren't so unsanitary after all.

Weird and Wacky Remedies:

The Tudors had all sorts of beliefs about the properties of the plants they grew and not all of them would be popular today…

Juice made from Teasel was believed to cure worms if poured down the ear canal (and for Selly Manor’s Staff, it is thought to stop people from sitting on antiques!).


Bettany was believed to repel venomous serpents while helping a man to ‘pisse well’ if consumed.


Rue, it was believed, could do a great many things: cure nosebleeds, act as an antidote to poisons, and even become a formidable deterrent for a weasel seeking to fend off a snake! [8]  



[1] Brigitte Webster, “The Early Tudor Garden (circa 1490-1550),” Tudors Dynasty, accessed November 16 2023, The Early Tudor Garden (circa 1490-1550) (

[2] Alison Sim. Food and Feast in Tudor England (Sutton Publishing Limited: Stroud, 1997), 84.

[3] Suzannah Lipscomb. “Eating with the Tudors.” Not Just the Tudors, 21st September 2023, Podcast, Spotify, 54:48, Eating with the Tudors - Not Just the Tudors | Podcast on Spotify.

[4] Paul S. Lloyd, “Dietary Advice and Fruit-Eating in Late Tudor and Early Stuart England” in the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 67, No. 4 (October 2012): 586.

[5] Brigitte Webster, “Food Preservation in Tudor Times,” filmed 2021,

[6] Sim, Food and Feast, 86.

[7] Claire Ridgeway, “The Feast of Martinmas,” Tudor Society, accessed November 16, 2023, The Feast of Martinmas - The Tudor Society.

[8] Read Nicholas Culpeper’s, Culpeper’s Complete Herbal (London: Arcturus Publishing Limited, 2019) for more strange beliefs about herbs.